(10 YEARS ON) Back in 1998, John Kendall and the late, great, Phil Llewellin decided to mark the summer solstice by reaching all four corners of the UK in 24 hours. Ten years on, Keith Adams tries the same in the new Citroën C5 Tourer and comes up with a surprising result
It’s 3.40am and I’m rushing round the M25 when I catch the first sign of it – yes, it’s summer solstice, and the first patches of diffused light appear on the horizon I’ve been chasing for hours, suddenly lifting my spirits. While most of What Diesel’s readers are sleeping, I’m on a personal quest to test the mettle of the new Citroën C5 Tourer.
Rewind a few weeks; reading the 20th anniversary issue of What Diesel I caught that ten years ago John Kendall and Phil Llewellin had succeeded in attempting what I thought was impossible – reaching all four geographical extremities of the UK within 24 hours.
Given that it’s a 1,200-mile trip from Lizard Point in Cornwall to Dunnet Head near John O’Groats via Lowestoft in the East and Ardnamurchan Point on the far extremity of the Western Highlands, it was a real achievement to make it in one piece, and I questioned whether this was a challenge that could be replicated today.
In 1998, the planning had to be immaculate to make the journey hang together. For me, this was going to be very much a 21st century effort – no maps, and zero planning. Good old SatNav and Traffic Announcements were going to get me from one end of the country to another without a glitch. Weren’t they?
In the lead-up to my improbable trip, it was clear that few have the stomach for such challenges these days – the response from colleagues was that I was mad to attempt such a challenge. I was lucky enough to talk snapper Matthew Hayward into coming along to take pictures, but only if I’d do the first leg alone, picking him up at a civilised hour at Newark services.
And that is why as the clock neared midnight on the 21st June, I found myself almost alone in the car park at Lizard Lighthouse, counting down the minutes to the off. The fog had rolled in, and my only company was a hungry seagull, which assumed that I had some tasty morsels to chuck out. With such poor visibility, I wondered if I’d actually manage to leave Cornwall that night – and the enormity of the task ahead, needing to average 53mph for a full 24 hours, began to dawn on me. Was I mad?
23:50 hours: That mist is really beginning to get me down. The place smells of the sea, it’s cold and windy, it’s damp, and the foghorn mocks me with its regular mournful wail. I’m beginning to think I’m going to be crawling through Cornwall at walking pace thanks to this wretched pea-souper. To make matters worse, I can’t even get a good picture of the off – there’s too much moisture in the air.
01:28 hours: I see the first sign for London – 167 miles – now I’m deep into Somerset, running on cruise control and making real progress. The fog lifted shortly after Truro, and the A30 has been completely clear through Cornwall and Devon. Just like John and Phil back in 1998, it made sense to aim for Bristol and the M5 rather than risking getting mired on the A303 among the camper brigade celebrating the Solstice at Stonehenge.
03:51 hours: The £79 fill-up at South Mimms on the M25/A1 intersection has me relishing human contact – even if it is to try and persuade some drunken revellers to snap me refilling the C5. The endless cones and 50mph restrictions on the M4 had kept down my average, but meant the fuel situation was good. With a cruising range of 500 miles, even at 37mpg, I’m already thinking about my next fuel stop, which won’t be until I pick up Matthew at Newark Services on the A1.
04:50 hours: Lowestoft is a welcome sight and looks wonderful in the early morning sun. I have to keep stopping myself from feeling too cocky about the fact I’m so far ahead of John and Phil. The run through Suffolk has been fraught as it seems that all roads are full of birds scavenging an early morning feed – so far, I’ve only claimed one. Lining up on the promenade by the pier, I snap away, but decide to leg it when I clock a police patrol in the distance heading my way. Minutes count, and explaining my madcap challenge could cost me dearly…
08:00 hours: Newark, and a much needed comfort break. Coffee helps stave off the onset of tiredness, and Matthew’s already livening up the proceedings by getting me to pose for the camera. The run along the A17 and through East Anglia has been dull, but at least it’s presented an opportunity to test the C5’s massaging seats. They work. Backache is averted.
11:50 hours: This is beginning to seem too easy. Less than half way in, and we’ve hit the border for Scotland, and it feels like the end is almost in sight. The improvements in the road network are everywhere – the trans-Pennine A66, in particular, had been a road I was dreading, but in the end, it’s a dualled traffic-free doddle. I keep thinking I’ve been incredibly lucky, and wait for the tide – and the gloomy weather – to turn.
12:45 hours: The Citroën’s motorway performance is stunning – the low noise levels and cosseting ride continue to impress as Glasgow’s monolithic tower blocks loom through the insistent rain.
15:00 hours: Time for a £61 refuel – this time we’re near Fort William and are still buzzing from the fantastic drive across Rannoch Moor. The A82 is near perfect – majestic scenery, sweeping bends and excellent visibility. It’s a caravan-free run, and when we do need to pass slower cars, the C5 has plenty of punch to make it stick. Consumption steadfastly remains around 37mpg.
15:10 hours: The rain is driving now, and it’s time to jump onto our one ferry crossing of the day – the Maid of Glencoul is loading as we arrive, and within minutes we’re on our way crossing Loch Linnhe. Ardnamurchan can’t be far away now.
17:00 hours: The drive to Ardnamurchan Point has certainly been memorable. After leaving the ferry, we’re riding a world-class driving roller coaster – open and lightly trafficked, and the C5 is in its element. However, the EU funded superhighway ends after a few tingly miles, and we’re on singletrack roads. As the sinuous switchback wends its way through the magnificent scenery, we keep our speed sensible – oncoming traffic is an everpresent danger, as are the blind bends. Once the pictures are done, and we’re fully battered by the wind and rain, I check the SatNav. It reckons we’re not going to make Dunnet (250 miles away) until 00.15.
18:20 hours: Battling up the A861 towards Fort William wondering when will these single-track roads end? Luckily for us, the Scots are great drivers: courteous and well disciplined.
20:30 hours: On the long drive on the A82 alongside Loch Ness and there’s little traffic, so we make excellent progress. The SatNav’s ETA moves in our favour. A culture shock as we head into Inverness, as we hit our first traffic queue in ages. A matrix sign gloomily announces that the A9 is closed north of the Black Isle – the direction we’re heading – but decide to press on, hoping the blockage will be cleared by the time we arrive.
22:30 hours: After an uplifting drive along the North Sea coast, and a truly awesome inland sweep towards Thurso, the A9 has more than delivered its promise hinted at on the map. Caithness is bleak, but its peaty hills are strangely beautiful and it feels as though we’re a lot further than 1200 miles from Lizard Point. Keeping the speed respectable on the final leg of the route is proving difficult.
23:03 hours: We’ve made it! We’re still relatively fresh as we roll towards the lighthouse that marks the most Northerly point on mainland Britain. It’s still light enough to drive without headlights, but the howling wind reminds us that mother nature rules the roost up here.
As we gaze across the Pentland Firth towards the Orkney Islands, we can see a nasty rainstorm closing the gap quickly. We hurriedly take our pictures, jog back to the relative safety of the car, and bask in what has been a challenging run completed 54 minutes quicker than John Kendall and Phil Llewellin managed back in 1998. It would be nice to conclude that I’d made the difference, but in truth it was the Citroën’s consummate long distance ability that aced it for the 21st century effort. It covers huge distances without placing any demands on the driver – you cross an entire country, you get to the end, and are left wondering where to drive next. Sleep: who needs it?
Citroën C5 Tourer Exclusive 2.2HDi
- Price: £22,695
- Engine: 2179cc, 4 cylinder turbodiesel
- Gearbox: 6-speed manual
- Max Power: 173bhp at 4,000rpm
- Max Torque: 273lb ft at 1,750rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 1,900kg
- Combined Consumption: 42.8mpg CO2
- Emissions (taxband): 175g/km (E)
- 0-62mph: 10.4secs
- Max speed: 134mph
- Insurance group: 13 Rating: rrrr