Last week I visited the Brecon Beacons National Park by Arriva Trains Wales from Lancaster. The nearest station to where I was staying was 17 miles away at Abergavenny. The good news is that I’d been invited to take part in an experiment where, rather than hire a taxi or catch an (infrequent) bus to my accommodation, I could pick up an Eco Travel Network Twizy which would be waiting for me at the station.
Normally visitors to the Brecon Beacons who want to hire a Twizy are introduced to it personally by one of the six tourist business partners who belong to the Eco Travel Network. Instead, I was a guinea pig in an experiment to see if a Twizy could be picked up and driven from the station without a person doing the hand-over and explaining how to drive it. I completed the rental form and driving licence check ahead of my visit and received a one page “Drive a Twizy” instruction sheet in return. The opportunity of having a Twizy for my 4 day stay was extremely useful as it allowed me to travel around the area independently of my hosts.
I alighted from my train at Abergavenny at 2pm, quickly located the station café, showed my ID and collected the key which had been earlier left for my collection by Mike Morgan of nearby Llansantffraed Court Hotel. Outside I could see Tipyn with the logo of Llansantffraed Court Hotel and the Eco-Travel Network. Remembering my instructions (which I had been carefully studying in the train), I lent in and opened the door which swings upwards. I worked out how to slide the driver’s seat forward so I could position my large rucksack on the passenger seat. I slid the drivers seat back again, got in and looked around – adjusting the mirrors and experimenting with various instrument controls. I was ready for off. I switched on, put Tipyn into drive, released the handbrake and moved silently off. It was surprisingly easy! And fun! Straightaway I noticed people looking! Heads of passers by were frequently turning to look at the Twizy! There were lots of smiles, waves and (when stopped) questions from passers-by. This continued throughout my stay and added to the enjoyment of this form of transport.
I wasn’t 100% sure of my route and I only had a crude map with me. After making my third wrong turning and having to retrace my steps, I began to wonder if the extra distance of my navigational mistakes might be adding up. Might the battery run low before I got to destination? I wished I had noted the mileage on starting out. Adding to my slight concern was a related dilemma that does not arise in a fossil fuel car. The afternoon was damp and dismal with cars putting their lights on. I felt I should too but was aware that this might add sufficient further drain on my battery which might impact the distance I could go. And then there was the dilemma of how fast to drive. At the start I was on a dual carriageway where I smoothly accelerated up to 40mph. But I wondered if I should be conserving energy. The range of the Twizy is about 50 miles but this varies with how it is driven, how much uphill there is, the weight being carried and any other drains there are on the battery. Driving a Twizy is different. It reconnects you with how much energy you are using. In a modern car, one is hardly aware energy.
As it turned out my worries were unnecessary. I made the 17 miles easily. After an excellent few days in the Brecon Beacons, I then drove back to Abergavenny in the Twizy to catch my train home. It was great! When I arrived back at my home town of Lancaster – now an experienced Twizy user – I wondered about ways to get from my station to my home. It is only a mile and a half and I walked, pondering what I had experienced. I began to think about how people made journeys before the prevalence of days of cars fuelled by energy rich fossil fuels that have shaped recent travel. My home was built in 1908 and the old postcard below shows Lancaster in the year 1905 with horses and carts on the street. How would an early resident of my house have done this same journey to Wales?
A horse goes so far then it it needs to be watered, fed and rested. Rather like a horse, a Twizy takes a couple of hours to re-fuel – you can’t top up them up in seconds like a car! Travelling by Twizy on local journeys has made me see travel though new eyes. It has only over the last eighty years that car travel has become so ‘normal’. For most of human history it was rather different. I wonder if the prevalence of the car has gently and subtly put us to sleep, separating us from the energy required to move us around the country.
With world oil production rates remaining almost level since 2005 and prices increasing, I pondered what ‘normal’ transport might look like in ten or twenty years time. I recommend the Twizy as a way to begin to the process of waking up to energy use and limits. At the same time, it’s great fun and on a personal level very energising.