We’ve had our Renault Twizy, Thierry, for almost a year and he’s done 4,700 miles. We find the Twizy ideal for 90% of our regular work and domestic journeys which are in and out of Talybont-on-Usk (2 miles), Brecon (4 miles), Hay on Wye (17 miles) and Abergavenny (17 miles). One result is that our diesel car only gets used for longer journeys (over 30 miles) and therefore runs more efficiently because it avoids the short everyday trips.
The Twizy is ideal in its role as a local rural runabout but, as we enjoy driving it, we’ve long been curious as to what it would be like to tackle the occasional longer journey. So, when the spring finally arrived in Wales and an opportunity came up to visit our good friends, the Newlands at Swallowboats in Gwbert outside Cardigan, we decided to plan an 83 mile overnight trip from Pencelli.
Here in the Brecon Beacons National Park, we have 40 Twizy charge points which are part of the Eco Travel Network so, although they are rarely needed (the Twizy range being 40-50 miles), they offer interesting destinations for tourists and the security of knowing you can always pick up a top up charge if you are anxious. However, heading West into Carmarthenshire, there are almost no charging points and a Twizy could get very hungry! Fortunately, Zero Carbon World, in partnership with the National Trust, has recently installed one of their electric vehicle charging stations at Home Farm Dinefwr Park in Llandeilo. This made our planned journey feasible as Llandeilo is 39 miles from home and 44 miles from Gwbert (our destination).
As we much prefer driving the Twizy on the back roads, we planned a route that avoided almost all A road driving. This is quieter and also takes you through the most stunning scenery. The only drawback can be the bumpiness of the surface and the odd encounter with sheep.
Before Llandeilo, the most spectacular part of the route is high above the Usk Reservoir with fantastic views of the remote Carmarthen Vans.
Luckily, we still had 27% battery arriving at Dinefwr as, having driven up the long driveway, following signs to the National Trust car park, we discovered that Home Farm is actually accessed via a separate exit about a mile away. This could have been tricky if it had been Thierry’s last gasp on his range.
Having returned to the main road and located Home Farm and found the charge point, we plugged in and were delighted to discover (later) that Thierry was actually being charged by the National Trust’s 50 kW Solar PV panels situated in a field a few yards away. Thierry tends to be a tad fundamentalist and prefers his watts from sun, rain or wind, wherever he can.
We then headed back on foot across the Dinefwr park (15 minutes) to the main reception area. The friendly National Trust staff wouldn’t let us pay for parking so, feeling guilty about taking their electricity 2 days running, we opted to join the National Trust. They were also keen for us to grab the opportunity for a “tractor ride” around the Dinefwr grounds (first of the new season) and it took some effort for us to persuade them that we had done enough alternative travel for one day!
After enjoying a light lunch in the café and a tour around the fascinating Dinefwr house, we returned 2 hours later to the charge point only to find a 2nd electric vehicle had joined us – a Citroen C-Zero belonging to Dr Neil Lewis of Menter Cwm Gwendraeth. We discussed our common interests in the paucity of electric vehicle charge points in West Wales and Llanelli Scarlets rugby.
Both Thierry and crew refreshed, we set off for the 2nd leg of our trip – the longer leg and more anxiety inducing of the two. We first reached Carmarthen along the southern banks of the Towy (quiet and level) and navigated our way through the town out onto the minor network of lanes leading North West towards Cardigan and the sea.
This proved the most stressful part of the trip. This was largely due to a curious local habit of turning the signposts at the many micro junctions around to confuse invaders (or, in this case, Twizzlers). This route also proved quite a lot hillier and bumpier than we had envisaged – generating frequent squawks (and worse) from the rear passenger.
Thierry also picked up on our increasing stress levels and started having range panic attacks half way up every slope we encountered. At one point, as we stopped to study maps and routes at yet another unmarked (or perhaps creatively marked) junction, Thierry’s range dropped to an alarming 13 miles and we knew we still had 20 miles to go. Eeeek. Tense conversation amongst the crew ensued as to whose idea this whole ridiculous enterprise had been.
Normally, one of the major advantages of the Twizy is, in extremis, you only need access to any 13 amp socket anywhere to get a top up charge and the national grid is everywhere … well everywhere except in the wilds of Carmarthenshire. We were travelling mile upon mile through open hilly country without a building of any sort in sight.
Anyway, we slowed down, talked gently and coaxingly to Thierry as he climbed each incline and cheered loudly as he merrily regenerated power whizzing down the other side. Finally with a huge sigh of relief, we reached the A478 and signs of civilisation (namely 13 amp sockets in our case) and the final run down into Cardigan. One mile short of Swallow Boats HQ at Gwbert, Thierry gave a weary beep to warn us he really was now on his final battery bar. But the cheers from a welcoming committee of Newlands as we crept slowly but victoriously into their courtyard made us feel like we really had made a particularly bold passage. It’s certainly the most fun we have ever had travelling to Gwbert.
After a delicious dinner and wine for us and watts from the boat shed for a starving Thierry, we retired to bed early ready for a return trip (without undue incidence) the following day. Fortunately, Dinefwr boasts a 12th century castle as well as an ancient house, so there was plenty enough distraction for another 2 hour layover.
On reaching our home village of Pencelli, Thierry once again beeped politely to inform us that he was on his last legs (or wheels) and wouldn’t be conveying us very much further.
Technical summary for round trip
Distance – 166 miles.
Total elevation gain: 11,167 feet
Average speed (whilst travelling) 20mph
Energy consumption: 132 Wh/mile (measured at the plug)
Total energy for trip: 22 kWh mostly provided courtesy of National Trust Solar PV (and the very welcome spring sunshine)
(Incidentally) Energy generated by our home solar PV during the trip period: 37 kWh
Some reflections on long haul Twizzling
For little Twizys, the spacing of available charge points is critical on a long trip. However, other than the remotest hilly sections of our run, we felt comfortable (from past experience) that any roadside pubs or cafes (or even private homes) would help us out with access to a 13 amp socket if we got completely stuck. We felt more uncomfortable about stopping and asking a stranger for a top up charge en route simply to assuage our range anxiety.
We have an adapted roof top luggage box for the Twizy but elected not to take this as it cuts our range by 10% (wind resistance) which we could ill afford. So, it was a case of minimalism – clean socks and knickers and toothbrushes which happens to be about the amount you can fit in a Twizy’s rear locker (along with an extension lead). So, more than one night away would require more creative thought (or smellier people).
Doing a long journey by Twizy is an entirely different experience from driving by car. We are familiar with this from sailing where getting somewhere is, at best, a side effect of having an engrossing and fun time in the simple process of moving along! In the Twizy case, the journey itself becomes the focus and fortunately travelling along the hill top byroads through the scenery in mid and West Wales is a joy.
We drive through Llandeilo probably 5 or 10 times a year on our way to the coast but have never before stopped to explore Dinefwr house or castle. Travelling by Twizy forced us to stop for 2 hours there and we had a really enjoyable time and didn’t begrudge the ‘delay’ at all – indeed we didn’t even view it that way. However, had our focus been (as normal) on reaching a West Wales destination, then it would have felt like a delay. As ever in life, it all depends what your focus is at any moment.
From that point of view, we think there may be a useful distinction between electric charge points which are ‘destinations’ and those that are simply ‘transit’ points. In the former case, the pleasure for the traveller is primarily in enjoying the location – either eating and drinking there or visiting an attraction or engaging in an interesting activity on offer. This is how our Eco Travel Network charge points in the Brecon Beacons National Park are designed to work as are many of the Zero Net ones too. In contrast, with ‘transit’ charge points, one’s focus is on getting from A to B and only stopping for the shortest period possible. Any convenient roadside location will serve this purpose (as fuel stations do today) but, with transit points, minimising delay is the focus and this creates the demand for faster and faster charging.
In the destination case, fast charging doesn’t particularly matter to the traveller (13 amp is fine and readily available) or to the destination businesses who would actually prefer people to stay and spend money with them for a few hours. As fast charging eventually enables electric vehicles to be charged and ready for off again in a matter of minutes, then the pubs, hotels, castles etc no longer benefit. This trip brought home to us how the psychology of the two types of journey and charging feel very different and will most likely develop along different lines.
Even locally, we feel uncomfortable about taking electricity from any small business or organisation without them benefiting economically. Fortunately, the Twizy takes very little – usually 3 or 4 kWh only but we still feel uncomfortable if we can’t buy something from the business in exchange. For example, we might well use the Dinefwr charge point again but next time would most likely walk into the town now we’ve visited the castle and house. In this case, we would feel more comfortable if we could at least pay the National Trust for parking at their charge point.
I know long distance electric vehicle travellers are familiar with this anxiety but we had our first experience of realising how disrupted our journey would have been if another electric vehicle had arrived and plugged in just before us at Dinefwr (and that almost happened)! Fortunately, in the Twizy case, we could have headed for the nearest pub and asked to run our plug and lead through their window. Long live the 13 amp connection – it’s a life saver.
Driving on back road routes is quieter and much more enjoyable but navigation can be a challenge and, with such limited range, you don’t have much room for error. We’d still pick that option again though.
Finally, the dynamic range estimates generated by the Twizy certainly add to one’s anxiety levels on such an ‘edge of the range’ trip – best simply to monitor the remaining battery bars!
Will we do it again? ‘Yes’, say the crew. Silence from the long suffering Thierry.