Our 3 month trial of Toro-the-rural-Twizy on the Isle of Eigg came to an end last week. So, we headed up there on the slow, but amazingly scenic, train to Mallaig followed by a slightly anxious ‘will-we-make it?’ ferry crossing as CalMac informed us that it might be too windy for the MV Loch Nevis to dock at Eigg’s pier. All in the end was well. Phew. The aim of our trip was to gather feedback on Toro’s use and design issues and then transport him to neighbouring Knoydart to continue the trial.
As the Loch Nevis ferry manoeuvred alongside the pier, we spotted the unmistakeable parrot-like colours of Toro hurtling along the coast road to meet the ferry. It’s a lovely moment when you walk off the Lochnevis ferry (or wade the last bit!) and see the welcoming faces of Eigg friends from previous visits. Here come “the Twizy people”!
The rain was drizzling so, having dumped our heavy rucksacks in one of the many landrovers on offer, we retired to the Pier Cafe for hot soup and a chat with digital artist, Hadi Mehrpouya about his previous week’s project where he’s been exploring Eigg transport, the Twizy’s use and Eigg energy. Hadi plans to create a visualisation of all his combined data to exhibit in Edinburgh early next year. We are really looking forward to seeing that. Having enjoyed his first rendition of the tracks recorded by Toro’s movements in July.
When we showed this visualisation to a local artist friend, she loved it but wanted to know why Hadi hadn’t varied the tracks a bit more. We explained that wasn’t Hadi’s fault! – Toro (much to our relief) stuck to the only road there is on Eigg – from Cleadale in the North to the pier and ferry in the South! His small diversions from the road took him to people’s scattered homes or to the beach. More adventurous diversions would have seen Toro stranded on sheer rock faces or sunk deep in bog and bracken.
Later in the (still rainy, blowy) afternoon, we piled into Toro and headed for the warm welcome of Marie and Colin at Kildonan farmhouse. We immediately noticed how much better Toro felt on the 1 mile rough track to Kildonan than when we visited with an unmodified Thierry Twizy last year. His large tyres and more flexible suspension have at least rendered him about the same as any small car driven slowly on such rough terrain – not comfortable (particularly for the rear passenger) but not damaging either.
As the early dusk gathered, we twizzled along to visit Hadi in the quirky Sweeney’s Bothy. This doubly off-grid eco bothy is a dedicated artist residency space, purpose-built for artists, writers, musicians, and the wider public engage with both simplicity and the wild. This was our first time inside and it is a compelling mix of seductive and inspiring. Seductive with the log burner blazing, the kettle bubbling, the lamps and candles lit and the cosy overhead double bunk. Inspiring with the long window table and wild view over the sea to Rum along with the absolute silence. It felt like you wanted to move in right away and start on that novel or artwork which you had always thought about writing.. or just retreat and think your life over. We came away seduced and inspired – 100% bothy-fans!
Back at Kildonan, replete with a delicious 3 course Marie feast and seduced (again!) by the Kildonan log fire and sofas, we passed up the opportunity to join the community’s Halloween party at the pier. We certainly missed some fun and possibly a sore head the next day.
Saturday morning saw us doing a thorough inspection of Toro after his 3 months of island life to check all was OK for moving him to Knoydart. Once we’d removed several layers of Eigg mud (a winter Twizy feature that we recognise from Wales), we found he had fared fine thanks to his ever-diligent minders, Lucy and Jenny. The only two problems being losing a mudguard (a problem arising from his fatter tyres) and the Renault plastic zip-in windows proving rather too flimsy for Hebridean gales. Also, once spattered in rain and mud, they reduce side and rear visibility to a somewhat alarming zero. Vertical doors are probably a good design choice by Renault for tight parking in London but they act like sails on Eigg! Because the modified Twizy required stalks with alloy attachments for the raised mudguards, it wasn’t possible to weld the loose mudguard back on so we stowed it on Toro’s rear luggage rack as a problem for Knoydart to think about!
On Saturday afternoon, we held our trial feedback session in the community hall with the 13 households who had taken part in the trial together with numerous friendly dogs adding an important canine perspective to the dialogue. Fortified by delicious Eiggy Bread Pizzas and island brewed beer, the discussion began. Some dogs (most notably ‘Harry’) as well as some islanders had become committed Toro fans “I loved it”, “so nippy”, “everyone smiled and waved”, “just the job” whilst others enjoyed the experience but found it impractical for carrying large loads and multiple passengers to and from the ferry. Everyone was impressed by how easy a Twizy was to drive, how rarely they needed to charge it and how little it cost per mile in electricity. A full report of the trial feedback will be published here in due course. We particularly enjoyed the photo at the top of this blog, taken by Eigg Electric Bob illustrating one source of Toro’s transport power, along with Eigg’s hydro and solar.
Saturday night we enjoyed a fantastic Iranian supper cooked by Hadi and his Edinburgh Colleagues at Eigg Box Lucy and Eddie’s house. Tasty food, flowing wine and wide ranging conversation. Finished off with a magical Twizy run back to Kildonan in the complete night darkness of Eigg. The only encounter – a few wandering cattle and sheep.
On Sunday morning, in a mix of bright sunshine and dark, heavy showers, we twizzled to Cleadale, parked up and headed over to the Singing Sands enjoying the rough seas, constantly changing light, here-then-gone Rum mountains and rainbows. We then climbed up to the high ridge above – sheltering briefly from the latest shower watching the rainbows over Skye to the North.
Sunday afternoon we joined in an Eigg Box session with the latest resident artist exploring the role and meaning of Eigg maps. We enjoyed learning something of the complex land history of Eigg in the process. After that, we visited Eigg musicians, Damian and Jen in their cosy new straw bale house heated by an impressive rocket stove. Over a welcome cup of tea, we talked about low energy vehicles and the possibilities offered by the Open Source electric vehicle chassis Tabby, if the latter comes to fruition.
Back at Kildonan, wet and muddy, we enjoyed hot baths and a 3 course roast dinner served with aplomb by wee Maggie (5) who imparted her insights about Eigg and the Vikings. The rest of the evening saw us lazing, dozing and reflecting in the log-fired heat.
Up early Monday for a wrap up meeting over breakfast with our trial collaborator Lucy Conway of Eigg Box and some talk of future collaborative possibilities. Without Lucy’s excellent management and the Green Transport prize which helped fund the Twizy’s rural modifications and transport, the Eigg Twizy trial would never have happened so we are grateful to both. The project has been challenging and fun. We’ve made new friends and come away with some different ways of thinking about low energy electric travel powered 100% from renewable sources in rural locations. We hope to use that to continue to have a voice (albeit a small one) in an electric vehicle marketplace which is increasingly focussed on ever more powerful and longer range cars which use ever increasing amounts of energy and whose purchase is restricted to wealthy city dwellers.
So, then we bade farewell to Eigg and all our friends departing in some style on the Spanish John landing craft bound across the Minch for our next trial stop – Inverie on Knoydart. The only question was whether the Spanish John’s ramps would prove too wide for Toro’s wheels? Farmer Alec measured the gap in (his sizeable) wellyboots and declared us ‘good to go’. Thankfully, we were – Toro-the-intrepid to the last.
Next instalment –Toro lands on Knoydart and makes some new friends.