The Eco Travel Network is exploring the kind of lightweight electric vehicle that might work on Scottish islands powered by local renewable electricity. In particular, we plan to use some of our Green Transport Award to develop an electric road legal buggy (Bruce), which can be trialled on Eigg in 2014. Eigg has about 5 miles of road, generates all its own electricity and has to import (by ferry) all diesel for its vehicles.
As an exploratory exercise, Thierry (a Renault Twizy) and his crew recently travelled North to visit the islands of Eigg and Mull. There will be a report on our findings in due course. Meanwhile, here is the Eigg island trip from Thierry’s point of view given he, like most Twizys, was mostly out to have fun.
Thierry is a lightweight, 2 seater, electric runabout which we use for all our local journeys within 5-25 mile range – work, shopping, social and leisure – powered mostly by the solar panels on our roof. The Twizy range is 50 miles which is fine for day to day life here in rural Wales but hopeless for getting us to North West Scotland 500 miles away.
All was not lost, we hired a standard transit van from our friendly local Brecon car rental and found that Thierry would fit neatly (actually rather too neatly) in the back. So, poor old Thierry had to suffer the ignominy of effectively being smuggled 500 miles North like an illegal immigrant hidden (and firmly lashed down) in the back of a diesel van – not really in line with his green principles but he’s a flexible fellow and was certainly up for the adventure.
Having driven across Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe in driving rain, we were delighted that the skies cleared as we reached Mallaig. Once Thierry was sprung from the van, he hurtled along to the nearest viewpoint to enjoy his first view of destination Eigg and a glorious Western sunset. Within minutes of emerging from the van, Thierry had attracted a clutch of local teenagers keen to take photos and ask about the Twizy. We later picked up via Twitter that Thierry’s arrival in Mallaig had already been broadcast back to Eigg! And peeping out from our B&B window the following morning, there were even van drivers stopping to photograph Thierry like twitchers spotting a rare Southern bird!
Designed as an urban runabout, luggage carrying is not a Twizy strength but we managed to strap in our two waterproof travel bags either side of the driver’s seat. By 9:45am, we were ready for off and had parked Thierry (proudly displaying his specially acquired Highland Council temporary vehicle permit) ready to embark on CalMac ferry, the ‘Loch Nevis’.
Once loaded onto the ferry (next to the
council’s recycling lorry), we fielded interested questions from the very friendly CalMac crew. They even offered to plug us in for a recharge on board if we needed that as they are used to doing this for refrigerated lorries.
A smooth 90 minute crossing (to the relief of both Thierry and crew) and the ferry landed initially on the neighbouring isle of Muck. Watching from the deck, we saw a Muck resident running down the vehicle ramp in order to get a quick look at Thierry before the ferry left again. After a brief chat, Judy decided to travel with us to Eigg in order to get a chance to test drive the Twizy when we disembarked there. She would, she explained, have to be very quick before catching the ferry back to Muck or risk being stranded on Eigg within distant sight, but not reach, of home for 2 long days!
So, 30 minutes later saw Thierry driving off the ferry with Judy-from-Muck a smiling passenger in the back. We were greeted on the pier by our Eigg Box host, Lucy, but quickly swapped drivers to give Judy her chance to take Thierry for his first short spin on Eigg soil. A smiling Judy then hopped out and ran back aboard the Loch Nevis just before the ramps went up and the ferry steamed away.
Thierry was greeted by a welcoming committee at the pier end shop and café but we held off pleas for “a go” whilst we grabbed some soup and a chat with Lucy. Once refreshed though, the fun started as Eigg residents (in all their varied guises) appeared from everywhere eager to try Twizzling for the first time. And it can hardly be claimed that an orderly queue was formed.
The pier end turned out to be an excellent spot for Twizy demo runs. Everyone was keen to see how the Twizy would perform on an Eigg hill and there was one conveniently straight ahead and then most (but not all) drivers wanted to see just just how fast a Twizy would go and the pier turned out to be one of the few places on Eigg where you can put your foot down. Treating the pier as a Twizy race track was somewhat alarming to us as Thierry’s owners but plenty of fun for the residents in question. We did keep shouting out reminders of where to find the brake! Everyone returned with a large grin on their faces and lots of questions for us.
Satisfied with the Twizy’s speed and hill climbing, 3 questions kept cropping up:-
1. Can a Twizy tow a trailer? Most Eigg vehicles routinely tow a trailer as the only means to collect goods (and barrels of diesel for the cars) from the pier on ferry days.
2. Is there any weatherproofing to keep out Eigg’s notorious ‘horizontal rain’? No-one seemed particularly worried about cold – they dress for it and their journeys are too short. But with frequent gales, the rain on Eigg apparently blows sideways into anything. We fortunately didn’t experience these conditions but, looking West straight out to the Atlantic, can well imagine it.
3. How would the rather stiff and low slung urban Twizy cope with rough tracks up to people’s houses? Not brilliantly we confessed.
This was useful stuff for us to hear as we are collaborating with Edinburgh College to develop an electric road legal buggy, Bruce, for trial on Eigg, hopefully, next year. Our assumption has been that a buggy would work better than a Twizy on this particular island. However, given the level of enthusiasm for the Twizy during our visit, that might be open to debate.
As the demo crowd petered out, we headed uphill ourselves to visit Eigg Electric and see where the power which Thierry would need during his stay comes from. Not connected to the mainland grid, Eigg residents used to rely on noisy diesel generators. The island now has its own wind farm, hydro turbines and solar panels which all feed into the Eigg electric station where excess energy is stored in an impressive battery bank. Having read about and admired their scheme from afar, it was great to see it working for real. We later purchased a £10 Eigg electric ‘pay-as-you-go’ card from Maggie Fyffe to make sure that Thierry was a well-mannered guest – covering his refuelling costs during his stay. It challenged our outlook to be staying somewhere where all our transport energy would have to be covered by the energy produced locally on the island. It’s a reality check we wish could be replicated on the mainland where electric vehicle drivers can easily forget that the energy our vehicles consume still has to come from somewhere and the UK doesn’t yet generate nearly enough green energy to support our current travel patterns. Somehow, we all need to learn to travel less and/or use less energy doing so. Ultra lightweight, low energy vehicles like the Twizy offer one way to do that – at least for local journeys.
Electric Eigg team member, Bob, had a Twizy spin and he and Eddie discussed whether electric vehicles could provide a useful load when the island’s battery bank is full and they are generating more than they need. This is something it would be good to explore. Bob then pointed us in the direction of Earth Connections Sustainability Centre where he and
Norah and family live and offer residential sustainability courses. We were keen to see the centre (the original laird’s house) and the family’s electric milk float which, although currently out of action, has proved a useful, cheap and green form of transport around the island. The stony track to the centre looked too rough for a Twizy so we left Thierry at the start of it. However, walking we were soon passed by Bob’s young sons, Logan and Clyde making short (but bumpy) work of it on their bicycles coming home from school. We think Bruce the buggy would manage tracks like this fine.
After a welcome cup of tea and a quiet but skilled demonstration of the precise science of biscuit dunking from Clyde, we wandered back to the road cheered by the distinctive sound of a micro hydro whirring somewhere in the undergrowth.
Next stop was Kildonan House B&B (another stretch of rough-ish track) where we and Thierry were welcomed by Marie – more tea for us and some welcome watts (through the kitchen window) for a peckish Thierry after a busy day of circuits and bumps.
At Kildonan, we met the mobile dental team of 3 who visit Eigg from Fort William every 6 months. Over 2 nights of enjoying Marie’s sumptuous 3 course dinners, we learned a lot from them about modern (“sticky”) dentistry and Scottish politics and they learned (probably more than they had bargained for) about electric vehicles and kilowatt hours! An interesting and unusual exchange. They were also able to provide independent feedback “from the dentist’s chair” (so to speak) of what various islanders actually thought of the Twizy!
The next morning, with Thierry wincing slightly from the additional energy required to transport a Kildonan-fed crew up hills, we headed for a 10am appointment at Eigg School. It was misty light rain and somewhat midgy. Sitting in a semi-circle, teacher Sue and her 6 pupils were ready for us armed with their questions but we made sure we got a few of our own in as well. We talked about energy and modes of transport to get to school and we showed them photos of both the Twizy (which they’d all spotted through the window anyway) and Bruce-the-buggy. Vehicle preference fell cleanly, I fear, along gender lines with the 3 boys favouring the buggy and the 3 girls the Twizy.
On that disappointingly gendered note, we all donned boots and cagoules and headed outside where Sue’s husband Neil was ready to give each of the youngsters a ride as passenger in Thierry. After some debate about who went first, they were off – each returning with a grin from ear to ear and shrieks of just how fast they had gone. We didn’t re-run the Bruce versus Thierry test but I think the result might have proved slightly different at that point.
Waving goodbye to the assembled school, we headed downhill to Cleadale and Lucy’s
light and modern home. Poor old Thierry again struggled with the bumpy track leading up there and chose to jettison the weightier half of his crew overboard in order to make it more comfortably.
After a delicious soup lunch and a chat about next year’s trial, we bumped our way back and parked at the Cleadale crossroads for a further demo session. Fewer locals turned up this time but a stream of visitors appeared on bikes and foot and were sufficiently inquisitive that several of them ended up opting for a demo Twizy drive. Lucy also took the opportunity to try Thierry up and down the Cleadale hill (fine) and experience riding in the back seat. She even managed to video whilst driving.
The rain had now cleared and the views across to neighbouring Rum were stunning.
When the test drivers had all had their fill, Lucy’s partner Eddie took us to see the Eigg turbine at Larg. This is an impressive 100kW turbine and, in our role as Talybont Energy Directors (back at home in Wales), we were envious of its size and generating capacity as well as the fact that it had far more interesting dials, coloured lights and buttons than our own 36kW turbine in Talybont. #turbineenvy
Before heading back to Kildonan, we took the opportunity to walk over to Eigg’s famous singing sands in the evening light. Well worth the effort and very necessary to build up an appetite for another delicious 3 course dinner from Marie. If we lived like that all the time, I fear we would get to the point that we couldn’t fit 2 of us any longer in Thierry’s bijou “interior”. It’s a close call as it is.
On our last morning, we drove down to the pier and parked Thierry while we walked up the track to visit the Eigg wind farm below the Sgurr. It was good to stand up
there watching the blades rotating in the stiff Southerly breeze and be reminded how they had directly generated the power we had consumed on all activities during our visit. Although we mostly charge Thierry at home when our own solar panels are active, one doesn’t get the same sense (or reality) of connection when the renewable sources are simply feeding on to the mains grid. That direct generation/consumption link is definitely part of the fascination of visiting Eigg.
Returning to the pier with an hour or so to go before the ferry, we found one of the younger Eigg residents
had taken possession of Thierry and was demanding how soon she would “get to have a wee pop in the Twizy”. Having tracked down a willing driver (her Grandfather, Colin) she clambered in the back and soon came back singing “electric electric” in delighted tones. We had a useful chat with Colin about alternative electric farm vehicles and promised to send him relevant links before he headed off to herd his sheep into the lorry ready for the ferry. From then until the rain started pouring down and drove most people inside the café, we had a steady stream of locals and visitors keen to chat and get a last shot at driving Thierry.
Once the Loch Nevis docked, it was all a rush and we hopped in a wet Thierry, lashed in our bags and said a hasty farewell to our new friends. We got a small taste of just how wet it can be when you stop on an exposed pier in driving rain before the CalMac staff waved us on and we reversed into the steamy and noisy bowels of the ferry. Sad to be leaving the island, Thierry was consoled by being parked next to a load of travelling sheep.
Will we be back? You bet. Next time quite possibly during Bruce-the-buggy’s trial next year. Bruce will be more functional, better weather proofed and able to cope with the rough tracks but he won’t quite have Thierry’s nippy performance and style but we just hope he proves as popular.
While it’s a long haul from Wales in a transit van (for us and Thierry), the Twizy proved close to the perfect island hopper vehicle. Now CalMac has announced 50% reduction for all electric vehicles on some routes, it could become an even more attractive option for visitors. If only we could bring such lightweight vehicles by train or hire an equivalent at the ferry terminals.
Total Twizy miles on Eigg : 90. Energy consumed : 11kWh.