NC500 Tesla Model Y

Three years ago, almost to the day, we set out on our Highland Adventure in our last EV. That time we got as far north as Inverness, this time it would be our starting point.

Day 1

Lisburn to Inverness (343 miles)
Google Maps Link

As we drove off the ferry at Cairnryan shortly after 10:00am on day one of our trip, we had several stops planned on our way to the start line for the NC500, the famous North Coast 500 mile(ish) route from Inverness and back via some of the most scenic roads in the UK. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, first there was some EV nerd stuff to deal with. So we entered the details for the new Fastned chargers at Hamilton into the Model Y’s nav and got underway.

This was the first time I’ve seen Fastned’s famous signature solar canopy, and below it at this hub were 8 x 300 kW ultra-rapid chargers. That’s more than a third of all the public rapids currently in Northern Ireland, at this one retail park south of Glasgow.

Next along our route was a stop at the Castleview Park and Ride. This is Stirlings Low Carbon Transport Hub with solar panels covering 132 car parking spaces and boasting an amazing 64 chargers on this single site, made up of DC Rapids as well as 22kW and 7kW ACs (think of that, then read this reply from our previous infrastructure minister on why you’d never dream of having such a thing).

Our third stop of the day was a slight detour off the direct route to Inverness but it would be worth it. A quick check at this point showed after using 50% of the Long Range Y’s battery it had taken us 162 miles, pointing to over 300 miles real world summer range, even with quite a bit of dual carriageway and motorway driving.

By the time we’d gone from Lisburn to Dundee, amazingly there was still 40% battery remaining. We had arranged to meet Gary McCrae who is Head of Electric Mobility at Urban Foresight and he very kindly showed us some of the charging infrastructure around the city, including the Princes Street Hub and the pop-up charges near the V&A museum. Incredibly Dundee have mapped out their infrastructure plans for the next 23 years and are aiming for 9 more rapid hubs and 500 on-street AC chargers, all for a city with a population of around 140,000.

We said goodbye to Gary and back tracked from Dundee to Perth, where we took on 35 kWh at the Supercharger there, before turning North again. We finally rolled into Inverness around 7:15pm having covered 343 miles on a rewarding first day.

Day 2

Inverness to Thurso (152 miles)
Google Maps Link

Next morning we used the Inverness Supercharger to top up while we had breakfast and then headed for Thurso, via a stop at Dunrobin Castle and the obligatory John O’Groats sign post.

The tip we’d received to go anti-clockwise around the NC500 route was definitely a good one. The drive north from Inverness, while pleasant, had none of the drama of the west coast that lay ahead.

Thurso is a nice town with plenty of places to stay and eat. And it’s not just you that will be taking on sustenance as there’s a choice of 2 rapid chargers within a short distance of each other for your EV.

Day 3

Around Thurso (53 miles)
Google Maps Link

We had originally wanted to head to Orkney on day 3, but as it was a Sunday, the ferry sailings were limited. Time then to ease the pace a little and after a lazy morning we headed back east a few miles to Dunett Head (apparently the real most northerly point, not John O’Groats). We also ventured a few miles west of Thurso to see the Dounreay nuclear site too.

One of our Airbnb hosts mentioned that fuel prices seemed to be putting some people off touring the NC500 this year and we certainly were surprised by how clear the roads were.

Day 4

Thurso to Badcall via Orkney (171 miles)
Google Maps Link

After our second night in Thurso (and a commando socket charge from our friends Brian and Angela), it was time to head even further north as we travelled to Orkney for the day. After a 90 minute rollercoaster ferry ride which saw my better half go a bit green, we docked in Stromness and drove onto the island. With the limited time we had we got straight into it, first meeting Neil Kermode from the EV Association Scotland for an enlightening chat on some of this amazing islands energy strategies (have a listen to this BBC Podcast to learn more).

We drove across the island to see the ancient stones at the Ring of Brodgar before heading to Kirkwall for a quick meeting with Anna Marriott at Reflex Orkney – a government backed project and business that helps islanders with the move to an EV as well as being involved with a car club with electric vehicles available to rent by the hour. We often saw car club cars sitting in specially marked spaces at car parks on the trip and this is something that would be very welcomed in Northern Ireland. I also saw my first Hydrogen refilling station just down the road from the Reflex project HQ.

After a great day on Orkney we sailed back with a slightly less rocky crossing and rolled off the ferry at Scrabster around 6:30pm. A latest check-in time of 9:00pm at our Airbnb in Badcall 87 miles away meant some spirited driving was called for. While we always proceeded with due care and attention, this was a very memorable trek through some stunning scenery and along some rewarding single track roads.

Day 5

Badcall to Ullapool (97 miles)
Google Maps Link

After waking up at “The View” B&B (they did not lie) and indulging in another low calorie Scottish breakfast, we headed to the charger a couple of miles down the road.

It seems incredible to see a rapid charger at a tiny harbour in a remote area of western Scotland, but it’s not unusual here.

This was by far the best weather of the trip and we were determined to make the most of it. After a walk along the beautiful beach at Oldshoremore we headed south again, enjoying the roads and the view as we crossed the cool Kylesku Bridge.

A right turn took us off the main roads and back to the single tracks of the NC500. This was a stunning scenic coastal route round the headland and on into Lochinver.

The final leg of the day was back on wider roads and we stopped to take in the view at the Ardvreck Castle on the final run towards Ullapool, heading to our next Airbnb for the night. This little town has a population of just 1,500 yet boasts 2 rapid chargers. The one we used was near the harbour and we had to drive around the long queue of traffic for the ferry to get to it, which was a little awkward.

Day 6

Ullapool to Portree (198 miles)
Google Maps Link

The weather changed for the worse as we pulled out of Ullapool heading for Portree on the Isle of Skye. Following the NC500 route meant adding an extra 80 miles onto the 119 mile more direct route. More single track roads took us through beautiful Torridon and then over Bealach na Ba, the infamous pass through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula. Things went from frankly terrifying at the top in the blind conditions in low cloud, to delight as we descended the switchbacks on the far side and the views came back into focus.

It was a good reminder of how great regen is in an electric vehicle, giving you some of the energy back you expend on the climb, unlike a piston vehicle that wastes it in heat, brake wear and more expense. There were many hills over the course of the trip and scooping up the energy back into the battery on the downward side was always enjoyable.

Then it was over the Skye Bridge and on to our Airbnb for the night. Although in the countryside it was only 10 mins from Portree. This was a long day with around 6 hours of driving and the roads in and out of Applecross were not great, unlike the very good single track surfaces we’d experienced on previous days.

Day 7

Portree to Fort William (153 miles)
Google Maps Link

We started the day with another great homemade breakfast from our Airbnb hostess before we got underway. We had charged the night before at the rapid in Portree, there was a 4 car queue for this one so we went and had dinner and charged when we got back.

We passed another rapid at Broadford and there’s another handy one just after the Skye Bridge on the left had side when heading off the island. It’s interesting to see £30 over stay fees for many of the Chargeplace Scotland chargers (both AC and DC). That would make a heck of a difference to the hogging in NI. Fees depend on where you are and so can be hard to follow, but in general we found the ChargePlace Scotland network to be absolutely fantastic, with chargers everywhere we needed. Every one was in working order and most were available when we needed.

From Fort William we headed west to an appointment with a train. A climb up a boggy hillside and an hour standing in the drizzle was rewarded with a fantastic front row view of the Jacobite Steam Train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct (used in Harry Potter apparently). I’m not usually a proponent of coal power, but this was pretty spectacular.

Day 8

Fort William to Strachur (104 miles)
Google Maps Link

Our last full day started with a top up to 100% at the Fort William Supercharger before we headed for Oban where we arrived around 10:30am just in time for breakfast and a couple of hours walking around the town.

Next it was a 30 minute drive to the Cruachan Visitor Centre at Lough Awe, for our tour inside this ‘hollow mountain’. Cruachan is a pumped hydro power station which controls 10 million cubic metres of water in a man made lake at the top of the mountain. Our mini-bus tour took us 1 km deep into the Ben Cruachan granite to see the 4 turbines that produce the power. According to our guide there are 33 similar pumped storage sites being worked on around the UK currently.

Day 9

Strachur to Lisburn (154 miles)
Google Maps Link

It was our final day and sadly time to head for home. We set off from Strachur on the shores of Loch Fyne around 10:00am, stopping to take in the stunning Rest and Be Thankful pass, as we had done 3 years previously in the Model 3.

A very relaxed and efficient run, in ideal 20 degree weather, took us down to the Stena Line ferry terminal at Cairnryan, easily beating the predicted energy use. A smooth crossing got us into Belfast before 6pm, just leaving the short hop home to Lisburn.

The Totals

Over the nine days we travelled most of the official NC500 route, adding our own additions like Orkney and Skye. We covered a total of 1,425 miles, averaging 4.1 miles per kWh.

All in I paid £49.47 for the charging on the trip, around 3.5p per mile. That cost includes the full charge before leaving home and all the ChargePlace Scotland public charges we did too. We had one free overnight top up from our friends in Thurso (19 kWh) and our four Tesla Supercharging sessions were free also (181 kWh).

Easy EV Travel

The car never skipped a beat and proved day after day that a real world summer range of 300 miles is possible (we saw temperatures between 13 and 20 degrees over the trip). We used around a dozen different chargers over the journey, some more than once. Most of these were rapids although we had 2 AC charges too.

I still find it hard to get out of the ABC (always be charging) mind set, and had originally planned an additional charge for the final leg of the trip to the ferry. But we didn’t need any more charging after Fort William, arriving home with 16%. I still sometimes think of that SOC (state of charge) in terms of my 24kWh Leaf, but that 16% remaining as we got home was 53 miles worth in the Long Range Model Y.

Touring in a modern EV, backed up with proper charging infrastructure, is easy. Let’s hope we’re now a step closer to that in Northern Ireland and we can welcome more tourists here soon. It certainly makes for a great holiday.

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