We charge up and head to Britain’s most remote boozer in the Volkswagen ID.3. Time to escape the 24hr bad news cycle with a quiet pint
Got hairy quite quickly, this one. One minute I’m winding serenely past a loch, popping M&Ms and listening to a podcast about the birth of rave culture, the next I’m reversing down a greasy slipway and attempting to insert a VW ID.3 into an ex-MOD landing craft built in the same year I was born.
My wing mirrors are useless since folding them in is the only way I might fit, and the metal ramps separating 58kWh of high voltage lithium-ion battery from a swim in the sea are bobbing side to side in rhythm with the waves. A crowd of curious onlookers has formed to watch me try and blindly back an electric car through a moving width restrictor and the only person offering me any help looks like a brined Father Christmas.
Words: Jack Rix // Photography: John Wycherley
Firstly, and I can’t stress this enough, this is not another story about driving an electric car an annoyingly long distance, then complaining about our sub-standard charging infrastructure.
The chargers are out there, multiplying like rabbits, and by and large do the job they were designed for. With a little planning and forethought my 500-mile drive from the VW press garage in Milton Keynes to Mallaig Harbour, nestled below the sole of Skye’s boot, went as so: drove to Preston, rapid charged while eating a disappointing sandwich; drove to Dumbarton, charged overnight while getting some kip; drove to Mallaig Harbour.
If you have the patience, electric cars work. The new ID.3 works particularly well, and we’ll get to that in a minute, but as I said this isn’t really a story about electric cars. This is a story about going to the pub.
You see, the world has gone a bit loopy and my poor brain can only take so much of the 24-hour bad news cycle. Which got me thinking. Nothing calms my mind more than a well-earned pint. Now imagine if that pint could be enjoyed in perfect peace, away from the spittle-flecked crowds dissecting Boris’s latest fumble and trying to cram another couple of units in before the 10pm curfew. Social distancing taken to unnecessary extremes… a pint in mainland Britain’s most remote pub. Now that would be something.
We’re taking social distancing taken to unnecessary extremes… a pint in mainland Britain’s most remote pub
Some light online research turned up the establishment I was after – The Old Forge in Inverie, Knoydart. Not only Britain’s most in-the-middle-of-nowhere boozer, but also consistently in the top 10 places to sink a few jars in Scotland and crash out afterwards. This was shaping up to be my finest idea yet. More so when I read the website’s description of its clientele: “Poets and troubadours, belly dancers, winkle pickers and tweed clad ghillies, blooded stalkers, musicians, yachties, dogs and more dogs.”
We’ll fit right in… and the food? “Seafood, became shellfish became langoustines, mussels and hand dived scallops from Arisaig, speed reading Nick Nairn, Rick Stein, a foray into sea bass, sea bream, trout, venison, wild boar, and anything else edible with gills or fur that made it from our larder… sea loch or hill, to kitchen. Bramble pickin’ and fungi foraging. Our food menu is a living thing.” You don’t get that at Harvester.
But before the belly dancing could begin, some hurdles. The 55,000-acre Knoydart Peninsula is a wilderness, home to around 130 hardy souls these days, but cut off entirely the from the UK road network. The only way in is via a passenger ferry from Mallaig, or an 18-mile hike over a series of craggy munros, and since I’m not the ‘sturdy’ footwear type and would definitely lose my way and be forced to wear a sheep as a sleeping bag, a seven-mile/45-minute sea crossing it was. Except the thought of abandoning the ID.3 at the harbour’s edge and taking the foot ferry was just too distressing, so we booked ourselves a private crossing with space for a 1,800kg hatchback. An ocean-friendly UberXL.
Hurdle two: in a moment of uncharacteristic organisational brilliance, I decided to phone the pub and let them know we were coming. The owner, JP, a great bearded oak of a man of Belgian descent, was happy to have us, but warned that Tuesday 29 September would be his final evening of business before shuttering the tavern for winter. We could only collect the car from Milton Keynes around lunchtime on Monday. Better get a wiggle on.
Our wheels would be the new ID.3, the Golf’s future-leaning cousin, a sensible five-door family hatchback that runs entirely on electricity. Not the first electric car the VW Group has produced, but the first on a new modular MEB pure-electric platform that over the coming years will wear many, many different top hats across the sprawling VW Group portfolio. Get this: by 2030 the VW Group expects/hopes to have built 20 million cars on the MEB architecture. At current predictions, that’ll be 40 per cent of the world’s entire EV fleet.
Clearly the big battery ID.3 (77kWh, 340-mile range) would have been a better tool for this job, but to begin with all UK cars are fully loaded 1st Editions, which means 201bhp from a single motor on the rear axle, and the middle-sized 58kWh battery, good for a WLTP range of 260 miles. Except that’s nonsense.
On the motorway, radar cruise set to 70mph, we found it would probably do a smidge over 200 miles between charges. But playing chicken with the charging network like that isn’t realistic, my ticker can’t take it, so you pull in every 180 miles or so if you’ve got big distances to cover. Drive slower and you could extend that, but frankly I’m not ready to be that unhappy.
As I’d hoped, and in keeping with my wellness quest, the ID.3 is a bubble of calm. On the motorway it’s a revelation: quieter and smoother than a Golf, tyre noise and wind noise suppressed by its more slippery shape and relatively slim rubber. A joy to travel in.
Fun too, once we got ourselves north of Glasgow, aka The Interesting Bit. Not fun in a pin-sharp, streaming with feedback sort of a way, but there’s a load of new and interesting sensations to enjoy. Its 0–62mph time of 7.3 seconds isn’t hot hatch quick, but because it gives its best from 0–30mph it’s a rapid point-to-point, gap snaffling car around town, and adequately fast once you’re past 50mph. Either way there’s always a satisfying surge and faint sci-fi whistle from the motor when you plant your foot.
Tuesday morning and we’re on course for our 4pm water taxi. Plenty of time then to try and describe the ridiculousness of the West Highlands of Scotland. The sheer depth and breadth and subtle palette of its beauty; the morning mist clinging to Loch Lomond like a 12-tog duvet, the widescreen splendour of Glencoe, the Martian pebbles of Lochan na h-Achlaise, the edge of the world stillness at Glenuig.
The ID.3 actually feels rear driven, hunkering down under throttle and pushing you with traction and real punch out of roundabouts
Breathtaking views arrive with such regularity around these parts that I’m probably starving my brain of oxygen, especially since nature’s playing ball with crisp sunshine and 8K visibility. And the best part is I’ve got time to drink it in and waft on by, because you drive electric cars differently. You just do. You nurse and caress them around, rather than hammer and abuse. You start slow, then when it’s clear you’ll make your destination comfortably, you can enjoy bursts of throttle here and there.
Although rear-wheel drive for packaging reasons, mainly to free up the front wheels for a brilliantly tight turning circle, the ID.3 actually feels rear driven, hunkering down slightly under throttle and pushing you with traction and real punch out of roundabouts and tighter corners. Didn’t expect that. The steering is light, predictably numb, but uncorrupted by torque steer so you can trust it (unless you’ve forgotten to turn off the infuriating lane-keep assist that keeps trying to wrestle the wheel out of your hands) while the brakes (drums at the rear!) do a good job of blending regen and actual friction, unless you really stand on them and you’re suddenly all too aware of the 1,800kg weight.
Want to lower your heart rate? This is the interior for you. It’s a cracking space to spend time in, it really is. Slightly wider and taller a Golf, it just feels airier… and as a consequence, more useful. There are nets and slots and holders and bins everywhere you look. Rear passengers sit higher than in the front, so the view out’s good, as is the legroom, headroom and bootspace that’s identical to a Golf. If you have two kids or less and don’t regularly need to transport large pieces of agricultural equipment, it feels like all the space you’ll need.
But it’s not perfect. If you’re coming to the VW from a Tesla, the build quality will astound and amaze you, but there is still some pretty cheapo plastic on the door tops and glove box, and while jettisoning all buttons (a la new Golf) suits the ID.3’s techy outlook better, it doesn’t get around the fact that it’s a massive pain in the arse. Things that would normally be a click, a scroll or a push are several jabs into sub-menus to locate.
Not that the good people of Scotland give a toss about such ergonomic banana skins, they’re in thrall. You’d think, with its blobby, amorphous styling, that it would fly under people’s radar, but even in this sparsely populated corner of the world it got more attention than Posh Spice in Lidl. Everyone knew what it was, wanted to have a look inside, to know how fast it was, how far it went and whether I’d recommend one. My take was electric cars now have our full attention, and great swathes of the population are teetering on the edge, preparing to make the switch, sniffing about for some final reassurance that they’re not about to make a horrible, costly mistake.
I know the feeling. We’re on the boat. The car, by some miracle, is safely installed. I’ve exited through the window and find myself clinging on gamely to a grab rail making small talk with Nigel (the elder) and Tiree (the younger) Boston – a father/son combo that’s made transporting things to and from Inverie aboard this fine vessel their business.
I stare meaningfully out to sea, desperate for dad and son to think I have a clue what’s going on, when in reality I have the sea legs of a newborn giraffe. Meanwhile John is doing an admirable job of trying to land his drone on a moving boat. We all show our support by pointing and collapsing in a fit of laughter when he almost drops it into the sea.
The jeopardy might have been well managed on this trip, but right now this feels like a proper adventure in a wild, untamed land with an alien white object on wheels plonked into the middle of it. Since our personal liberty began to be eroded faster than the cliffs of Dover, it’s the type of trip I’ve been craving for a while now. And boy is it delivering. As we near the slipway and spot the whitewashed walls of the Old Forge in the distance, the euphoria crashes over me. We’ve made it to this bizarre, remote place, left the world behind in our wake and carried the car to the finish line with us.
I park up, get our keys, swap stories, hide my disappointment at the lack of tweed-clad ghillies, take a seat on a bench surrounded by nothing but magnificence, raise my glass to a sun being swallowed by the sea… and take a sip.
Of course, driving this far for a peaceful pint, when I’ve got a fridge full of beer at home, is daft, but roadtripping for the sake of it, feeling that freedom we all took for granted and the type only a car can offer, is just the mind-ointment I needed. Another sip. Total silence. Same again please, barman.
This feature was created in September 2020 in line with Covid guidelines