North Coast 500

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, but we’ve been doing the trip to Scotland in the LEAF each year since 2012!

This year we want to add a little challenge to it: The North Coast 500 tourist route (or the Scottish Route 66 as they say).

ChargePlaceScotland has installed chargers all the way along this road, so it would be a shale not to use them 🙂

Stirling Park&Ride

First charge stop tonight: Stirling Park&Ride. Nothing to do around here unfortunately (no Costa Coffee as on all the Ecotricity charge stops on the way up…)


The return – 2015

One day Glasgow-Folkstone – is it possible?



Kielder Water

First stop in the UK:Nissan Newcastle (Benfield) for a fast charge. Plenty of LEAFs around here. The area around Newcastle seems to be one of the most LEAF-dense areas in the UK (Perhaps because they are now made in Sunderland, just a few miles away).



Unfortunately their rapid charger has been out of service for 3 months. They’re not impressed with the “french” charger…


Fortunately, there are plenty of rapid chargers around. We choose to go to a local shopping centre, the “metrocentre”, which has 2 rapid chargers as well as a number of slow charge points.



Succesfull charge on the first of the “Charge Your Car” network of chargers. My badge from the year before is still active, and we’re fully charged in the time it takes to get a coffy at the first Starbucks of the journey 🙂20140721_Newcastle_Metrocentre_2

Next stop Hexham. We don’t really need another charge before today’s destination, but we know there’s a rapid charger there, and we feel safer heading into Norhtumberland National Park with a full charge just in case. We find a brand new ABB tri-standard charger here, that doesn’t even need a badge!



The very clear display is a little pessimistic, indicating 60 minutes for only about 30% of a charge. In reality it finished in under 15 minutes (while we were shopping in the Sainsbury’s just beside it).20140721_Hexham_New_ABB_Charger_display

The destination for the next couple of days is Kielder, on the shores of Kielder Water in Northumberland National Park. We reserved a B&B, and there’s a charge point in the village. Unfortunately, on arrival, the chargepoint is not in service. The association that runs the local petrol-station and the chargepoint is very helpful, but many phone calls further, it seems an electrician will need to be called out, so we won’t be able to charge at the chargepoint during our stay.

no blue light... bad sign!

no blue light… bad sign!

Instead we go for dinner at the Pheasant Inn, where we stayed last year. It has a chargepoint we have used before, and we manage to charge there no problem.


In good (?) company of a Vauxhall Ampera who’s also come for dinner because of the charging point 🙂


The following day we cycle the 42km around the lake.



We have lunch in a small tearoom at the south end of the lake, where by chance we find another chargepoint! Northumberland does not seem to be lacking chargepoints!



In the evening, the B&B owner helps us out with a cable out the first floor window (no window needs to be left open on the ground floor), so that we can depart with a full charge the next day.






To the ferry

After a shorter visit than planned (see previous episode), we continue our journey to the ferry. Quick LEAF family photograph before we leave…20140720_LEAF_family

We’re happy to find our “usual” charger at ANWB Badhoevedorp. ANWB were the first to install rapid chargers in good locations, and they’re still going strong! The ANWB centre is closed on sundays, but access is granted for people wanting to charge at any time. (we actually happened to find one of the service vehicles leaving just as we arrived, and he kindly let us in)20140720_ANWB_Badhoevedorp


Long wait at the ferry terminal. With our experience with fast chargers on the journey from Paris, we left plenty time today in case a charger wouldn’t work. However everything went smoothly, so we were early for the ferry…20140720_Ferry

By chance we are parked just beside some industrial sockets on the ferry. I do have the right adapter for this (32A monophase, or 16A triphase, IP67), but the personnel will not let us charge onboard due to a fire they had onboard one of the DFDS ferries with a car charging 4 years ago. 🙁20140720_Ferry_Sockets


Paris to The Netherlands

Will we get to The Netherlands in one day ? Last year it wasn’t possible. To few rapid chargers. What difference does another year make ?

Well, there’s more rapid chargers in France, that’s for sure! Unfortunately the only rapid charger we were able to use was the one at the car-train station in Paris. All 6 rapid chargers I had planned to use were either “not functioning” (3), “not available outside of office hours” (2), or simply not there… (1 – due to roadworks).

So a 2 day journey yet again… But a very nice journey all the same, visiting Amiens, Lille and Gendt. And with a large increase in the number of public slow-charge points, we no longer need to ask restaurants & hotels if we can plug in…

The rapid charger at the car-train terminal in Paris (Gare de Bercy)

The rapid charger at the car-train terminal in Paris (Gare de Bercy)

Staff from the SNCF had plugged in our car as soon as it got there, so it was well charged (charge level set to 100% on the charger!) when we arrived.

Slow charge in Clermont after failing first rapid charger at IKEA Roissy

Slow charge at Intermarche in Clermont

A couple of hours on a slow charger halfway between Paris and Amiens.This charger, installed by Lafont Pulse, operates by SMS; plug in, text a code, and off it goes. Free of charge (apart from the standard sms cost). Unfortunately, there is nothing in Clermont… As Rhona put it after walking around for an hour in the heat, she’d never been so happy to see a McDonalds! (and that’s saying something 🙂 ). When we got back to the car, we learned there’s a swimmingpool just next to the Intermache… perfect for a couple of hours charging… we’ll know for next time!

Note; This charge stop might not have been necessary if the first rapid charger at IKEA Roissy would have worked, although the distance would still have been on the limit of the range of the car.

Rapid charger right in the centre of Amiens...

Rapid charger right in the centre of Amiens…

After our mis-adventure in Clermont, we fancied a charge in a nicer place! Amiens has a rapid charger right in the centre. However, you need a card from the Renault dealer, and it was shut by the time we got there… The charger did not accept any of the 12 RFID cards I have by now…

Rapid charger at Nissan Amiens

Rapid charger at Nissan Amiens

So on to the Nissan dealer in Amiens, which is more on the outskirts of Amiens. We know that rapid charger, as we used it last year. I had actually phoned earlier in the day to make sure it worked, and “yes, someone just used it”. So we were pretty confident… …until we arrived and saw this. Overheated. Fans blowing full (like on the previous one). It seems these rapid chargers do not like the sun… Several reset trials later we gave up, and went to a slow charger at a nearby Leclerc supermarket. However, it was getting late (7pm), so we were never going to get much further today. While charging a little, we phoned around for a B&B.

Comme une parenthese

Comme une parenthese

Charging at the B&B

Charging at the B&B

We’ve seen the centre of Amiens before, and we found a nice local-produce restaurant to have dinner while a thunderstorm passed outside.

Amiens Cathedrale (et la voiture ;-) )

Amiens Cathedrale (et la voiture 😉 )

The thunderstorm had passed, and the cathedral is light-up at night, with wat were apparently the original colours (now all stone grey). Very impressive! The light show is accompanied by a story telling the past of this magnificent cathedral. Worth a visit!

The cathedral in colours.

The cathedral in colours.

Following day we headed north to Lille. Lille has 3 rapid chargers, so surely today we’d be able do a rapid charge! But no… First charger at IKEA Lille tells me it has a ground fault. Seems to be only on the DC side, since a Dutch Tesla S manages to charge on the AC side.

IKEA Lille

IKEA Lille

A phone call to the local Nissan dealer (rapid charger no 2), tells us that there are roadworks around the dealer, and his charger has been temporarily removed.

The last hope is a rapid charger at the regional council. This is listed as “office hours only”, and this being the weekend, we weren’t very hopeful. However if you don’t try… We could see the charger behind the automatic gates, but the guardian was very clear; that charger is only for service vehicles, and he wasn’t going to let us in… thanks…

So back to our good old slow charger at Lille Flandres train station. We charged here last year too. It happens to be next door to a micro-brewery, which also does pretty good food! Not difficult to pass 4 or 5 hours in Lille (in fact we got back to the car “late” 🙂 ).

Les 3 brasseurs

Les 3 brasseurs

Next stop Gendt in Belgium. We know there’s no rapid charger there. All Nissan rapid chargers that had been installed at the Delhaize supermarket chain in Belgium have been removed due to reliability problems… So instead we head for a parking garage in the centre, and plug in at one of the ridiculously expensive BlueCorner points (7.95 euros / slow charge + parking charges – but our NewMotion card works so it is free for us at the moment 🙂 ). Charging side by side with yet another Dutch Tesla S!

Yet another Dutch Tesla!

Yet another Dutch Tesla!

What to do in Gendt ? Well, another micro-brewery perhaps…

Gruut brouwerij

Gruut brouwerij

And by chance this was the weekend of the “Gentse Feesten”. The city centre is all blocked off, and one huge festival venue. Bands playing everywhere, and good belgium beers all around. Pity I still had to drive 🙁

Gentse Feesten

Gentse Feesten

We got back to the car “late” again (the charge time is not the limiting factor…), and set of for The Netherlands. In theory, we could have done the last leg of the journey without charging, but it would have been very tight. (the range announced in the car went down pretty much in line with distance driven – meaning I was driving very carefully).

In the end we decided to chance one last rapid charger which was only a few kilometers of our road… it worked! This ABB charger is litteraly in the middle of nowhere – at a Shell petrol station with nothing but farm fields for miles around. Free of charge, accessible 24/7, and it just works!

Tholen rapid charger

Tholen rapid charger

Arrived at 1am… The conclusion; there seems to be a problem with the reliability of the Nissan/DBT rapid chargers, especially in the heat. Currently there’s about a 50% chance of a charger actually working when you get there. This is not really acceptable… The ABB chargers are much larger (and less elegant), but there’s a reason for that…


Departure 2014

The goal of the 2014 journey is to do the entire return journey by car. No Ferry, no car-train. With the increasing number of rapid chargers, this should be possible! The car is leaving one day ahead of us this year (we’re taking the TGV the following morning instead of the night-train). I’m getting to know the car-train station in Nice by now!



Conclusion 2013

One year later… and has it gotten any easier ?

Even though there was not as much of a difference as we had hoped, there has been progress. Especially in the Netherlands, where there is a well developed network of rapid (and non-rapid) chargers. There’s no more “range-anxiety”, even on trips near or beyond the car’s range, since you know you’ve always got a way of getting home. As a result we’ve seen quite a few other electric cars on the road! A big thanks to “The New Motion”, for giving us our RFID card that gave access to all the chargers on their network, and on the other networks. And we’re also grateful to the ANWB, who were all the same one of the first to install rapid chargers in handy locations.

In the UK, there’s the “Charge Your Car” network, which has expanded quite a bit since last year. Unfortunately there are several networks in the UK, and all need their own RFID cards. There’s no interoperability between them. Because of this we weren’t able to make a planned detour through the west of Scotland. There were charge points, but we simply didn’t have the right card. 🙁

In France there has been some progress, but it is slow. The Nissan rapid chargers at the IKEA stores are an excellent idea. They are well situated along major roads, and they cover most of France. We’ve used them twice on this journey. Apart from that there’s Leclerc and Auchan supermarkets that have installed charge points, and there’s quite a few public car parks that have now got sockets (usually in the train station parkings). What is lacking in France is an association or company that manages a “network” of chargepoints, and paiement etc.

We even hope that one day, all this will work accross Europe! Currently you need quite a collection of RFID cards to get around…


We’ve also noticed a lot of progress in the on-board navigation system in the LEAF. The chargepoint information now seems up-to-date (which was definitely not the case last year), and we were able to completely rely on it for our journeys, without needing to plan too much ahead.

For the trip itself, we’ve decided we much prefer the relaxed way of travelling, where we take minor roads, and visit places while the car charges. Even though this does mean you don’t get anywhere fast, and you do feel you’re travelling all the time. The initial idea of doing Paris->Rotterdam all by motorway, driving from rapid charger to rapid charger, is much more stressfull and not as enjoyable. But you need to have the time for this, and that’s not for every year… 😉

To end this post, after 2 years and 30.000kms we’re still very pleased with the car! Here she is in Scotland!


And in France…



The 2013 itinerary

The 2013 journey; 3593km (2231 miles). All the points below are charge points. try counting them 🙂


Back home…

After a relaxed journey down from the Netherlands to Paris, we have arrived home with 3593km (2231 miles) on the clock, and lots of new experiences.




A 122km to go today to get back to Paris and put the car on the train. With the car heavily loaded, and the bicycles on the back, this will be difficult all the same. In the end we decided to stop at the Leclerc supermarket in Meaux, where there’s 4 charge points. 2 of the places were ICEd, one by a Prius that was obviously not a plug-in… You need to pick up a card at reception to activate the charger, but charging is free.


2 hours of charging gives us plenty of charge to be able to take the motorway into Paris at full speed. We drop of the car early at the station, where we had been expected, since it is not often that they get to plug in the car to their very own rapid charger! The girl at check-in remarks that it is very pleasant, a car that doesn’t produce fumes. She’s had enough of sitting in exhaust fumes all day!

After having dropped of the car, we pick up the children who stayed with their grandmother for a couple of days, and who arrived by Thalys from Holland. The hotel deal we reserved included tickets for a boat tour on the Seine, so we set off by foot (avoing the metro), and stumble on the “Berges de Paris”. The sides of the river have been transformed into pedestrian zones, with plenty of activities for young and old. Really really nice! And a big difference with the smelly roads that used to take up all that area!


paris_les_berges_1We spent quite a bit of time wondering along the river sides, so we only get to the boat tour when the sun is starting to set. However, this is actually probably the best time to do the tour. Some photos of the boat ride to finish off… the following morning we take the TGV down to Nice ourselves to pick up the car, and head back to our house…