There is no better demonstration of the British love for an eccentric challenge than the well-trodden route between Land’s End and John O’Groats.
The journey between what are almost the two farthest-flung points of the British mainland serves to illustrate both the nation’s long, skinny shape – 837 miles in a country where it’s impossible to be more than 70 miles from the sea – and also our collective love of a bizarre quest.
The first recorded walking of the whole distance took place in 1871 and, since then, it has been done on everything from bikes to skateboards to lawnmowers to at least one traverse by JCB. In an outright win for toughness, the route has even been swum, adventurer Sean Conway spending 135 days covering the 900 mile route around the coast in 2013.
Driving is definitely the easy way, but although there have been some blisteringly quick private runs, the inability to close roads or evade prosecution means there are no official records in excess of the official speed limits.
Our mission is subtly different and grander in ambition: to race the sun rather than the clock. The aim is to show that the journey can still be a proper adventure without getting arrested, and even in a vehicle as unlikely as the Skoda Karoq. A mid-sized diesel-powered crossover might not seem like the most obvious choice for a rapid end-to-end run, but this is a journey where comfort and fuel range are far more important than outright pace. It’s also the perfect opportunity to introduce what’s likely to become one of Skoda’s biggest sellers to the UK.
The plan is to leave John O’Groats as the sun sets and reach Land’s End before first light the next day, a north-to-south run giving us fractionally more night. Attempting it in mid- December would have been too easy, but choosing the night of 1-2 February gives an almost perfectly balanced challenge, with 14 hours and 44 minutes of night for a journey that, Google reckons, will take 14 hours and 56 minutes with no traffic delays.
Time isn’t the only challenge. The weather is determined to have a say, too. Snow is falling as I drive the Karoq north to meet snapper Stan Papior at Inverness airport, and by the time we reach the Seaview Hotel at John O’Groats, the TV forecasters are standing next to maps covered in huge arrows and warning of an approaching Arctic front. The wind is already topping the gale scale, blowing hard enough to make it hard to stand upright.