Austin Drawing Office 14 was the project code name for the Austin Maxi, one in a series of similar BMC vehicles vying for the unlovely awards, another fine example being ADO17, the BMC 1800 variants, ‘affectionately’ known as land crabs. None of these cars achieved rock or cult status in their day but the Maxi could lay claim to one unlikely pilot.
In 1969, in the space between the Beatles last live performance on top of the Apple HQ in Savile Row and the start of the recording session that would become the Abbey Road album, John Lennon and Yoko Ono made a road trip to Scotland, taking with them their respective children, Julian and Kyoko.
Heading for Durness, Lennon, the shortsighted and unenthusiastic motorist, drove the Maxi off the road on the single track A838 somewhere between Tongue and Loch Eriboll. Julian Lennon was the only one to escape unharmed, the other three being transferred to the Lawson Memorial Hospital at Golspie. Only Julian made it to Durness where he was collected by an irate Cynthia Lennon.
John had fond memories of this wild place at the extreme northwest edge of the British Isles. He spent many childhood holidays at a croft in Sangomore just to the east of Durness where the road briefly loops inland away from the sea. The croft was owned by the stepfather of one of his cousins, the appropriately named Bertie Sutherland and Lennon’s time there is commemorated with a memorial garden. Set among the winding paths are works by the local ceramicist, Lotte Glob and three standing stones etched with the words from In My Life:
There are places I remember all my life;
All these places had their moments with lovers and friends;
In my life I’ve loved them all.
John Lennon 1940-1980
The white example of the unlovely ADO14 vehicle was taken back to Lennon’s home at Tittenhurst Park near Ascot and mounted on a plinth to remind John and Yoko of the fragility of life (and BMC products). In 1969 I would have benefited from the same reminder – I twice crashed an ADO15 (the ubiquitous Mini), a consequence of too much teenage enthusiasm rather than too little.
I mention all this because I have been literally (in the absolute sense) marooned in Durness since writing the last words of Golf in the Wild – There is an echo of polite applause on a gentle wind rising across the Parph. I pick my ball from the hole, replace the pin and we go our separate ways. I am done. Except I am not, I need to find my way home.
Down the road from Durness Golf Club, at the western end of Balnakeil Bay, the ruins of an old church and cemetery host a memorial to the gaelic poet, Rob Donn – one character away from immortality, perhaps my return journey begins there.