The Road to Muckle Flugga is collection of articles about “Great drives on Five Continents” by the late Phil Llewellin. He was a wonderful writer, who happened to write about motoring, for CAR Magazine (U.K.) among others.
His articles were captivating as they conveyed his impressions of the country & characters he met as much as the vehicle he happened to be travelling in. This collection spans several decades so some of the, now irrelevant, technical/marketing detail has been removed. This lets the stories, people and places, which Phil conveys beautifully, shine even brighter.
I read it on the plane home from Orlando, back in February, and it’s ideal travel companion. Each story is self contained, snack sized but very tasty, so you can dip in & out without the effort of remembering a plot. During a 30 hour flight/transit that’s a good thing!
Having just left there one article about his travels in Florida, collecting exotic cars with a truck driver who transports them across the United States, had me laughing;
“...we cruised into Florida, a state with all the scenic grandeur of a snooker table. Either swamp, forest or holiday resort, it makes you think the flat earth society could be right.”
After serving him deep fried alligator and chips at Vero Beach the waitress, who’d never eaten it, asked what it was like;
“Very similar to crocodile,” I said keeping a perfectly straight face, “but with a faint hint of aardvark”
Most are funny, some are sad, some just bizarre (high jinks in the Sahara & crossing war torn Afghanistan), but all are interesting. His travels include USA, Canada, Africa, British Isles, Middle East, Caribbean, South America, Asia and Europe but sadly not Australia or New Zealand (Did he ever get here?). In one chapter he travels to China with:
“…a convivial colleague, a young motoring reporter from Yorkshire who was looking forward to being screen-tested for a BBC TV’s Top Gear motoring show when he got home…”
Phil showed the young Jeremy Clarkson how to combine expert drinking and writing;
Quotes from the Foreword – by Jeremy Clarkson
“There is only one cure for a hangover, he [Phil] said. “We need to get drunk again”. This was Phil’s solution to pretty well everything.
The astonishing thing is though I came back from China not really knowing where I’d been or what had happened there, whereas he came back and wrote a piece that was crammed full of detail and fact. You see this in everything he does”
“I love his ability to find something interesting in almost everything and, when he can’t, to spice up the banal with his own take on things. I also love the fact that he’s a font of knowledge, especially on military history and the Welsh. Most of all though, I love the way he’s just so damn funny. As a result so is this book”
I think the finest piece is, the appropriately named, “Their Finest Hour”. I clipped this out of CAR when first published in 1990 as I loved it then.
To mark the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain Phil went on a personal pilgrimage to major landmarks connected with “The greatest aerial campaign in history”. He drove a Red Bentley Mulsanne Turbo which is reviewed along with the history of the places he visits, the events, people and machines. This is far from a dry historical tale as he recounts the experiences of the air-crew, families and children involved.
It’s a pity is only some of the photos from the article, which featured both modern & historical photo’s and lovely watercolour illustrations, made it to the book. That aside it’s a must read in a book of great reads.
If anything the book format is the only weakness. It’s a pity this wasn’t a magazine format book reproducing the articles, with the photos and layout, as first published. Still, that doesn’t affect the quality of the writing and I highly recommend it.
Guardian Unlimited | Obituaries | Phil Llewellin
“Phil Llewellin, who has died of a heart attack, aged 64, was one of the best motoring writers, if not the best, of the past four decades…”
PS: If you are wondering, Muckle Flugga is a real place at the end of a real road!