A father and son drove the length of the UK in a van fuelled solely by leftover cooking oil - from their local fish and chip shop

·6-min read

A father and son drove the length of the UK in a van fuelled solely by leftover cooking oil - from their local fish and chip shop.

George Heming, 21, filled his 1999 VW Caddy minivan with seven 25-litre drums of leftover oil - after sieving out the leftover bits of potato.

He hit the road with dad James, 50, driving 1,000 miles from Land's End in Cornwall, to John O'Groats at the northern tip of Scotland.

Remarkably the van made the journey over three days - and then managed to travel another 750 miles back to their home in Whitstable, Kent, using every last drop of the 180 litres of oil.

Videographer George took inspiration for the journey from his dad.

Back in 2008, former radio presenter James bought a yellow Vauxhall Midi van, fuelled it using chip fat oil, and drove it over to Paris to present a show.

Running a van on chip fat oil would usually require modifications to the vehicle, and putting a small amount of diesel in it in order to start the engine.

George, a videographer, said: "It's not good for the longevity of the van to just run it on chip fat oil - it's difficult to get it going with oil when the engine is cold.

"You should really buy an extra engine and put a little bit of diesel in it to start the engine on that, and then have a switch inside the van to switch it over to the oil when the engine has warmed up.

"I did look into that, but it would have cost close to £1,000, which I thought was a bit much for a three-day journey.

"So I decided to just give myself a challenge and try and run it purely on the oil."

He added: "It was all leftover oil anyway, so it's the stuff that the chippy pays someone else to come and take away for them.

"The downside of that was that a lot of the oil had loads of chunks of chips left in it. So we had to set up a bit of a filtering system before we could put it into the van.

"But I was really surprised at how economical the van was. We had 180 litres of oil on board, and that's how much we used to get there and back.

"The miles per gallon is basically the same as regular fuel - but you just lose a lot in power, which was interesting in some of the more hilly parts of Scotland.

"We also found it quite hard to start up the van on a cold engine - so there were days when we thought, when is this thing going to die on us?

"But it just kept going. It ran really well the whole time.

"It was great fun to take this journey with my dad, and trying to recreate things from when he did it before.

"I think he had a lot of fun doing it again. 

"We recreated a photo of him driving the van, and he's wearing the same red jacket in it as he was 13 years ago when he drove to Paris.

"I definitely do have memories of him doing it the first time, but platforms like YouTube weren't as much of a thing back then, so there was nowhere for him to really publicise it.

"But earlier this year we dug out some old photos from his chip fat van trip, and I said, we're definitely doing this.

"I don't think he ever thought he'd be doing the same thing again with his son, but we had fun and had a lot of quality time to talk."

With 185,000 miles already on the clock, George bought the van for £400, and got 180 litres of chip fat oil for free from his local chippy, Ossie's Fish and Chips, in Faversham.

He used diesel to get it to the start point, and did his three-day journey in May.

But he said he was put off attempting anything like this again - by the smell of the chip oil drums inside the van.

He said: "I don't think I'd ever do it again, just for the smell of the oil inside the van.

"I haven't been able to eat fish and chips since, either. 

"But for the experience, it was really cool. It was a fun few days - and some of the views were amazing, especially up in Scotland.

"We got to drive along the A82 road from Glasgow to Inverness, which is supposed to be the most scenic road trip route in Scotland."

And dad-of-four James agreed that it was "great fun" reliving his experience from 13 years ago with his son.

He said: "It was a really fun way to hang out with George, and relive that experience with him.

"When I did it years ago for the radio, we did it in quite a rudimentary way - just chucking unfiltered oil into the back of the van. I'm amazed we even made it to Paris.

"But George was a bit more methodical about it, and set up a filtering system in the garage about a week before we set off.

"I thought we might run into trouble at some point, driving all that way on chip oil. But his filtering system did its job and kept us going. 

"We had a great time on the road together, doing some bonding.

"It was quite a surreal trip, knowing that we were being fuelled by chip oil.

"But it was very tranquil, too - especially when we got up to Scotland. Because of Covid, nothing was really open and there was nobody around, so it was really quite nice up there."

And James even took something on the trip with him that he'd had on his drive to Paris 13 years ago - a red windbreaker jacket.

He joked: "Amazingly, I still have that jacket - much to the dismay of many of my friends and family.

"But George saw a photo of me wearing it whilst doing the drive to Paris, and he said that I must bring it with me on our journey, so we could recreate a photo of me wearing it while driving."

After returning from their adventure, George decided to send the van off in style last week - by driving it in a banger race at Arlington Stadium in Hailsham, East Sussex.

He said: "That was quite an experience. I'd never done anything like that before.

"Sadly the van is no longer - but it had been through so much, that it felt like quite a fitting send-off for it."

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