Women rev up for rally to Mongolia
TWO ‘gallivanting quines’ from Oban and Skye are about to set off on the 10,000-mile Mongol Rally, billed as ‘ the greatest motoring adventure on the planet’.
The daunting race will take the two pensioners across the mountains, desert and the steppes of Europe and Asia.
Kay Simpson, 70, from Oban and Anne MacAskill, 67, from Skye believe they are the oldest participants in the 300-vehicle race.
Kay told The Oban Times: ‘ We’ll be the oldest for sure – but not the slowest.’
On July 16 the duo, nicknamed the gallivanting quines, will set off on their five-week route from Goodwood Motor Circuit through France, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia to Ulan-Ude in Siberia, Russia. Dring the trip, on July 29 – probably in Turkmenistan – Anne will celebrate her 68th birthday.
They will be driving Kay’s 22-year- old, two-seater, 1,200cc Renault Express van, nicknamed the Green Machine.
‘I bought the van in Holland,’ the retired vet recalled. ‘It had only done 100,000km and the engine was perfection. I love that vehicle.’
For the trip, the van will be decorated with a giant horned yak’s skull called Genghis that Kay picked up in Mongolia on a rally with her late husband, Duncan Strachan: ‘I brought it back on the plane in my luggage, and I wasn’t found out,’ Kay revealed.
Kay and Duncan set up Oban Rare Breeds Park in 1984, which they ran for 16 years, but in the off-season the couple loved exploring the world, driving from Oban to Cape Town, and, in an old ambulance, from Bolivia to South America’s southernmost tip and back.
They planned to do the Mongol Rally to celebrate their 70th birthdays, but four years ago Duncan was tragically killed in an accident on their almond farm in Spain. ‘After Duncan died, I said I wouldn’t mind doing this to celebrate my birthday,’ Kay explained. ‘I want to do the things we were going to do together.’
Anne, the mother of Skye stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill, was asked to take Duncan’s place. ‘I couldn’t refuse,’ she said. ‘My husband [Peter] thinks I am mad, but what are friends for?
Anne, who lives and works in Dunvegan and also helps run Skye’s Colbost Folk Museum and Giant MacAskill Museum, added: ‘I’m certainly not frightened to go off to new places. Everyone thinks I should be frightened about my Daniel on his bike, but I leave the worrying to my husband. He’s very worried about timing belts, and what we’ll use as a toilet.’
When younger, the old friends, who grew up on neighbouring farms in Fife and shared a flat as students in Edinburgh, equipped themselves with a bag of tatties for road trips through Europe and Africa. ‘ We were still speaking at the end of it,’ said Anne.
They will sleep under an awning, filling the van with engine spares, clothes, a stash of wine and a Lilo for luxury. And, of course, food – but ‘not noodles, I can’t stand them’, said Anne. ‘It’s like a camping trip, for about 10,000 miles.’
In Iran they have to pick up a guide ‘for security, so we don’t wander off and see something we shouldn’t’, Kay explained. ‘But where is he going to sit?
‘Nothing bothers Anne,’ she added. ‘She’s very game; she’ll do anything. I’m not frightened at all. Be prepared to bribe, and Mongolians and Russians like vodka – that’s how [ Duncan and I] got through.’
Kay plans to build a traditional Mongolian ‘ovoo’ memorial for Duncan, where a bottle of vodka is placed under a pile of stones. ‘It’ll be an empty bottle,’ she said.
‘Mongolia was impossible – unless you like horsemeat. I’ll eat anything. I don’t know if Anne will. Anne’s a good cook. She’ll look after me, and I’ll look after the vehicle, because I’m not a bad mechanic. I’ll put the awning up while she makes my tea,’ Kay added.
Anne contributed: ‘My weight helps: I can always stand on the spanner when we’re trying to change a tyre. I picked up Dutch and German, and I’ve been trying to learn Russian, but we’ll need to wave our arms a lot there. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’
Anne is fundraising for two charities – Cancer Research UK and Wings for Life spinal research foundation – while Kay is raising money for Animals Asia. Recently they’ve raised £690 from stalls in Oban at Christmas and the recent Charities Day, and £1,786 from a bingo and chilli night in Dunvegan last Saturday. You can also donate and follow their progress via their Facebook page The Gallivanting Quines – Mongol Rally 2016.
Anne MacAskill, left, and Kay Simpson will raise cash for charity.