Portadown to Switzerland by tractor - not the most conventional journey but one which turned out to be the drive of a lifetime for 20-year-old Chrisy Smart.
Chrisy, who works for agricultural machinery company Burkes of Cornascriebe, found himself in the driving seat when he seized the opportunity to collect a trailer for his employer and visit his Loughgall girlfriend at the same time.
Sitting high up in the cab of the £80,000 New Holland tractor, and travelling at a steady 32mph, Chrisy described the three-day trip down France and into Switzerland as “the best way to see Europe”.
He said, “I had a great view. There was hardly a hill. It was just green until it met the blue of the sky. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Chrisy, who admits he is pretty laid-back, had never previously driven anywhere outside Ireland. But armed with his sat nav, map and phone, he made it to the Swiss village of Aesch despite having to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and knowing no French except ‘bonjour’.
“I would start driving about 9.30 in the morning and drive all day, just stopping to refuel the tractor and myself. I had no accommodation booked but managed to find somewhere every night.
“I did get a few funny looks, especially when the only hotel I could find one night was really fancy and I had to park up in full view of the dining room.”
He had a few ‘close encounters’ too, being stopped by police on one occasion. “When I explained what I was doing they said I must be crazy!” he said.
And having been warned by a number of long distance lorry drivers that he would need a log book and insurance documents to get over the Swiss border (which he didn’t have with him), he instead took a back road and when he came to the border station just hoped for the best and “kept on driving”.
Once in Switzerland, he picked up the trailer - one of only six in the world and the first for the UK - and accompanied by girlfriend Laura Hewitt in the tractor’s passenger seat, drove to Cherbourg where both machines made the homeward journey by boat.
Chrisy and Laura, who is on a university placement year with Nestle, then spent a few days together in Switzerland, before returning home for Christmas - this time by plane.
“I would do it again in the morning,” he said. “I want to thank Laura for putting up with me on the tractor, Burkes of Cornascriebe who I was always on the phone to for support, and my family.”