Tamsyn + Jamie | 166 rubbish cars, a hearse and an against the odds encounter

When you ask your clients how they met, you don’t really expect an incredible tale like something out of real life wacky races.  But that’s just what you get when you ask Tamsyn and Jamie and I’d love to share the story with you.  Mark photographed their wedding earlier this year at The Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh.  There are a few great tales involving this couple, but first (in Tamsyn’s words and photos), the story of how they met…

It was the summer of 2006 and 166 rubbish old cars of less than a litre engine size, plus one hearse (exempt from the engine size rules for being a ‘vehicle of exceptional comedy value’), set out on a charity race from London to Mongolia.

Jamie and his co-driver, team “Celtic Chancers” piloting the mighty Ford Fiesta, were having a stellar run, adventuring through Europe and then into the road-less back-country of Russia, Uzbekistan and the rest, mostly at the lead of the rally.

Tamsyn and her co-driver, team “The Hearse Flies” were finding that a hearse was in fact not the greatest vehicle for off-roading in the desert, and were limping along further and further behind at the very back, breaking down all the way.

After one canyon-sized pot-hole and gearbox disaster too many, the hearse finally gave up the ghost and was laid to rest in Kazakhstan. At which point Tamsyn’s co-driver decided the heat, hardship and miles behind schedule were too much, and that he was giving up and going home. For Tamsyn, she’d set out to go to Mongolia, and come hell or high water, to Mongolia she was going – but now alone in the Kazakh desert and without a car, she was somewhat in need of ‘plan B’.

Tamsyn salvaged what she could carry from the car (last pair of clean pants, fruit cake from Mum), and jumped on a rickety overnight train heading East. Throughout the rally there had been a website that teams could update by text message, and crews had been texting in their locations, sometimes with mobile numbers (e.g. ‘team xxxx is relaxing in Moscow, our mobile number is xxxx if any other teams are around and fancy a beer!’). By a miracle Tamsyn got a mobile signal, and managed to get through to her Mum – telling her to put her brother (Ross) on the case trawling the website, and see if any other teams were in the area and had left contact numbers. She wasn’t full of hope, knowing she was at least 1,000 miles behind the rest of the rally, and that even that if there were fellow breakdown artists about, finding them in the 9th largest country in the world could be tough.

Meanwhile, 2,000 miles ahead, Jamie had also hit the skids. Crossing borders in a car is an arduous process, punctuated with incomprehensible forms, bribes, protestations of poverty and innocence, and much sitting around (frequently for 24 hours at a stretch). Jamie had this down to a fine art, but on this occasion, Russian beurocracy was too much. Whilst all ralliers needed double visas for Russia to get into Siberia, the visa agency in London had fouled up, and Jamie’s visa turned out to only be a single (helpfully all in the Cyrillic alphabet, so with no way of identifying the mistake either). Russians are particularly feisty about their border paperwork and Jamie was stuck in Kazakhstan.

However, Jamie’s co-driver did have the right visas – and decided to leave him at the border, join another team, and carry on without him! Saying ‘but it’s ok, you’ll be alright – you can keep the car”!!!!… With no means of getting out of Kazakhstan, and with chronic dysentery to boot, it wasn’t looking good for Jamie – but he’d set out to go to Mongolia, and come hell or high water, to Mongolia he was going (sound familiar?). So he wearily turned around and started to retrace his steps along the lonely three-day road to Almaty, to try his luck at the nearest embassy.

Back on the Kazakh night-train, Ross had managed to send details of some teams who seemed to be only 5 or 6 days ahead of Tamsyn. Maybe she could catch them. She wrote a text message. “Lost rallier, without car or team-mate, is still trying to get to Mongolia! Will be in Almaty in 2 days – any chance you’re anywhere nearby and I could hitch a lift? I’m clean and friendly!”. Send to – Celtic Chancers – Jamie…

And the rest, as they say, is history!…

Tamsyn and Jamie met up in Almaty and became an instant team in every sense, storming through the visa and other challenges and carrying on all the way to the finish line in Mongolia. They were way behind schedule (eventually both rocking up a whole week late to their jobs back in the UK), and drove in shifts for 20-22 hours a day, stopping only to throw back the car seats and catch a few hours sleep before hitting the road again. Basically, they spent the first week and a half after they met living exclusively in a Ford Fiesta! They were exhausted, sick, unwashed, starving, praying the car’s collapsing suspension would hold out, and flying by the seat of their pants – and as truly, exhilaratedly happy as they’ve ever been, swooping along in their new little team on the open road to adventure.

Read the story of their wedding day here

Travel photos by Tamsyn Greig