Monday, 29 November 2010

The drive home

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Do you really want the full story? Those of you who really can't bear a tale of motorways and snow and the eating of a whole box of Pro-Plus, go at once to The Guardian and read the Wikileaks leaks. (Apparently the naughty Americans have been rude about our own dear Prime Minister, which is not clever or kind, and Saudia Arabia wants to do something unspeakable.)

Actually, I was not going to do much more on the journey, but I am in such a state of screaming relief that I made it through that I do rather have to share with the group.

I am not good at traffic. I find too many large lorries enervating. As I get older, I will do almost anything to avoid jams, and the M6 is the spiritual and actual home of the jam. So what I do now take the five hundred and fifty miles in two stages, very early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when everyone is asleep. I am stupidly proud of this technique.

This Friday, as I was checking the AA and looking at the weather, while lying in bed like an old lady in my room at the Groucho, I started to realise that my cunning plan was not going to work. It did not matter which Met Office or BBC weather expert I consulted, they all said that Sunday was going to see mad bands of snow coming down from Iceland, or somewhere. Huge splashes of threatening white lay between my proposed billet in the Lake District and my house and my dogs. Not only that, but the weather might go on for two weeks. I had frantic visions of being stuck, forever, somewhere north of Penrith.

The only answer was to do the whole thing on Saturday. It was flat out or bust. There were two problems with this. (Are you sure you would not rather be reading about what the State Department really thinks of Mrs Merkel?) One was that I would have to go the long way round, which meant six hundred miles, the last of it up the A90, which runs along the North Sea, and where drifts appear in the middle of the road at the merest hint of wind, as if some giant hand had picked up the snow and plunked it down in front of one. And the second was that even if I left at five, I would still be doing the final forty miles in the dark, with every single website saying SEVERE WEATHER WARNING, and ONLY TRAVEL IF YOUR JOURNEY IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.

I left London just before six, in the end. It was pitch black, minus three, and there was fog and snow before I reached Oxford. I felt trepidation building, as my bold plan began to falter. Then the M40 was closed, so I had to do a detour via Leamington Spa, never an entirely good start to an epic voyage. By the time I reached Liverpool, the M6 was down to two lanes, one entirely covered in snow. It was slow going.

But the weather gods were smiling on me in one sense. By eight o'clock, there was bright winter sunshine. The sun shone on me all day long, lighting up the white hills, glinting gold on the magically transformed countryside of Cumbria, welcoming me back to the mountains of the north. When I passed the Welcome to Scotland sign I whooped like a football hooligan.

The problem always with the absolute joy of being back in Scotland is the following realisation that I still have three hundred miles to go before I am home. At this stage, I was on my third double espresso, and munching Pro-Plus like a crazy person. Concentration was fierce, because, despite the glorious sun, huge amounts of muck were being thrown up by the other cars from the snowy road, and my windscreen was in a constant state of smear. I had horrid visions of my wipers suddenly failing.

After Stonehaven, where I thought for an insane second of trying to cut across the hills, the road headed up towards the sea, which appeared like magic, dark blue and shining in the last of the light. Behind me, the sun was setting in a crazed scarlet ball of defiance. Over the water, vast clouds completely blocked out the sky, rising up like something from a film about the end of the world. They were bright purple, with splashes of carmine. They were bringing the snow which would have made any Sunday travelling impossible, a blazing sign that I had made the right decision.

Dusk fell fast, as I got onto the last road home. I chose the main highway, an A road, thinking that the gritters and ploughs would surely have been out. What a hollow thought that now seems. As the light went, I was left with a road entirely covered in snow. A brave four by four was in front of me, path-finding. I followed it like a dutiful puppy, both of us going at twenty miles an hour. The temperature fell to minus six, and I was starting to get worried about black ice. I could not countenance the idea that I had made it this far, only to be stymied in the last thirty miles.

It took an hour and a half, in exhaustion, apprehension, and second gear. Finally, just as I thought I could not go any more, there were the lights of my village. The Christmas decorations were up, gleaming blue against the snow. I laughed out loud.

Yesterday, when I woke to find the two ladyships gazing down at me as if to check I really was back, I found that about eight inches of snow had fallen in the night. It took me half an hour to get out of my drive. If I had left the journey for one more day, I would never have got home. The forecast remains awful. I am hearing stories of abandoned cars all along the road from Dundee. For some reason, I managed to find the one day when my return was at all possible. I am quite breathless with luck and relief.

As I write this, it is snowing again. The sky is white and ominous. I have enough coffee, cigarettes, red wine, and green soup to keep me going. Now I just have to hope that the power lines do not go down.

PS No photographs yet, as the camera battery is flat and takes ages to recharge, but they shall come.

AND, again, a million thanks for the incredibly kind comments of the last couple of days. It is amazingly touching to think of the dear readers fretting over my journey, almost as much as my darling old mum. It makes me smile to think of all your generosity, and how much you refute the grumpy idea that blogging is somehow a horridly selfish medium. As always: Love 1, Grumpy People Nil.


  1. Thank goodness for your quick-wittedness to go for it and drive. I am sure the media get us whipped up into a state of uncertainty about everything with their pleas that no one should drive unless IT IS AN EMERGENCY! What constitutes a drive-worthy emergency? Childbirth? Must be hospital-related atleast.
    I liked reading about your journey and can relate at the dropping temperatures; I drove a paltry 134 miles from Bristol to the south and the temp ranged from -4 to -1. Lots of fluid used to clearing windscreen. Such a feeling of delight reading your story of your return. WELL DONE! I now imagine you with woolly socks and a hot water bottle, amid snow storms, with your wine and soup! Lovely. Lou x

  2. So glad you got home safely. Bravo on making a dash for it. Bet the dogs were delighted to have you back!

    We got stuck on the outskirts of Harrogate for over 3 hours yesterday because it started snowing. Deeply tedious. I can only assume there had been a crash up ahead as the roads weren't bad, just gridlocked. Luckily the person driving is intrepid when it comes to country roads and I like to navigate so we avoided the worst of it and got home only 7 hours after we'd got in the car. It should have taken 2.

  3. Epic. I loved reading this. Soo glad you made it home safe. Soo happy for you to be reunited with your beautiful ladyships :) Anne.x

  4. Bravo! So pleased you're safe. It's horrid to feel vulnerable in traffic, that conveyor belt feeling of being at the mercy of so many inalterable variables... and now, let it snow!!

  5. Sounds like quite an adventure. Glad to hear you got back safe.

  6. Thank you for regaling us with all the gory details of your long and perilious return.
    Enjoy the feeling of being 'stuck' in the house now, even better, in cosiness, to being rained in! x

  7. What a wonderful witty write up. Much better than all of the mind boggling boredom of the wiki witch of the west.

    I'm not sure I get it at all. If I had a ‘friend’, S for the sake of id and argument, who fell upon some nasty nugget writ about me by another friend J, likewise, and told me or others all about it, I would most likely think far less of J than I do of S. If that makes any sense.

    We can of course hope that all will be grown up about it, therefore rendering all of the intrigue far less than intriguing.

    I probably know almost every inch of your journey, and every minute of the early hours London to Scotland start outs. Thankfully though I have never done so in such conditions. Not sure I would have been as brave and determined as you were.

    Thankful you are now all home and surrounded by love and lovely things now.

    Now, the ladyships at your feet, your must be humming

    La la la la la la...... there’s no place like home!

  8. Phew! That sounds grim but you can now be snowed in safely at home rather than on the road.

  9. Give me your post anyday over the State Department and what anyone has to say about Merkel. Such a lovely picturesque post though not used to snow I am just imagining the harrowing drive back. I can just imagine how pleased you are to be back at home and how pleased the dogs must be to have you back.

    Since I depend on the news to a great extent to yourself, can you just mention in your next post what was the unspeakable bit and the Saudis!

  10. So glad you made it back - I was a bit worried. Well done - sounds heroic! I love your description of the apocalyptic seascape and sky after Stonehaven.

    Glad I don't live in Greenland - read an article in the Observer yesterday about the Inuit. In the winter they last see the sun on 24 October, and it doesn't reappear till 17 February!

  11. Dear Tania, what a journey! Glad you got back safe and sound and you have supplies of the essential kind. I'm lying here with my blind up in the vain hope of some snow but all I see are very large foxes the size of medium dogs taking a shortcut through my front garden. It must the all the takeaways they get out of people's bins that's making them so fat! Stay warm xx

  12. Cannot quite believe the loveliness of the comments. If I can say this without sounding sententious or mad, I do feel incredibly lucky, not to say HONOURED, to have such kind and generous readers. Each day I rush to the comment section and read what you have written and it always makes me smile. So thank you.


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