Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Trek to Wales

(This happened on 22 December but I'm only getting round to posting it now. Sorry.)

Today's journey was only meant to take 3.5 hours. Then we saw the news - 2000 cars abandoned overnight in the snow at Basingstoke. We were going through Basingstoke to get to the M4. Arse. It was, however, reported by the police that most of the cars had been removed by 2.30am and as we weren't leaving the house until about 11, and it hadn't snowed anymore overnight, at least not round our way, we decided to go for it.

You see, we have to collect the elderly in-laws from South Wales and deposit them at TLH's sister's for Christmas. So it's not a trip we could postpone, or at least not one that TLH could postpone. His family take Christmas very seriously. Me, I can take it or leave it or, at least, leave it until the weather gets better, then have a get-together and present-swap then. I mean, my family did Christmas on 13 December over at my brother's. All the kids were there, we did the present thing, went out for a slap-up pub lunch and all was merry and bright. This was because my mum had the eminently sensible idea of buggering off to Florida for several weeks to avoid the winter and so wouldn't be around for 25 December. And none of us cared all that much that it was 2 weeks early.

Plus there's the argument that little baby Jeebus wasn't actually born on 25 December but in March, or possibly June, so I would vote that Christmas gets moved to the middle of the year and the mid-winter celebration is returned to its original Solstice origins: having a big ole knees-up and eating and drinking until you're incapacitated to mark the shortest day and the return of the sun is, to me, far more acceptable than for the supposed birth of some Jewish freedom figher in the Middle East 2000-odd years ago.

This year, to mark the Solstice, we lit all the candles in the house to symbolically drive away the darkness - looked great and smelt nice too. Until they dripped all over my new tablecloth and then I figured the darkness might be better driven away by turning the lights on instead.

So, anyway, we set off at about 11am after packing a spade (for the purposes of digging out the car should we end up in a snow drift) and a thermos of coffee (for the purposes of drinking when we find the spade's rubbish and we have to wait for the AA to come get us) and headed off to deepest, darkest Basingstoke expecting the worst.

It all went surprisingly smoothly. Where we live the snow was quite sparse but by the time we got to Upper Hale in Farnham it was starting to look like Narnia.
The tree boughs were all bent low with fat puffy snow accumulaton but the roads were pretty clear. As we got closer to Basingstoke we passed through the pirate town of Nately Scures (you try saying the name and not adding "yarr!" afterwards. See? It can't be done....) and started spotting the odd abandoned car by the roadside. Sadly it wasn't quite as '28 Days Later' as I'd been hoping - I mean, from the trashed vehicle point of view, not the raging zombies which, it being Basingstoke, you'd come to expect anyway.

We drove on through Hampshire and into Wiltshire, marvelling at how mysterious the freezing fog was making everything look and I was cursing myself for forgetting my camera when I remembered I could take photos with my iPhone. Bearing in mind that all the pictures in this post were taken through the window of a car moving at 60+mph, some of them are bloody fab!

As we were heading to Leigh Delamere service station, the news on the radio announced that both Severn Bridges into Wales had been closed due to sheet ice falling from the suspension cables onto the carriageway. This information was about as far from welcome as you could get. As we sat at the service station having a coffee, we could see many other people poring over maps trying to work out alternative routes.

It was about 2.30pm when we started off again, and the updated report was that the new Severn Bridge had been closed in both directions, but there was one lane open heading westbound on the old Severn Bridge. We decided we'd try for that.

Approaching the M5 junction half an hour or so later, we could see the end of the queue for the bridge which was a further 7 miles away. TLH had approximately 2 seconds to decide whether to join the queue or shear off to the left and go up the M5 to take the long way round into Wales, via Gloucester. The way everyone used to have to go before the bridges were built. He decided he would be happier to keep moving (it later transpired that the queue ended up being 30 miles long).

It was a very pretty drive - I've never been through that part of Gloucestershire before and the snow added extra picturesquosity.

There wasn't quite so much snow here. The sun had come out and the sky was starting to go that gorgeous blue that you only seem to get in winter.

There was very slow traffic getting round Gloucester itself and instead of heading to Ross-on-Wye we thought we'd be brave and cut down through the Forest of Dean to Monmouth, again a route neither of us had taken before and I'm glad we did - some of the views were spectacular but because it was getting dark, I took hardly any pictures although I did try and capture the gorgeous sunset as we were coming down the hill and crossing the ancient bridge over the river into Monmouth.

We eventually got to our destination at about 6pm - 7 hours after we started on our 3.5 hour journey. This was one of those occasions when I was very grateful not to have had kid(s) in the car although, thinking about it, there wouldn't have been enough room on the way back for it/them, plus grandparents, plus grandparents' luggage, plus grandparents' christmas presents for everyone, so me and the kid(s) would have probably stayed at home. But this, as we know, would be in an alternative universe and I'm rambling now.

We stayed overnight and came back to Surrey the next morning, non-stop, and it only took just over 3 hours which is remarkably quick even when it's not the middle of winter. I started to feel very bloated and uncomfortable on the journey home which turned out to be the beginning of the stomach bug which ruined Christmas for me this year - but I'll post about that later (bet you can't wait!!!) Needless to say I was extremely glad to get home before intestinal conflict could ensue - and ensue it did....


elizabethm said...

Your header photo is absolutely fab. Love your journey photos too. I hope you had as good a time as is compatible with intestinal disturbance!

peevish said...

Oh, you poor dear. I hope you are feeling much better now!

Do you use the iphone app called Camerabag? It is my absolute favorite, as you can simulate Holga, Lomo, cinematic shots, cross-processed slide film, etc.

peevish said...

p.s. I really like the last shot!

Mrs Jones said...

Elizabethm - it's my favourite too. I want to use it as my new permanent picture at the top of the page but I have to use a landscape-shaped pic rather than portrait. Xmas Day was a write-off - I wasn't allowed to stay at home, moaning quietly to myself, I was forced to go to The Lovely Husband's sister's where I proceeded to just sit moaning quietly to myself and wishing I was at home. Am only just now starting to feel normal.

Peevish - see above! Thanks for the Camerabag tip, I've downloaded it and it's groovy. I took a test shot of The Lovely Husband just to see what it all did and the Magazine setting converted it into the best photo of him I've ever seen! Extraordinary! I can't post it because he won't allow me to show him on the blog, which is a shame because he's not that uneasy on the eyes.

mountainear said...

Do agree about your header picture - but all those wintery shots are so atmospheric. We've have hardly any snow here in this part of Wales and I am snow-envious.

Hope you're feeling better.