Rural Rides 1963

1. In the West

January 21.
It helped that we were not unique. Every other car on the icy roads seemed
loaded with prams and cots and children. We were the desperate ones, taking
the road home at the whisper of better conditions, leaving our relatives and
friends in the West Country, whose Christmas welcome had suffered such
unfair strains. Most of us were several days over our rightful leave, a
chunk already out of summer holidays. With young 26 children growing
steadily more fractious, the days of waiting and worrying had not been easy.

There are worse places to be marooned than Torquay, but, while the
corporation concentrated on its main roads, we on the lower alpine slopes
were all but prisoners-how many clever people setting off for Christmas in
Torquay had remembered to take their gum boots ? Torquay hosts have a better
line in gardening shoes than galoshes, and usually no skis or runners for.
prams. So it was that three days over my leave, with a Victor Estate car
parked solemnly in the drive, and a wife and 17-month-old baby to get home
to Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, I had to act.

Day One of the ensuing series produced the information from Exeter's AA
office that the three main roads home-A35 via Dorchester, A30 via Yeovil,
and A303 via Wincanton-were impassable cast of Honiton. So I slid to Torre
railway station, Torquay's freight depot, to see if the car could go by
train. " Certainly sir. The car can go tomorrow, you and your family on
Saturday." The total charge would be 11 18s.

Day Two (Friday) produced a snag. With Plymouth Argyle's match against West
Bromwich Albion then the only Cup game in the south and I the only
"Guardian" staff man within striking distance I volunteered to get there.
This meant putting my car on the freight truck on Saturday instead of
Friday. That's all right," said Torre  " we'll keep the truck."

Day Three. I packed the car with cot, pram, and all but essentials for one
night's stay, and delivered it, sliding downhill in reverse, to Torre.
" Sorry, sir," they said,  we had to let the truck go.
" Why ?"
"Someone else wanted it." " But you told me you'd hang on to it."
" Well we've ordered another one . . . it's coming from Birmingham."
I gave up, and I also made up my mind. Tomorrow I would make a bolt for it
by car. The road report was hopeful for the first time: bumpy, but passable
on the A30 if I made the journey in two stages.

Day Four (Sunday). Torquay to Honiton was not bad - average  speed, 20
m.p.h. with tyre ruts down to the road surface in most places  A fair amount
of snow clearance had been done since the blizzard stopped, but over the
border into Somerset, as the road climbed higher, we were in trouble. The
ruts turned rogue, man-made in some stretches but following their own crazy
pattern in others. Glistening lumps straddled them. We gradually learned the
dodges, particularly to watch out for overhanging trees, for under them were
the fiercest pot holes.

We stopped at an inn for a sandwich, and the baby was changed while the
landlord's wife heated his food. We had done 68 miles in just over three
hours. In Dorset the A30 had shrunk to a path 12 feet wide in places, and we
had half an hour's wait because of one-way traffic. There were no temporary
lights, and it was a bad spot. Thirty cars were stuck in front, forty
behind. How patient the drivers were. The baby was getting fretful and
difficult, and we decided that we must find somewhere to stop soon.
Our convoy got going at last, and cars pointed the other way huddled
miserably in icy lay-bys. Shaftesbury was ahead, and we determined to stop
there, having done 26 miles in two hours. We found an hotel, and parked in a
quadrangle.

Old coaching inns know how to greet their guests; from Alfred the Great's
time they've heard many travellers' tales. Soon we were many, a Peugeot
making for Totnes, an A55 for Bude, children everywhere. How is it your way
? Dreadful to Salisbury. Hampshire OK; Hampshire's done a great job. Dorset
gets a hammering, a little unfairly, for the road over this stretch goes as
much through Somerset and Wiltshire.

Day Five (Monday). Salisbury was only 20 miles away, but it took all morning
to get there. There was much heavy traffic on the roads, and we stuck five
times because vans or lorries could not pass each other.

My wife was getting anxious. " Are we in Hampshire yet ? Is this Hampshire ?
" Hampshire became the promised land. At one block she got out for a short
stroll, and in the space of seven cars, three drivers offered her a lift!
British reserve had melted, if not the snow.

At last we made Salisbury, and another motoring world began. Hampshire and
Sussex had come to the rescue, with wide, clean-swept roads, and we covered
the last 90 miles in 2 hours 40 minutes. Our homecoming could have been the
last cruel straw. But one neighbour had cleared the drive; another, with
whom we had left the key, had cleared an inch of soot from the rug in front
of the sitting-room fire. JOHN SAMUEL"

As reported in the Manchester Guardian booklet "The Long Winter 1962-63"