The first stage of our Christmas migration is complete. Partly due to atrocious road conditions, it took us three days to drive from Ardnamurchan to just outside London, a drive we’d normally do in a day. But at least we’re here. Sadly, there’s more driving to come.
On Sunday it looked like we wouldn’t be able to drive down the road which leads from our cottage. Only one other vehicles tracks cut through the deep snow, and that had been a four wheel drive.
We had to descend a hill, on a bend, with a ditch on one side and on the other, a crash barrier fencing off a small ravine with a rive below. As this was the first time we’d taken the VW T5 Campervan (read our campervan story) on snow, we headed out with great caution. Once across the ferry, we rolled through Glencoe and across Rannoch Moor with few problems, albeit slower than normal.
We were heading for North Berwck, home of Jerba Campervans. Again! Our internal electrics had died. We were booked in first thing on Monday morning. After a dreadful meal at the Italian restaurant on North Berwick High Street we settled down for the evening, parked along the sea front near the golf course.
First thing Monday morning the Jerba electrician traced the fault to the electronic distribution unit. “Of the hundreds I’ve fitted it’s only the second unit I’ve had to replace”, he told me. By eleven o’clock we were rolling south down the A1.
It was a relatively easy drive. The low winter sun was off to one side, and although there was heavy traffic, I enjoy driving. Especially the T5 van. Which we rarely take about 65mph, unlike my days in VW Golf GTis when I rarely drove below 80 mph! That’s age for you.
The SatNav showed 20 minutes to go when all three lanes of M4 motorway came almost to a halt. It was snowing hard, and the gaps between vehicles covered while we waited, making pulling away difficult. Sensing the motorway would soon close (it did) we diverted onto the A40 and immediately became part of a long convoy. The road seemed not to be gritted, something the locals later said was the case. Liz was walking alongside the van, going ahead to try to see the end of the problem. Clearly, it was miles away.
An hour later, having travelled less than a mile and with conditions worsening, we saw a pub with a space in front. I pulled off the road and parked, having resolved to spend the night there, outside th Dashwood Arms in the village of Piddington. We had a couple of drinks, a hot meal - and then the pub suffered a power cut. I suspect we were the last people to be served.
As the evening wore on, and more and more vehicles were abandoned, more and more people sought refuge in the pub which turned itself into an emergency hostel.
We took a walk down the road for about a mile, but seeing no end to the line of stationary traffic, we came back to the van. We pushed a few cars, helped an ambulance weave its way past the line of traffic, then bedded down for our second night in the van.
At 4am I looked out of the window and realised the traffic had gone. I pulled on boots and was delighted when I started shoveling snow - it had not frozen overnight. In fact, it was starting to melt.
“Time to go”, I announced, and Liz, who frankly isn’t at her best first thing in the morning, complied with admirable fortitude. We had hit a perfect window; after the worst of the traffic had cleared, and before the morning rush-hour began, during a thaw.
As we drove the remaining distance to Liz’s Mum’s home, we passed countless abandoned cars, vans and lorries. They would probably be a significant hazard later in the day. We had the roads to almost to ourselves, and could drive whichever was the gritted side. The side-streets were still almost impassable, but the T5 was excellent. We pulled into the street at 5am, and not wanting to wake Liz’s Mum, went back to sleep in the van until a more reasonable hour.
There’s more driving ahead, including a trip to Dorset for New Year. We hope it will be a lot less eventful!