The road to the south

A retro-blog by Pat the Chooks
Friday, 7th April 2006
Up with the lark, or we would have been if that particular bird had been daft enough to be strutting its stuff two hours before dawn. Rather knackered after a late night and an early start, but we were on the road by half-past-five and heading off south to Glasgow and the motorway network. The roads are quiet at this time of day, but you can encounter large lorries which are awkward to pass on many stretches of the main road. Got past most of those and made good time to the Big Toon. It had been a wintry night and there were occasional showers of sleet and hail with the drive and the mountains around the Rest and Be Thankful (the pass between Argyll and Loch Long) had a fresh coating of the white stuff below a glowering ceiling of grey cloud.
Over the Erskine Bridge to cross the Clyde, and noted with surprise that, although the tolls had been removed only a week previously, the toll booths themselves had already disappeared from sight and the road resurfaced where they had been. The tolling of road bridges, and even more the removal of tolls from some but not other bridges, is a matter of no little controversy in Scotland at the moment. See this article for an example.
Stopped at Morrisons on the east side of Glasgow for fuel and then on down through the Borders and over into England. Her Maj slept for much of this while I had the drive through rain and wind. We made it as far as Tebay services on the M6 for a late breakfast. Tebay is one of the gems of the motorway network and the only place where it’s really worth stopping to eat, so we try to organise our journeys up and down the road to stop there at a sensible time for a meal.
We changed drivers at Tebay and Her Maj conducted the vehicle through the north of England down to Staffordshire for our second stop. There the decision was made to go over to Abergavenny in South Wales to pick up her daughter, who had been over for a few days driver-training. We blatted on down through Birmingham, and the Malvern Hills soon came into view on our right as we entered Worcestershire. These hills are a part of my childhood, having formed the eastern horizon to Herefordshire for ever. They mark a return to sentimental country for me. The run to Abergavenny took hardly any time at all with the good dual carriageways that connect the town to the motorway network. Back south and east to cross the Severn Estuary with broad views across the water to Gloucestershire and Somerset. This is where the travellers’ tale comes unstuck, I fear, because this was a Friday afternoon in the holiday season and the world, his wife and caravan were all trying to get south on the M5 to Devon and Cornwall. Taking one look at the tailbacks, we elected to go through Bristol and over the Mendips, which we did with only one or two minor hold-ups.
This is, for me, the best way to come into Somerset from the north. The long climb up and out of Bristol is rewarded by the run over the top of the Mendip Hills, with their fields divided by ancient limestone walls and punctuated by oaks and ash trees. The road then runs down over the crest of the hills into Wells, and from the top of the descent, the view across Somerset opens out to take the eye almost as far as Dorset. Here is Glastonbury Tor, there the levels and moors and, beyond, the mid-Somerset hills raise their wooded flanks above the fields and caress the skies. The road we took down off the hills brought us by the side of Wells Cathedral, which is one of the ecclesiastical glories of England. The view of the three solid towers at the bottom of the street confirms to the weary traveller that home and hearth is not far away and the legs can stretch at last.


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