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January 12, 2008

The great journey ....

Yesterday was a busy day. I had no time to blog before I started out to do a small (As I thought!) job. In the event, it took a lot longer, but at least it was done and done properly. Wet, cold and now a bit pushed, I jumped back into the trusty means of mobiliation over long and sometimes unusual routes - and set off for Swindon.

An hour driving in appalling rain and wind conditions and I arrived at the door of my next appointment. Thankfully they provided soup and bread for sustenance and a mug of tea! Little did I realise it would be the last food to pass my lips until this morning! Our meeting went well, and we even managed to tie up some loose ends, find some missing information and settle a strategy. Not bad as meetings go.

Then came the drive home. Now Swindon is an easy run to and from the Monk's Domus. Forty five minutes without breaking any speed limits. Straight up the A419, join the A417 at Cirnecester, down Crickley Hill, onto the M5 and home. Easy. No. Not last night! The A419 wasn't busy and progress was good as far as Cirencester, but aboiut five miles before that important junction (Important because if you are going to try an alternative route - that is the last chance saloon!) it began to snow. Not the light fluffy stuff skiers love, but the heavy wet stuff we normally get. The stuff that clogs everything and turns rapidly to slush - and then ice! My GPS said I was exactly five point six miles from Nettleton Roundabout when I hit a tailback of traffic. At four point eight miles it came to a standstill.

Now I have to say that the local radio station did its best. Regular traffic bulletins, regular updates on which roads to avoid - but if you were one of those stuck on one of the troubled roads it would have been more useful to be told how to get off it and onto an alternate route that was reasonably passable. Not helpful was the police telling us at ten minute intervals to "stay at home and don't venture out"! Not an option if you are already out!

I will draw a veil over the next few hours except to say that, with no way to turn back, no way to leave the dual carriageway and no information on what lay ahead, we inched forward. Progress measured not in Miles per Hour, but in Yards. At a place called Duntisborne Abbots an elderly lady suddenly appeared at my window, clearly distressed, her battery had gone flat and she was now blocking one carriageway. I managed to swing my car round hers and used my jumper leads with the help of a passing fire fighter - also stranded - to restart her, and we commenced the inching forward again. At intervals the progress was delayed, or made more hazardous by the abandoned cars of others who had obviously flattened their batteries doing as the old lady had done - switching off and then on again every few minutes to conserve fuel. Good plan, except that it takes a twenty minute run to put back each start into the battery. That four point eight miles took from roughly 18.45 to 01.00. Nor was the agony over yet. Nettleton is an infamous dip in the road and it is single carriageway. It was also a sheet of ice and slush. It took another hour and a half to inch our way down it and then up the otherside. It was at the top of that hill that we again came to a standstill, and the water in my tyre treds froze. When I tried to move again, the wheels just spun idly on the ice and the rear tyres stayed exactly where they were. A bit of violent movement of the steering broke the grip and I was inching forward again.

I arrived at the top of Crickley Hill at 02.40 and then inched down it again to the wet, but ice free surface of the valley below. From there on it was plain sailing - except for the flooding along parts of the A38 - so I took the Motorway and was home by 03.05. I was hungry and tired, but exhaustion won. Bed!

Posted by The Gray Monk at January 12, 2008 09:50 AM

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Wow. GF is so glad he came home Thursday evening and didn't have to fight through that yesterday.

Posted by: Gorse Fox at January 12, 2008 11:02 AM

That is reminiscent of an evening in the early 1980s when I worked on Wall Street -- a universally forecast "light flurries" turned into the worst blizzard in New York in 36 years, and some co-workers and I attempted to drive home to Queens (normally a significantly shorter trip than the one you describe).

A twenty five minute drive commenced at 8:00 PM (we were working on a project) and ended at about 4:30 AM, culminating in our abandoning the car on Queens Blvd and walking our separate ways in high-torso snow.

In short, and especially given that you spent most of your trip in the rurals, I can only say that I'm glad you taught the more sadistic elements of nature just who is, indeed, boss. :-)

Posted by: Seth at January 12, 2008 12:51 PM

Back in the 80's living in Michigan we had a case of "light snow with wind" that caused the capital to shutdown for 3 days. Even after that the only way to get to it was by 4x4 or snowmobile. My little town had a Army APC get stuck coming out with doctors. The army found a pilot that was willing to fly in the storm and bring another set of doctors out to our small clinic to deliver a set of twins coming out breech. The helicopter stayed there for a week before they could dig it out. Eight feet of snow fell in 24 hours. I was around 11 years old and thought it was cool to jump out of my second story window into the snow bank that covered the 1st floor.

Posted by: skipjack at January 18, 2008 08:52 PM