Friday, 26 June 2015

A day best forgotten

Last week I mentioned that not all trips were fun and there were a few disasters. One of the most dramatic happened when we were up on Exmoor. As usual we had the camper van and we were staying at our cottage near Wheddon Cross. What did we do that morning? I am afraid I simply can't remember – later events expunged it from my memory. You can be fairly certain there was a definite purpose (simply because there nearly always was: it has never been in our natures to meander about simply to enjoy the views, well, not very often). Anyway it was shortly after we had stopped somewhere for lunch that we found ourselves driving west through the grounds of Lee Abbey (a retreat house in a spectacular setting a few miles west of the Valley of the Rocks). As you approach the western boundary of the abbey grounds, the lane drops down and, at the bottom, there is a drive with a large splay on the right whilst ahead the lane narrows and then starts to climb up quite steeply, passing a lodge on the left.

We were about level with the lodge when there was a really horrible noise from the engine and we jolted to a halt. Clearly we couldn't stay where we were – we were blocking the road – so I put her into neutral and allowed the slope to take us back into that large splay where I could stop without being in anyone’s way. Naturally there was no mobile telephone signal at that point – signals in this part of the world are patchy at best and it would have been too much to hope for. This, of course, posed a problem.

Shortly afterwards, a delivery man came down the lane from the west and I was able to stop him and he agreed to give me a lift into Lynton (now about two miles away). Leaving Marcia and Max I set off with him and, once there, began by telephoning the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) of which I had been a member since my early twenties. It was not easy explaining where the van was but they eventually found the place on the map and arranged for a pick-up truck to meet me there. Next was to find a taxi to take me back to the van and then drive Marcia and Max to the cottage where they would have to wait for me – and none of us had any idea as to how long that would be.
I settled down to wait – and wait. Having no signal there was no way I could check on progress and it was ages before a pick-up truck arrived from Barnstaple. The driver was, to put it mildly, fraught. He had had a horrible journey. Clearly he was not used to driving that truck through these narrow lanes and the whole experience was really too much for him. To make matters worse he had twice lost his way and on one of those excursions had driven down a lane that just petered out and he had no choice but to reverse back to the road he should taken. He said that was about two miles but he may have been exaggerating. He was most unhappy but cheered up when I was able to brew up some coffee for him – there are advantages in being broken down in a camper van.

The lane through the Valley of the Rocks looking towards Lynon.
He flatly refused to return up the lane down which he had come and to be honest, I couldn't blame him. So it was into Lynton and from there to Barnstable (about twenty miles) before heading south for a village called Northlew (about thirty miles if we had taken the shortest route but it was probably well over forty coming the way we did) where the garage we used was.

Obviously the way we came would not have been my choice but it seemed sensible to let him decide which route to follow. I suppose I felt it was best if he took responsibility – it would have been very difficult if we had come unstuck while following my directions. Eventually (that part of the journey took over two hours) we arrived at the garage, which was then closed. It seemed this was a worry too and it was only after I signed a disclaimer to the effect that I took full responsibility no matter what that he agreed to unload the van in the yard in front of the workshop.

I had decided that I would try and get him to run me home (a matter of some five miles) and was expecting a bit of resistance but I was pleasantly surprised – he did so with no argument although as we turned into the lane leading down to the house he said, ‘These lanes are even worse than those on Exmoor’. I felt that was a bit unfair – they are almost exactly the same in terms of width (or lack of it), gradients (steep) and the habit of winding seemingly without reason as if any straight stretch of more than a few hundred yards was an evil to be avoided at all costs.

The Exe Valley in autumn.
Then all that remained was for me to get into the Volvo and drive back to the cottage. Being on my own I took the quickest route to the A30 (known thereabouts as the Devon Express Way which is fair enough as it is a fast dual carriageway which links onto the M6 motorway at Exeter) then up the M6 to the spur that links the motorway to Tiverton. I managed to make the roundabout at the end of the spur in under the hour (driving at speeds that Marcia would not have liked) and then it was turn right and take the road up the Exe valley. No point in rushing, it's a good road but winds a lot so the best thing is to settle down and enjoy the fabulous scenery. Even so, I managed to pull up outside the cottage at about eight in the evening after a total journey time from door-to-door of under an hour and a half for the ninety-three mile trip which was the quickest ever. I was extremely pleased to collapse on the sofa while Marcia rustled up some supper and Max sat beside me with his head on my thigh and a deeply compassionate look in his eyes.
Not a good day - nor one easily forgotten.

This photo has nothing to do with that day but I rather like it. It was taken looking out of the sitting room window in our cottage just before sunset on a cold and wintry day.