11/26/18

My Travel Book - Shortcuts - Part I







Swee’Pea, you remember Swee’Pea? My son Swee’Pea? It’s been a while since I have written about him. Ahem. Quite a while since I have written at all.

Well, Swee’Pea is a wonderful travelling companion. Even-tempered, patient, uncomplaining and (almost) always in a smiling mood. Filled with enthusiasm and endless curiosity about everything. Talkative and yet a good listener. And the icing on the cake, willing to embark on long road trips with me…

But… (because there is always a but, isn’t there?) Swee’Pea loves shortcuts. And thank you "Google Maps”! The only time I never heard him mention the word “shortcut” was in South Africa, because of safety reasons, of course.

The interesting point though is that his shortcuts always end up being fun and hilarious… if you like adventure that is and being on the wild side of the road(trip)!

Our road trip from London to London (almost 4.000 kms in three weeks) was filled with shortcuts. Most of them while we were travelling through Brecon Beacons Park, Snowdonia and the Lake District. Most of the time we ended up driving through fields (yes, Google maps trails and tracks and paths of all sorts) and finding ourselves hopelessly stuck in the middle of nowhere in front of a cattle gate. Which entailed backing up for at least a couple of miles on very winding and hilly pathways.  And then learning from locals much later on that unless strictly forbidden, one opens the gate and then drives away after carefully closing the gate until the next one.

(Do you read Welsh? We don’t! And so we kept backing up. Until the next shortcut.)

One of my best memories, shortcut wise, happened on our way back to London. Driving from Edinburgh to Durham. From the very beginning of the trip, we had agreed upon travelling through the countryside as much as possible, thus avoiding big cities and congested road networks. Thus probably getting to know Great Britain better.

We decided to avoid driving through Berwick-upon-Tweed, quite a huge town - population : 13.000 people! Google indicated that there would be a shortcut that would take us right to the coast and Bamburgh Castle with its Armstrong and Aviation Artefacts Museum.

Google Maps also indicated that we had to turn right away and drive across a golf course…

I was truly shocked when Swee’Pea, laughing his heart out, took the weediest and narrowest lane on the left or was it the right… and there we were… going through a golf course where actual people were playing and you could hear golf balls whizzing by.

I was so shocked that I probably closed my eyes for a few minutes or maybe a century. I never took any pictures of the going through! But I found a very explicit picture on the web.


©geograph.org.com

 The crossing was short. Thank you. But the shortcut kept getting worse. You see, it had been raining a lot in the area and the lane that was supposed to get us safely to the seaside look more like a shelled battle area than a leisure countryside whatever. The water holes were very, very deep and even wider. The few hikers on the way looked rather amazed that a car would make it through.




Well, we did. The mood in the car was not at its best. Mine at least. Swee’Pea was thoroughly enjoying himself and the car was obviously built to last. (I got my fun a few hours later watching SP getting rid of the caked mud in a very ancient carwash while I was munching away at a bag of M&M’s!)



And there again - a gate! I knew it! Except that this one would be a little bit more dangerous to handle than the cattle gates. My mood was getting from bad to worse. I had to manoeuvre the gates, of course since I don’t drive. It all was a matter of being cautious and fast at the same time.

Take a big breath!
Open both gates. Check! Breathe!






Cross the double-track line with the car. Check! Breathe!



Walk back to the first gate to close it. Check! Breathe!
Walk back across the railway line. Check! Breathe!
Close the second gate. Check! Breathe!


We had done it. Safely. (I didn’t trust much the green light in such a forlorn place! This was the railway track from London to Edinburgh after all. Fast trains!)

I hopped back in the car. We were not very far from the small road to Bamburgh. And the countryside was pastoral and colourful. And peaceful. My mood went up to feeling good. This had been quite an experience after all.





A few minutes later, some Northumberland witches decided to use every trick in their power to kill the fun.


There we were with no way to do a U-turn. 




One weak bridge… mentioning “road vehicles” and not “trucks”. We had driven over quite a few “weak” bridges in Wales because they were prohibited to lorries but not cars. But this one in the middle of nowhere was clearly stating that no vehicles were allowed on it, not even cars.

We decided that being stuck there wouldn’t help and that it would be better to go check the bridge before making any impulsive decision.

While we were pondering the pros and cons, a train whizzed past us on its way to Edinburgh. At top speed. We had the same question: “Was the “green light"
 
still on or had it turned “red” a few minutes ago? We’ll never know because we definitely decided to drive forward and check the bridge.

All those fields around would need to be harvested. And harvest means harvester and tractors and trucks… Maybe the bridge was not this weak after all. Except that all those vehicles and contraptions could be driven through the fields and never use the bridge because it really was “weak”.

We breathed in and out. At least I did. And we drove forward. We had set one rule while being on this road trip : let’s not vent our feelings (the negative ones, of course) while in the car. Not enough space for a fight. So I probably kept quiet, trying not to fly off the handle.

Once close to the bridge, it was time to play it like in South Africa. Rangers in Kruger Park are always checking animal tracks on the trails. Very useful. And there they were. Tractor tracks all over the bridge. We could not be heavier than a tractor, could we? 


Hopefully we wouldn’t be the last straw that would break the camel’s back. And we were not. Or I wouldn’t be telling the story, would I?


For those who are still looking for thrills, we had to drive quite a few miles off the beaten track. On a very grassy path that took us straight to a very small asphalted road.


To Bamburgh Castle, at last!