What: Mini Road Trip
Where: Across 4 Counties (beginning in Leicestershire & ending in Essex)
Who: Myself (Map-Checker / Navigator), Adham (Driver / Road-Warrior)
The Purpose: Unknown
The day before leaving, we carefully poured over the simplest and easiest route that would get us from A to B; it was pretty straight-forward, pretty much one roadway the entire time. A rough estimation of about 3 hours. I can’t drive, so I put all my faith in Adham, who then confessed that he was “slightly nervous” about driving into the unknown. Because England is small compared to Canada, I always just assume that he knows every single area of the country, every single city and town and village and street. I’m always mildly shocked when I ask “how do we get there?” and he says “I don’t know.” But this is your country – you should know!
Armed with a slightly dated and gigantic road atlas and a much more modern GoogleMaps, we set out on our mini-road-trip. My job was to call out directions as we got close to crucial changing points. I developed a better understanding of the roundabout (which always brings to mind an episode of the Simpsons, where they’re in England and stuck on a roundabout, going in circles) and how it actually does make for a more smooth, continuous flow of traffic.
Our route took us through Leicestershire (the heart of rural England!), Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire & Essex. Once out of Leicester, the roadway developed into a dual carriageway, which developed into a motorway; with lots of lorries (trucks) trundling along, delivering all kinds of goods. The concept of a semi-truck seemed to be nonexistent, rather replaced by all the smaller lorries; why not have one big lorry, instead of a bunch of smaller ones? Also slightly concerning to note was the shoulder of the road where these vehicles parked over night, as their drivers slept; truck-stop congregation parking lots are not very prevalent.
Going through smaller towns of villages, a lower speed limit is imposed (usually 30 or 40 mph). The sign on the right indicates the speed limit has ended and one can go back to the national speed limit (60 mph). The sign on the left was plastered everywhere, and although Adham didn’t actually know what it meant, we figured that since we were on a busy motorway, we probably shouldn’t stop to find out. Other signs of interest included a “yield” sign, to inform motorists of farm equipment and horse traffic. I could imagine that driving extremely slowly behind a tractor, not being able to pass, would be the most annoying thing ever.
Our destination was the tiny village of East Bergholt (who, judging by the signs that had been posted, are a bit incensed at the idea of new houses being erected – NO! NO! NO! East Bergholt is a VILLAGE!). Unbeknownst to me, as I was just along for the ride, Adham had arranged to pick up a crap load of stuff from an artist he knew. Now I see why I was left in the dark, because had I known, I surely would have tried to talk him out of it. The car was loaded up with boxes and boxes, of a fairly heavy weight & as we set off, we discovered that we had a flat tyre. We proceeded to drive extra slowly to a garage down the road, which only exacerbated the issue; soon enough the sound of metal scraping the pavement filled the quiet country air. A leisurely gentleman stopping in his tracks and lifting his head to suss out the noise. A duo of builders on scaffolding, turning in disgust at our racket.
Woo-hoo! We made it to the garage, not quite in one piece, but fairly intact. Unloading the boxes to get to the spare tyre, revealed that the backup was pie-bald. Zero tread along much of it. So apparently that’s pretty illegal to use. This garage didn’t have the correct model of tyre for the car, so our best bet was to get to the nearest biggest town – Hadleigh. Gratefully, the mechanic switched tyres, which according to him was OK as long as we didn’t actually continue to drive great distances on it. We made for Hadleigh, post haste!
A cute little town, with colourfully painted store fronts, Hadleigh would have been a neat place to roam around during the day. By now it was going on 3:00, we had a new tyre, we stopped to eat in a cafe / restaurant called Huffer’s (which, honestly just makes me think of drugs. There were no drugs and it was a decent place, although the loo was a bit iffy). The sun had set, and many of the shops shut at 4:00, so it was a bit of a waste to hang around.
We were no longer along the route we had planned out & we needed to get to Cambridge. Do we go back to our end point, in order to knowledgeably make it to Cambridge, thus wasting time and petrol? Or do we take our chances along a different route, thus saving us time and petrol? We threw caution to the wind and decided to go a backroads way – a decision that proved to be harrowing and thrilling at the same time.
There was a direct road to take us out of Hadleigh into Cambridge; granted it was incredibly winding and lacking in lamplight of any kind. A single road in either direction, winding and curving through the countryside, through the odd village. It was pitch black, except for the cat’s eyes in the middle of the road. There were blind turns every few minutes, and the encouraged speed limit of 60mph. I felt like I was playing a first person Formula 1 racing game – real graphics indeed! Now, I’m no authority on road safety, but driving along darkened, winding paths, at wild speeds, with sporadic on coming traffic doesn’t exactly strike me as a sound thing to do.
We made it to Swavesey, a small village just outside of Cambridge. Being as tiny as it was, you’d think it’d be no problem finding the street we needed, but whoever designed this place thought it would be a good idea to have about 7 branches off said road, and not bother to come up with new names. I imagine the exchange went something along these lines:
Drunk Planner: “I’ve created a street. It shall be called Oak Street.”
Village Councillors: “What about all these ones here, that branch out from Oak Street?”
Drunk Planner: “….they shall ALSO be called Oak Street.”
Village Councillors: “Sounds good. Let’s all get drunk!”
When we finally found the CORRECT road-of-roads, we enjoyed good food and the company of friends. Also wine. I shall have to up my drinking game if I am to blend in more seamlessly.
Driving back home we passed a directional sign, indicating that the Sugar Factory would be the next exit. Ummm what!? Now, sometimes England christens places with obscure names that in no way correlate to the actual site involved (Cheddar Lane, I’m looking at you), but I can only assume that this was indeed a real Sugar Factory, and not some trick. A few minutes later we passed a directional sign indicating that the Crematorium would be the next exit as well. Okaaayyy…
If I’ve learned anything on this adventure it would be: why make two trips when you could do it in one? First stop – Sugar Factory with Grand-Dad. Second stop – Crematorium drop-off.
Listen to: Cake – The Distance