The most direct route to our next destination, in Buckinghamshire, was the A1M, a road I loathe with a passion, so instead we headed for the M1. Not much better, I grant you. Here we got our first reminder or what the UK’s roads are like: congested, polluted, and full of bad drivers. We’d allowed a leisurely 4 hours to get to my Aunt’s in Olney. It took nearly 6. We arrived choking on diesel fumes and sweating in the blistering heat. Thank goodness for mobile phones. We’d alerted my Aunt to the delay and she had curative tea and cake ready on our arrival, served on her best china. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone get out the best china for me before!
We spent a happy few hours chatting and sharing our wedding photos. We tried to keep the balance between people getting to see a few pictures of our ‘Big Day’ and boring them silly, and I think we succeeded; that or people were too polite to complain. Eileen was our shortest stop. We were keen to see her as she’d been unable to make the wedding, but we didn’t want to stay too long and tax her as she’s recovering from a stroke and tires easily.
Next to the deep dark south – Surrey – by means of the M1 and the dreaded M25. The jokes and jibes about the biggest car park et al are still true. We queued. And queued. We were supposed to arrive in Dorking around teatime and didn’t arrive until 20:30. The lovely Sylvia kindly waited for us and cooked a meal when we arrived, and Darryl, our friend’s son, spent the evening and following morning entertaining us when he probably had much better things to do. Sylvia is the mum of a friend I’ve known since childhood although I’ve probably not seen her for 30 years. It was lovely to feel so welcomed and looked after, especially given the fact that our friends were away and had offered their home as a stop-over in their absence. The kindness and generosity of friends was a recurrent theme during our road trip and we were both amazed and delighted.
The following day we headed further south and west, on through Hampshire, stopping off at my parents on the way. It would have felt strange to drive almost past their front door, even though we couldn’t stay over. It was a different experience seeing them when we were the ‘visiting relatives’ rather than the other way around.
A short hop to Salisbury in Wiltshire should have taken under an hour but took well over an hour due to road works on the Salisbury by-pass. I will never get used to the amount of traffic on the roads and the time wasted sitting in queues. Having spent over 8 hours in the car you’d think we’d be quite happy to sit or walk for the rest of the evening, anything but drive about. Well we were happy to sit and chat but we were also more than happy to take David up on his offer of a ride in his restored Austin. She’s a beauty of a car and even managed to pull 4 of us up hill not long after starting. I did think we’d have to get out and push at one point. Thankfully not.
It was as well we took the opportunity for motoring on a sunny summer’s evening. The following day the rain was non-stop and torrential. Visiting David’s allotment was out – we did a drive through as a token gesture – and touring the city wasn’t a great option either, so we plumped for visiting Salisbury cathedral instead. The impressive medieval building was started in 1220 and completed around 1266. The spire was added later, around 1320 and has been the tallest in England, standing at 123m, since the 16th century. The building is impressive and worth a visit. It’s amazing to think of the skill and time it took to build in a period with little mechanisation. The model of the construction is fascinating, giving some idea of how many people were employed in its building. It brought to mind ‘The Spire’ by William Golding, loosely based on Salisbury cathedral’s construction and fraught with human desires, aspirations and failings. The workforce would have formed a community in their own right and there would undoubtedly be plenty of stories to tell. We had plenty of our own stories to tell, and catching up with friends, chatting, eating and socialising was a huge part of the enjoyment of the trip.
There were many highlights on our journey around the UK, and food provided some of both the high and low points. In Salisbury we were introduced to Lebanese food at Baroushka where sharing and solo mezze dominated the menu. The food was hearty and interesting. Apparently simple dishes were layered with flavours and textures and quite unlike anything else we’d tried before. If you get the opportunity to try authentic Lebanese cuisine, give it a go.