A bunch of us went to Campbeltown for a few days to celebrate an approximation of 2 chums’ 40th birthdays, and it was excellent. And I very well may scratch out a report on that in due course. But the important bit to document before we all forget is the absolute mission it was to get home from there.
Plan A was so simple: after a few lovely days in Campbeltown with the crew I was to pop out Wednesday afternoon and get the tiny little flight from Machrihanish over to Glasgow, then hop on EasyJet back to Bristol and be reunited with my darling wife and much-missed puppy.
It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the UK ran into a bit of weather recently.
Scenes like this were flooding the media and people south of The Wall got the impression that the entirety of Scotland looked like the Cumbernauld Road. Without *underplaying* it, there was a lot more snow about than we’re used to seeing, and as a result flights were cancelled. Thankfully, rebooking with EasyJet was a doddle and with the kind offer of a lift back to Glasgow from one of my whisky-loving colleagues I was soon scheduled to be back on the Friday afternoon flight in time for our visitors to arrive on Friday night.
The UK’s got a funny relationship with snow – in that having a generally temperate climate we don’t tend to get a great deal of the stuff. However on those fairly rare occasions we do, everything famously grinds to a halt. Everything, that is, except the axes of the people who inevitably start up with the whole “We’re pathetic – half of Europe operates in conditions like this under normal circumstances, and yet a few centimetres (well, inevitably, inches – given our commitment to metric) of snow and the place falls apart” rhetoric. It’s true that things come to something of a standstill – and it’s fair to assume that that’s because the necessary gear to deal with it is underinvested (certainly compared to, say, Germany where it’s used CONSTANTLY), and also there’s a wage/motivation/demographic issue at play I think (can’t prove it). Firstly, people in lower-paid and more manual jobs based on my anecdotal observations tend to live further away from their places of work – typically through financial necessity, because that’s where housing’s affordable. Average national gross full-time earnings in 2015 were just over £27,000 a year, which is certainly below the figure I’d consider it worth my time to put my life in peril for at least 2 hours to get to work. Then again, some people just couldn’t be arsed – as evidenced by the number of times I’ve seen someone phoning their boss to say they can’t get in cos of snow as they tighten up their snowboard bindings before sliding down Primrose Hill.
But this wasn’t meant to be a commentary on Broken Britain, so much as my inability to get home.
With Friday’s forecast looking like the likelihood of flying into Bristol any time soon was measurable in goose eggs, I had to find another option.
The Met Office snow warning was looking fairly ominous.
Paisley Joe declared that he was going to drive back across to York – and with a bit of careful observation of the traffic reports, weather reports, and general lay of the land it looked like that was going to be a half-decent option. Trains from York to Bristol were scheduled, running and on sale, so this became Plan C.
The drive around was a lot better than the apocalyptic scenes we’d had beamed to us – we knew that the Kintyre peninsula was comparatively free of hazards from ice & snow (although a wayward fencepost caused some mild coarse language), and generally the roads were fairly well-cleared. Scotland’s typically a place which is ludicrously scenic beyond its remit anyway, but with a blanket of snow it took on an even more magical dimension which my craptastic camera skills through the windshield of a moving vehicle couldn’t hope to do justice.
As we drove and checked the forecast as if by magic the Met Office warnings changed and opened up a clear corridor of no warnings which basically charted a clear corridor from Glasgow to York! With only the exception of a detour via Gateshead thanks to a closed A66, we were more or less straightforwardly there! A well-received Barnsley Chop dinner at the local pub with Joe, Em, and Joe’s Dad, and the following morning I’d be off on my train back to Fair Bristolia!
Predictably, the saga wasn’t over. Upon awakening in Paisley Joe’s Baltic flat the railway info suggested that in fact Bristol wasn’t accessible by train. There was one scheduled round 18:00, but it seemed to hint at the chance of being dumped off and stranded somewhere in the midlands – hardly an attractive prospect after the sun’s gone down.
Paisley Joe suggested looking at what was available from nearby Leeds airport. There was *one* option, which would’ve possibly gotten me in to Bristol by 6pm Sunday, and it looked *kind of* interesting…
Although as much as I wanted to spend some time in Heathrow, Bilbao, and Madrid – I was more keen on getting back home.
And with the roads generally seeming to be in a semi-decent state, we happened on Plan D.
There was a National Express coach going direct from York to Bristol leaving at 11am and allegedly taking 6 hours. And with a deft bit of bacon sandwich prep and luggage wrangling, I was on it!
Helpfully, after setting off the spare driver moved up the coach confirming where everybody was heading to – when I said “Bristol” he responded that they didn’t know whether anything was getting out of Birmingham and we were on “standby”. So the prospect of being stuck in the midlands loomed back on the horizon.
We got to Birmingham just fine, and there was always the “last-resort option” I suppose of going around to the Birmingham Whisky Festival which was happening on the same day*. Last-resort mainly due to me having come off a solid week of whisky-related shenanigans. But a few tense moments in the Birmingham Coach Station later, and we were away down the M5 towards the jewel of the South West.
Evidently Bristol had copped a fair old bit of the white stuff in my absence as well, as this video of Liz mucking about in the park with the puppy demonstrates.
She’d also reported that the worst of all circumstances had come to pass – having been unable to leave the house since Wednesday, nor successfully receive a shopping delivery, we were all out of tonic water. This, friends, is proper End of Days stuff.
Of course by the time I sauntered in Saturday evening the snowpocalypse was all more or less a distant memory.
And crucially, after around 16 hours of road transit time, 3 full elapsed days later than planned, and triumphantly bearing 2 bottles of Fever Tree Light which I’d had presence of mind to acquire in the Co-op over the road from Leeds Coach Station, I was welcomed back into the arms(/paws) of my 2 favourite living organisms on this planet.
So something of an Epic Voyage. It feels like the only thing missing was being bundled into the back of a van with John Candy and a polka band.
* It’s worth highlighting at this point that going to the Birmingham Whisky Festival is FAR from the option of last-resort under normal operating circumstances, and indeed I’d been disappointed to report to its organiser 2 weeks earlier that I’d be unable to make it due to having visitors scheduled.