Winter Wonderland? The snow is indeed beautiful. Travel Worries? Snow can be hard work that’s for sure!
The snow that fell a couple of weeks before Christmas (unusual for here) gave me a few secret worries as we were driving to the UK on the 22nd for our first Christmas there since 2003. Happily it rained the night before we set off so most of the snow was washed away and we left home at 7.30am - loads of time to arrive at the docks by 5.10pm - in fact by the time we turned off in the direction of Chartres we reckoned that we had an hour and a half at least “in the wood“ .
There was a little fog here and there but the roads were clear though there was still some snow on the fields. Approaching Rouen on the A13 in three lanes of very fast traffic, the car alongside us threw something up from one of its wheels which hit one of our tyres and gave us that ominous bumping sound of an immediate puncture.
We managed to pull over a few metres onto an exit slip road and putting on our yellow hi-vis vests (thank goodness for them) Terry walked a little way back and positioned our triangle. By the time he’d got back, fast moving traffic had blown it down so back he went to positioned it again.
Terry set about changing the wheel but the second wheel nut wouldn’t budge. He is a strong man but as he tried hard to loosen it, the wheel brace broke so there was no way we could change the wheel ourselves.
I rang Assistance who told me to phone the police as we were on the auto-route, which I did and an hour later a motorway maintenance vehicle arrived and parked up behind us with yellow lights flashing. I had been horrified at the speed of the passing traffic and also the fact that it didn’t give an inch regarding our predicament and passed so close to our car I was concerned for the wing mirror and felt great relief when the van was parked up behind us.
To cut a very long story short (it felt long to us) he couldn’t move it either so phoned for more assistance and eventually his colleague arrived triumphantly holding a large brace above his head and calling out “I’ve got a big one”! (Young men are the same all over the world?). It took the weight of two of them to undo the bolt with the big brace and eventually our wheel was changed and after we’d spent yet a further hour at his garage to complete the paper-work (another long story!!) we reached Calais.
Calais was an accident waiting to happen. We passed through passport control and found our lane and very gingerly parked. The area was like a bumpy skating rink. We watched a family walk over to the toilets but in fact they slipped and skidded and fell their way over and did much the same returning to their car. Terry decided he would skate the good skate but returned suggesting that I waited ‘til we got on the boat. We reached Kent at 10pm instead of the planned time of 6pm UK time.
Our drive from Kent to Bristol was yet another depressing journey because we were caught up in a 40 mile tail-back on the M25 and again on the M4. However, we arrived safely and we spent a lovely time with Terry’s daughter who lives in Bristol and the American half of the family with grandchildren we’d not seen before who had also come over for Christmas in Bristol.
Our journey home was 16 hours in the car but who cares - we just wanted to get home and with the weather how it’s been so far this month, we consider that we were very lucky to go when we did - at a gap in between the snow hazards - as other friends who went both before and after our trip have told us much worse tales about their journeys. We were so lucky.
Fortunately we had seen the weather forecast and knew that snow was on its way so we’d done a “big shop” at Carrefour on the 2nd January and knew that we could last for quite some time on our stores..
Now, on Monday 11 January 2010 we have been no further than perhaps a round kilometre walk in deep snow with our dog Willie since the night of Sunday the 3rd January.
The snow fell that Sunday whilst we were round at a friend’s house for dinner and we were quite oblivious to the fact that it was snowing ‘til about 10.15pm when our friend let their dogs out. I didn’t enjoy the drive home down the steep and winding bends into the valley then up the other side but Terry got us home safely and the car has stayed in the barn since then. Apart from the fact that we don’t need to go out and don’t want to risk the car - we don’t really want to dig into our pockets to pay for the insurance excess that applies to any repairs to damage!
Willie loves the snow. He is 11 years old but is being such a funny pest as he keeps asking to go out into the garden then hurtles around, rolls in it then just sits there covered in snow and staring into our beautiful white garden..
On our walks he has great fun snuffling about head-deep with his docked-tail wagging crazily. I guess there may be tiny animals that he has sniffed out yet he hasn't dragged anything out from their cosy hiding places. He is easily distracted to another spot. One weird phase he is going through is that he keeps digging in the snow for frozen apples that have long fallen from the trees at the road-sides. He is a dog! He doesn’t eat apples yet he loves to munch them now.
We are lucky that we don’t have lots of animals to care for in this weather. It hasn’t been above freezing for over a week and even then, not by much. Our pond has been frozen since the first snow in December, so Terry has to take fresh water down to the geese every day. He constructed a bird-table right opposite the kitchen door which is also opposite where I do my cooking and baking, so it is lovely to watch the many different birds that come in every day to eat all the goodies we put out for them.
Our neighbour, Monsieur C (who used to be the president of the classic car club that we belong to) has twice been round in one of his five vehicles - his old 2CV van. These cars have very narrow tyres so are apparently really good on snow. His reason for coming round? Did we want anything at the shop? They were going to brave it to the closest shop some 6 kms away. To be frank we could have managed without anything but it was exceedingly kind of him to offer and there were a few odd items that would come in handy that I’d forgotten, so he did our shopping as well as his own. Yesterday I baked some triple chocolate muffins and took them round as a small “thank you”.
So - that’s our winter so far and we’re not into the middle of January yet.