We also made the journey "up North" to see my parents for a couple of days, then over East to take student daughter back to university, then back home the next day.
I realise that in some parts of the world, a journey totalling 750 miles would be no big deal. Across the USA, almost-empty roads stretch from coast to coast; in France, I'm told, the main autoroutes are similarly clear of traffic. But here in England, our motorways are packed with cars and lorries, nose to tail, impatient to overtake with the illusion that once past the next artic, the road will be clear all the way to their destination. Sometimes all of the traffic travels at around the speed limit of 70mph, but if there are road works, or an accident, or just through sheer weight of traffic, it slows dramatically until we are creeping along, sandwiched between each other, overheating our clutches and our selves. There is no pleasure in such a journey. And that's just the motorways.
Crossing the country from west to east, we decided to take the shorter, scenic route through the Peak District, rather than the longer motorway route. In the middle of a busy Friday we found ourselves on the wrong road in Cheadle, a short but unpleasant interlude until we came across the right road, more by luck than judgement. Lucky that we had two navigators and a road atlas to help. The Peak District was as beautiful as I remembered, but then came Chesterfield, Staveley and Worksop. Again the traffic slowed almost to a standstill under its own weight. And we felt that weight, impatient as we were to arrive at our destination before the shops closed.
People these days expect to be able to travel where they like and when, at their own convenience and in their own vehicles. But the roads are full. There are too many people and too many cars. Almost all of our goods are transported by road these days too. Britain is a small country - in America we have seen that when a road is inadequate for its traffic, they build a whole new road through a previously untouched piece of land. We have no untouched land, no wilderness, and if we did, would we want it to be wasted on roads? We have beautiful countryside, but it is precious.
However, there are advantages in living in some of the busier areas. In Cheadle and in Chesterfield, in Staveley and Worksop, it is possible for the people to find any commodity they want within a mile or so of their homes. Food, clothing, furniture, hardware, carpets, curtains, antiques, lighting, restaurants, pubs, social clubs. I saw all of these on the same street, and not just one of each but a choice of several. Not only supermarkets but butchers, greengrocers and bakers shops. And people using the shops, going from one to another like bees in a hive. Even in the city, it's only a short walk from the student village to a market in the centre to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a choice of stalls.
At home I have to drive 3 miles to go to a small supermarket. In the same town there is one greengrocer, one baker and one fishmonger (no butcher). And an eccentric but rather expensive hardware store. After that it's about 8 miles to the next supermarket and greengrocer. Or 10 miles in a different direction to a different town. If I want a carpet, I know of three places within 10 miles, but all in different directions, or I can go to the city, 15 miles away, for a similar choice in a smaller area.
Sometimes I feel I'm writing like an explorer in a strange country!
Does living in towns make life easier, or does it just make being a consumer and a traveller easier?
Maybe being in the country is slower and harder, but more real, less materialistic? More minimalist?
But don't human beings need variety, change, stimulation, to keep us from becoming stale, dull and boring (and bored)? This is why I like to get away from home, but I don't do it enough, stuck out in the sticks on the road to nowhere, every trip a major journey.