Somerset wanderings

So we went for a road trip. To be precise, four adults and three children rented a car and drove down to a relative’s place in Cornwall, and all the way back. And on the way back, we saw Stonehenge. Rather, tried to see it, failed, and then stumbled upon it. For more details, read on.

The premise is that my wife’s cousin and her family are visiting us, and on Friday all of us set out to my wife’s uncle’s (same “side” as the visiting cousin) house in Cornwall. The idea of driving there was that on the way, or the way back, we could “cover” some tourist attractions that were hard to do by public transport, such as Stonehenge.

There are times when I pride myself on my planning. Such as this afternoon when we were driving from Cornwall towards Stonehenge, on our way back to London. On the way to Cornwall on Friday, I had noticed that the rest stops on the “M” motorways were much better equipped than those on the “A” highways (admittedly based on one fully sampled data point each, along with signboards). Our journey from Cornwall to Stonehenge had a short stretch on an M motorway sandwiched between two A highways. And I announced a slightly early lunch break so we could take advantage of the better facilities.

A post-prandial double espresso relieved me of the severe headache caused by caffeine withdrawal symptoms, and I presently took the wheel. Ten minutes later, I had taken a wrong turn at a roundabout which meant we were back on our motorway rather than motoring way towards Stonehenge. The wife, who was sitting next to me and navigating, proudly announced that the estimated time of arrival hadn’t changed due to my mistake.

I don’t know if the estimated time of arrival changed during the next hour and three-quarters, but most of that time was spent driving through the country roads of Somerset and some surrounding counties. There were hills and valleys and grasslands and sheep. We frequently passed through beautiful forests, which retained a tinge of green despite it being winter. The roads were mostly two-lane (one in each direction), and the sceneries kept changing.

Sometimes I like to describe my wife as being my “conscience keeper”, for she quickly pulls me back when I make the sort of mistakes I normally caution people against. For example, for the last six years I’ve been lecturing about cognitive biases, and I fell right into one of them when I said “I guess missing the exit wasn’t too bad after all, since we’ve been rewarded with such beautiful scenery”. “Well”, she replied, “you can’t say that because you don’t know what you really missed (in the road not taken)”. I quickly complimented her on how smart she is and drove on.

It was windy. Occasionally it was foggy. It even rained a fair bit. And the kids were screaming in the back of the car. But it was a most pleasurable journey. By the time we got close to Stonehenge, I thought to myself that it wouldn’t matter if we couldn’t see Stonehenge – the journey itself had been worth it (I’m not sure the adults in the back of the car shared this view).

And then it turned out that I had wished for too much. I have mentioned earlier about how I pride myself on my planning abilities, such as optimisation of lunch breaks. One thing I had failed to plan on, though, was Stonehenge’s opening hours. I had only seen that the place is open till 5, not that the last entry is at 3 pm. And when we happily drove past meadows of sheep and signs warning us that tanks might be crossing the road to finally reach Stonehenge, we were politely asked to turn back by security personnel.

Not having a place to park suitably as the wife tried to find directions home, I just drove round and round a roundabout. Directions found, the next order of business was to give some tired arses a rest, and to comfort the screaming kids strapped into their child seats. I quickly pulled into the first available hard shoulder on the A303, without waiting for a designated “service area” (with toilets and restaurants and fuel). By the time we had reoriented ourselves and pulled out of there, there was a traffic backlog ahead of us.

The road dipped and then rose again. Until the dip, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic. Beyond it, I saw cars go freely. It was similar in the other direction – there was bumper-to-bumper traffic leading up to the dip. After that, there was free movement of cars.

My first thought was that there was possibly an accident there. I soon dismissed that and thought there were sheep on the road (there were plenty in the meadows around). And then someone in the back figured out why the traffic had backed up from the dip from both directions – Stonehenge was clearly visible from there, and people had been slowing down to take pictures!

So here is one such picture taken from our car, along with a few others from our trip over the last few days.

Cousin-in-law-in-law drove the “home stretch”, which I didn’t mind at all since it was mostly along motorways which I find boring. I absolutely enjoyed driving around Cornwall yesterday (though we didn’t see that much of the famed Cornish coast), and the unexpected roads of rural Somerset today.

 

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