Wild Thing and I were driving to Launceston on an A road the other day, but before I write about the diversion I have to go on a digression: An A road is a main road, but out here, surrounded by sheep and cattle and windfarms, main road doesn’t mean four lanes and truck stops. It means two full lanes and a white line to divide them.
So there we were, looking at a field with sheep and Dartmoor ponies, when traffic came to a dead halt.
Now, patience isn’t one of Wild Thing’s virtues, but we waited—mostly because I was driving—and after a while the cars ahead were waved onto a narrower side road, heading north (more or less; nothing here runs in a straight line) when we’d all been heading west. The A road was blocked by a police car, so we figured there’d been an accident. Either that or someone decided a nice diversion would thin the herd. It’s hard to know what causes other people to do what they do. But I should take you on a second digression here: When there’s an accident in the US, as far as I can tell the priority is to keep traffic moving, but here they treat the accident site as a crime scene and traffic can go choke on its own exhaust because it’s not the first thing in anyone’s mind. So you might as well shut off the engine and watch the ponies, because you’ll be there for a while.
I’d already done that, so now I started the engine back up and followed the cars ahead, down a beautiful, narrow road that went in the wrong direction, passing trees, wildflowers, oncoming traffic, and bottlenecks where everything slowed to a crawl. Which is fine if you’re not in a hurry and know the area. We ticked both boxes (as they say here), so all we had to do was drive until we picked up a (more or less) parallel road heading (more or less) west, which would get us to Launceston the back way. If you’re a stranger and without a sat-nav, though, all you can do is follow the car in front, if there is one. And if you end up in their driveway, you have to hope they invite you in for a cup of tea and a glance at a map. Because the rest of the diversion isn’t likely to be marked. No one will have had time, and did I mention that traffic isn’t the top priority? You’ll come to intersections and have to take a wild guess, and since nothing goes straight these can be very wild. But eventually you’ll arrive somewhere, and if it’s not where you wanted to go you can at least plan a route.
Our line of cars was led by a motorhome (sorry: that would be called a caravan), and when you see one of these in Cornwall you can pretty well guess that the driver’s used to driving something narrower and lives where the roads are wider. So at every bottleneck we all slowed to a crawl while the motorhome white-knuckled its way past an oncoming car or cowered in the hedge while some truck or tractor driver crept past.
I shouldn’t be unsympathetic. I did all that when I was new here. And have I mentioned that the road was narrow? Two cars would fit past in most places if the drivers know what they’re doing, but if trucks and tractors and nervous drivers come into the equation somebody has to find a wide spot and pull into it before traffic can move on.
Third digression: They do narrow roads really well around here. I once saw a motorhome stuck in between two houses in a village where the road takes a sharp bend and the houses are built right up to its edge. The driver was walking from one side to the other and rubbing his head. When I went back a few months later, the motorhome was gone and the houses were still standing, so either he disassembled the thing and reassembled it on the far side or found a way past.
Anyway, we bumped around Launceston for a while and a few hours later we left the back way. It was still full of trucks—big honkin’ semis. And they’re not called trucks here. They’re articulated lorries.