We drove from the house late morning. The boot was full of presents and waterproofs. Isabella, Jem and me were listening to the audio-book How to train your dragon. By the time I’d taken the first instinctive (arguably wrong) turn of the journey, we were far from the efficient motorway journey I’d thought we’d be having and being absorbed into the realm of mists that was South Gloucestershire today.
I stopped the car by a bus-stop on the descent at Old Sodbury and sat in the bus-stop, having a smoke, appreciating the modest view across the road of the side of The Dog Inn.
In the eight or so minutes I sat there, several cars drew up to the junction that I partially obscured and cast accusing stares at me.
A moderate rain fell and threw ever increasing circles into the puddle by my feet. A girl rode past on a pied horse, leading another horse up the hill.
I got back in the car and drove through Chipping Sodbury, intending to branch off to the M5 at Wickwar.
Floods had shut the road and thus began our detour.
First, through the wonderful, faded Kingswood village and then on to shambolic Cotswoldy Wotton-under-Edge where the more than gentle trickle of traffic had caused a minor tail-back. I felt absolutely no sense of hurry. The Christmas spirit (only instilled by my son’s carolling yesterday morning) would lead me on.
We veered steeply out of the town and up through North Nibley and Stancombe, through sumptious steep valleys deep with rotting beech leaves and lingering mists; onwards to Dursley, the road began to wend a slow ascent into a picturesque semi-Alpine scene of even deeper plunging valleys, half-hidden country escapes and rows of pre-Victorian cottages.
The brewery atop a natural spring at Uley.
The certainty, the significance of our destination became less and less urgent as the landscape became more dramatic, and yet more veiled within the rains.
The way began to reach its climax of lost-ness. We accelerated skywards through Buckholt and Stanley Woods on a meandering B-road. On either side, ancient, shadowy oaks were netted in ivy, an army of glistening grey beech trunks marched alongside us. The distant vanishing point now surged forward and we were quickly absorbed within the underbelly of the clouds. Is and Jem were open-mouthed to hear we were inside clouds. Zephyrs haunted all the woods at this altitude.
We had left Keynsham an hour ago, we had to be at least an hour from Birmingham; I had only a faint notion of roughly where we might be. What drew the kids from the D.S. and the audio-book, and what no-one could fail to notice was the measureless beauty of what nature was doing with the world. South Glos., particularly around Stroud (particularly since http://wp.me/p2Sd2n-e) is often magical with its lost hamlets, dramatic contour lines and grand vistas. Now, this odd land was made even obscurer and more abstract as it was subsumed within the heavens.
Eventually, after skirting Dark Wood, we helter-skeltered downwards until flattening out onto absolute flatness and blankness. A wide stretch of marshy grazing land on which a deep fog squatted. Limbo. A place to wait for Godot. Several cars were parked on the verge either side of us, their owners embarked on Captain Oates journeys into oblivion.
Selsley Hill is where civilisation met us again. The kids noticed and remarked on the view of the terraced valleys. Selsley Hill became Stroud, then a ring road, a roundabout, and then, finally, a motorway.