After I got back from South America, my friend Mary and I wanted to do a cultural day out, but we couldn’t pick between the options on our shortlist. So we decided to do all of them. Chronologically. Which meant starting with Stonehenge. Why the hell not, right?
The problem was, we picked the day when heavy blizzards were battering the UK. Refusing to be deterred, I took a train from London to meet Mary in Winchester. My train was delayed when, according to an onboard announcement, all the snow made the train in front of us catch fire in Basingstoke. We were never given any further information to make sense of this, but I got to Winchester eventually.
According to its website, Stonehenge was shut because of all the snow. This seemed almost as dubious as the train fire, but we decided to wait until the next morning, to have another go.
The next morning, Stonehenge was still officially closed, but we decided to drive there anyway, and see how close we could get. The main road wasn’t too bad, although dozens of motorists had apparently been stranded overnight on a different section of the same road. When we got to Stonehenge, we discovered why the site had been shut: the lane that led to the entrance was littered with abandoned, partially-buried vehicles that had been overcome in the previous day’s snowstorm.
Still refusing to give in, we battled through to Stonehenge itself, where an unlucky site guard had had to camp out throughout the snowstorm to provide 24-hour security. The wind was whipping ice crystals off the frozen fields and hurling them against our coats and skin. Almost nobody else was there to witness the ancient monument in this ethereal white landscape. It was probably the coldest place I have ever been.
Having achieved success, we tried to pop in to Salisbury. But the roads were impassable because of the snow, so we retreated to Winchester. I had plans in London that evening, so it was time to leave. According to the national rail website, the trains were functioning reasonably well, so I said goodbye to Mary and went to the train station.
The trains were not functioning reasonably well. Nor was the train station. It was three in the afternoon, but the announcements on the board and over the tannoy system still kept repeating that the 08:26 to London was delayed by approximately an hour and forty five minutes. There was no other information, and it had started snowing again. It wasn’t the stickiest situation I had been in, but it was far from ideal.
It looked probable that I was going to be stranded for at least a couple of hours, and possibly overnight. The weather was due to get worse. At this point, I overheard a woman discussing with her twenty-year-old daughter how to get her back to her university halls in London. They decided that their best bet was to drive all the way to the nearest tube station.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Is there any chance that I could come too…?”
They looked at each other in a moment of panic; then, somewhat to my surprise, they said yes. So I found myself zooming down the motorway in the back of a mini with these two strangers, heading for one of the tube stations inside Heathrow Airport, with the weather pelting down at us.
The daughter and I both made it back to London in good time, so the plan did work, and all in all, it was an excellent day – but not quite how I’d originally pictured our Stonehenge excursion. Let’s see if our next outing is quite so eventful…