We once had a King known as Ethelred the Unready, maybe because we are a nation of optimists that many, including those in authority, were unready for the devastatingly deadly consequences of the ‘beast from the east’.
Repeated calls to Network Rail and Virgin East Coast, three physical visits to Berwick Rail Station on Wednesday, the day before planned Thursday departure, to be advised to arrive for an earlier train, the 6.34am instead of the 0812. The idea being to forward plan in any possible delays.
6am Thursday arrive at Berwick Station, to be told that all trains south from Edinburgh cancelled and that they were starting from Newcastle, told the only option was to drive to Newcastle to board trains south and that those trains were running on the hour.
6.30am set off down A1 in a 4x4, which with hindsight may now appear to have been foolish. However, no warning signs, no police presence or highway barriers impeded or dissuaded our journey south. Traffic started backing up after Adderstone. I walked for over a mile through snow past trapped vehicles, to find two Highways England gritter/snow ploughs. My first thought being how small they were, certainly the blades. A driver explained that he had been on shift ten hours and was now stuck.
The situation seemed hopeless, literally. Lines of vehicles stranded in ever building snow. After a couple of hours a blue light appeared through the haze, a very welcome and reassuring Police Range Rover. What reassurance could a single police presence bring? As it turned out, lifesaving professionalism. A female inspector and confidence inspiring male officer took control.
Soon two amazing Northumbrian families sprang into action, despite their own concerns over livestock trapped in fields. Mr Spoors of Twizell farm heroic in wielding his JCB digger scoop clearing drifts to enable the gritters to proceed and clear the road. The Campbell family of Rosebrough Farm did the same. They were life savers, as I have no doubt, were many farming families along the length of the A1, freely giving their energy without thought for themselves or their own needs, they were inspirational.
Many jack-knifed lorries blocked the road. Two enormous trucks from Alpha Vehicle Recovery appeared like siege busting cavalry and half a dozen powerful men bounded out, almost appearing to relish the challenge. With help from the farmers diggers and their winches and cranes, they cleared the road. We learnt that they are to appear in the BBC Channel 5 series on Monday 8pm ‘Extreme Winter Road Rescue’
Sadly, eight hours into our journey, on reaching Felton we joined another queue, which turned out to be a very serious road traffic accident which held us for a further three hours. Eventually reaching Newcastle round 6pm, twelve hours after our departure from Berwick, the outside temperature never rising above minus 4 degrees.
Throughout, Northumbria Police members were exemplary, in their professionalism, stoic good humour and confidence inspiring manner.
After waking from a good night’s sleep following dinner in an hotel, the enormity of our journey eventually dawned on us as we watched the morning news. Hundreds of our fellow motorists trapped overnight in their vehicles on the A1 and other roads and trains at -4.
We have many questions, one being, why does the largest and one of the most exposed to weather counties in Britain not have larger snow ploughs and a snow blower?