One minute we were cruising along the M4 on the way back form a day of climbing in the Wye Valley, talking about where to find the best pizza in East London. The next the car suddenly lost power and a putrid smell filled the salon. We only just managed to make it over to the hard shoulder. So much for an early return back home to London!
My climbing trips are always a (mis)adventure of some sort, which I’m sure regular readers of this post are more than aware of, but this one I’m not going to forget in a hurry. I’ve experienced my fair share of breakdowns (once even also on the way back from a climbing in the Wye Valley), but it has never previously amounted to five hours of waiting by the side of the road and a night spent in a hotel. In Gloucester, of all places.
If you’re considering going to Gloucester for a day out, don’t. There is nothing to see there. Not that we had any time to explore, having turned up at the Holiday Inn Express at around 11pm. But I’m pretty sure that hotel is the best thing about the town. Though I’m biased on that front, because at that stage in the adventure a clean bed, warm shower and drinkable water were very much enough to make me ecstatic with excitement.
It was a really hot Sunday, the first one this year, and we decided to check out a crag called Wyndcliffe Quarry in the Wye Valley, just over the Severn Bridge in South Wales. But the heat escalated and by mid-afternoon we were completely melting. Figuratively speaking. So we eventually decided for an early return back home.
And so, it seemed, had everyone else in the country, and a large proportion of them had also broken down somewhere in the vicinity of Bristol, just like us. We must have called a dozen recovery companies and got the same response – they had so many call outs there was no chance of a recovery this evening. One company told us they could be with us by the early hours of the morning. Staying on the hard shoulder of the M4 until then wasn’t a very attractive prospect, even if the vehicle happened to be a mini-van with a comfy boulder mat in the back…
The problem was, it was a company vehicle (and I say “was” because, in all likelihood, it is not going to survive this incident), so it had no conventional insurance on it. The insurance it had only covered London and Kent, and there was no point paying nearly £200 to join the AA just to get off the motorway (though we might have changed our minds about that by 5am!)
We considered abandoning it and hitching to London, but did you know it’s illegal to abandon a vehicle on the motorway? Well, now you know. We didn’t either, until we were informed on one of our many, many phone calls to recovery firms.
We even had the genius idea of trying to fix the car by pouring litres of water into the water tank, as it broke down due to a water leakage. We didn’t have any water, but we happened to find an allotment across the field from the motorway (as you do) and shamelessly stole water from their water tanks. Twice. Apologies to the owner, but we needed it more at that point!
This didn’t work, however, and we ended up resorting to the emergency phone for rescue. I’d never done that before, so actually it was kind of exciting…
Then the heat got to us and we decided to risk it and drink some of the water we had collected from the allotment…I believe a person can live without water for up to three days, right? Well, we managed three hours before we gave in.
In the end, the emergency services sent a company to tow us to Gloucester, of all places, despite us being a 15 mins drive from Bristol (and much further from Gloucester!). Luckily, it also turns out the motorway services have to clear the hard shoulder within two hours by law, so we weren’t going to be left stranded there until dawn.
And in the morning we had to take a coach back to London, because guess what? It costs nearly £90 to get back from Gloucester to London on a Monday morning!
All in all a bit of a shambles, but it was an adventure, and I’ve realised that sometimes that’s all that matters. Plus, it makes for a much better story than the crag itself, which was nice, but fairly uninspirational in the grand scheme of things.