I suppose that going back to the earliest stories of Christmas, long journeys have always played a crucial part in the tale – the founding story has Joseph and Mary making the long trip to Bethlehem… although actually when I look on a map I see that it’s about 90 miles. Ninety miles when you’re very pregnant and riding on a donkey sounds a ghastly and horribly long way and very uncomfortable.
Our long journey was twice as far, and although uncomfortable compared to modern travel, it was nowhere near as arduous, tiring, and frightening as the original Christmas journey must have been. We were travelling from Cambridge to Sheffield to visit our cousins for the festive season. The route of just over 125 miles is pretty much the same as in pre-motorway days, however, travelling the old A1 with the occasional stretches of dual carriageway, but mostly single carriage way and narrow roads was very different when we journeyed up there.
We were travelling in our small Austin A35, no heating, no heated windscreen, no seat-belts, three gears…. and we were travelling in the famous snowy winter of 1962-63. We little girls, no doubt bundled up in jumpers and coats and scarves and gloves sat squashed in the back, mum and dad in the front and we set of for what should have been a 2-3 hour journey. The snow came down so heavily, and it was so bitterly cold that it froze on the windscreen, the unheated windscreen. Every so often we stopped and dad got out to manually scrape it away. At one point we stopped and he went into a chemist and bought some glycerine – no windscreen-washing then, no de-icing sprays, something like glycerine was the only product.
At one point when we were only halfway there but four hours into our journey, mum and dad debated whether to turn back, but now! Us two little girls were determined to continue! It seemed an exciting adventure to us but it must have been a frightening and tiring journey for mum and dad – and only dad could drive at that point.
We ploughed on – no telephones to let our uncle and aunty know we were on our way – and we only learnt later that all the buses had stopped in Sheffield and my uncle had had to walk home – only three miles, no distance in normal weather…
Eventually, eight hours after we left home we arrived to such a warm and relieved welcome! We had a wonderful Christmas – we went sledging down real hills (the seven hills of Cambridge are just bumps compared to the Pennines!) and our journey home must have been uneventful because I don’t remember it, although I have a vague thought we might have stayed longer than originally planned.
What an adventure! Something my sister and I will never forget!