On a hot, sunny summer evening we drove southwards. After crossing the Runcorn Bridge the traffic was pretty slow, so we stopped for something to eat in a pub called the Chetwode Arms – bit pricy but a good bolthole from the A49 (known in our household as the ‘old lorry route’.) A few hours later we reached our destination for the night, the Premier Inn at the services on the M6 Toll Road. As well as being a handy position, this appealed to me as not only is it on the country’s best modern road, it is also near Watling Street, the Anglo Saxon trackway. An interweaving of ancient and modern routes seemed like a good place to doss down.
We have stopped here before – back on Valentine’s Day I was fantasising about the fate of a trapped bird here – but never overnight.
Staying here made it seem more real, although it retained vestiges of unreality. Glimpsing the bright food/retail are through doors mere yards from where we had slept (enjoying the trademarked and quality assured Premier ‘Good Night’) was odd, like stumbling out of bed to see a different country in the next room.
Early next morning I explored the immediate environs of the services. I spotted some wildish growth on a low hill, with what looked like a cairn at the top. I didn’t quite believe it would be an ancient artefact, but thought an artwork of some kind was a possibility.
I walked up to discover that this was, in fact, a Roadchef branded bin for the benefit of picnickers.
The non-cairn offered a great view of the services, gleaming in the morning sun and protected from evil forces by some rowan trees.
We had a hasty breakfast in the food courtural area.
Later, we stopped in a different services with what looked like much the same curve-roofed eating space.
It occurred to me that I’ve never eaten in a giant works canteen, like the one in the Burton factory I was writing about recently, but I’ve been in countless vast leisure canteens in service areas and malls.
Finally we were heading towards the start of the walk. It was shaping up to be a hot day. On the radio, a lady was talking about the thirty years she had spent seeking the big cats of Britain – roaming beasts that many consider to be mythical. Despite the poverty resulting from full-time cat-seeking she had ‘had a ball’ pursuing elusive, beautiful creatures. I don’t have her dedication to the cause, with my day-job and other hobbies, but maybe my autobiogeographical quest has some similarity to hers. For both of us a camouflaged detail (a shadow glimpsed on a hillside, or a special shape falling) may be worth running after in expectant delight.
To be continued