We got home safely last night thanks to three very important things.
- LincsGeek’s calm and expert driving.
- Winter tyres on the car.
- Making the (eventual) decision to stick to minor roads.
It was a snow journey.
I’m sure you’ve heard lots about, or experienced, the snow storm that hit parts of the UK last night. Not quite a White Christmas but definitely a white Boxing Day. It’s ridiculous really; weather events like this make us Brits the laughing stock of the winter-hardy world. At home we had eight centimetres of snow – not a huge amount, but the problems it caused were enormous. Power cuts, fallen trees, abandoned cars, cancelled trains and buses, and much more.
The obligatory snow is falling shot from the passenger seat, taken before the road turned white.
We spent a really lovely day at my parents home in Boston. We set off after tea at around 8pm – snow was falling but not heavily. It was a slushy and sleety snow but laying even though the ground was very wet from the rain earlier in the afternoon. Our journey home is usually around 45 minutes and is one we do at least a couple of times a week – although we soon realised it was going to take a bit longer than that. Keeping our speed down we made our way on the A17 and towards Sleaford where the snow was heavier and laying on the road. So far so good, just a bit slower than normal, but we made good progress and felt happy.
Our problems started once we got to the A15 just passed Cranwell. We watched the rear wheel drive car in front slip and slide up a small hill before coming to a stop in a queue of cars waiting at the top of a hill where the road was blocked due to cars being unable to get up it from the other direction. Not wanting to hang around, we turned back and took the road through Cranwell across to the A17, thinking it was a pretty flat drive from there up to a junction we are used to taking as our backup route home. Except we ended up in a queue there too, about 400 yards from our turning. I walked along the road (in my Converse!) to see what was going on, checking in a couple of of cars in ditches on the side of the road to check the occupants were okay, and chatting with other drivers who explained the steep hill (after our junction) was pretty impassable and was causing major problems for those attempting it. I had a look to see if we could get as far as our turning but no, so I went back to the car and we turned around again. We drove back through Cranwell (stopping to clear the road of some fallen branches hoping the rest of the tree didn’t join its limbs while we were stood there), making the decision that back roads were definitely the answer – fewer cars, cleaner snow, better grip. Back-tracking a little to get to the road we were after we passed a motorcyclist heading the other way on the main road – unbelievable – and quite ridiculous, I hope he had a very good reason for being out as there is no way I’d be riding in that weather! Once on the back roads, which were familiar to us so we weren’t heading into the unknown, we felt so much better. The going might have been slow (and many more miles than we should have been doing), but the road was clear of abandoned cars, had fewer tyre tracks to get stuck in, and we saw very few other people driving along meaning we had the road to ourselves. We even found a few spots to stop so I could jump out and take a few snaps. I’d not brought my Lifedge case so I had to be quick with my phone in the snow, but I wanted to document it as this may well be our only snow this season!
Snow on the road at Blankney, Lincolnshire.
Snow as we headed into Harmston, Lincolnshire on the A607.
We did wonder if we’d get down the steep hill to our house but by that time we were within a mile of home so we weren’t worried – we could leave the car in the village and walk if necessary. But no need, we got down without incident (avoiding a number of crashed and abandoned cars that hadn’t been so successful on the way up and were still there when I walked up to the shops this morning), and pulled onto our drive a little over 2.5 hours after we set off and very much in need of a cup of tea. Not as bad as the stories I’ve heard from people in Yorkshire (or even some others in Lincolnshire), but an unexpected adventure on the way home none-the-less.
I’m not surprised we are the laughing stock of the rest of the world when it comes to our inability to cope with travel in winter. It was only 8cm of snow. The roads had been gritted (the number of tweets I saw from people saying “the roads are slippery why haven’t they been gritted” – there is nothing a gritter can do about falling snow!), but our driving skills and cars are just not up to the job. Driving too fast, not knowing how to steer when skidding, stopping half way up hills, being too close to the car in front, using rear fog lights and therefore impairing the visibility of other drivers, having rubbish tyres with minimal tread that offer practically no grip in the cold, and other things too. Not to mention ruts and potholes sending cars in random directions, mud on the roads thanks to tractors making conditions even more slippery, and having no idea where the edge of the road is (or the middle) thanks to worn out markings and lack of cats-eyes (for example). In Finland, Canada, and lots of other countries, roads are covered in packed snow for much of the year and they manage to get around perfectly well thanks to decent skills and the right equipment. We get a few centimetres and our major routes across the country grind to a halt.
Tips for Winter Driving
The advice last night was don’t travel unless you really have to – well we had to get home and anyway we had set off before we saw that advice. If you do find yourself having to drive in snowy conditions then please consider these things:
- Clear your car of snow before you set off. That’s all the windows, the roof (as it will soon move down and block your front and rear screen), and lights. You might as well wipe it off the whole car.
- Keep plenty of space – more than you’d ever think might be necessary – between you and the car in front. Tailgating in the snow is really silly, however slowly the car in front might be going.
- Don’t slow down and try not to stop going up hill. If necessary, wait at the bottom of the hill until your route all the way up is clear, then go. This means you won’t have to stop because the person in front does, and won’t risk not being able to get going again. Don’t go really fast but keep a constant speed so you have enough momentum to get all the way up in one go. Going down hill is easier but keep the speed low so you can avoid using your brakes.
- Speed up, slow down, turn and brake gently. If you’ve not done skid pan training (usually with your local Police force) then get yourself booked on; it’s loads of fun (basically a really wet and slippery playground) and you’ll learn something that may become vital.
- Invest in winter tyres. Winter tyres are awesome – we had decent grip when others with ordinary tyres did not. It’s not just the different tread, but also the compound the tyre is made from that works better in cold conditions (anything below nine degrees Celcius). For us a very worthwhile investment a few winters back that meant we had no trouble getting up and down hills and staying on the road. Yes, traction control on the Civic did help in places, but it was those tyres that meant we stayed safe the whole way home. I liken them to a decent pair of walking boots – I’d never go for a walk in the snow in a pair of smart ballerina flats, it is that much difference. The AA say if you are on summer tyres you should have at least 3mm of tread and no less than 2mm. We get our tyres swapped as soon as the temperature drops consistently, and then change back to our standard tyres in Spring.
- If you have to leave your car because you simply can’t get it home then get it off the road. Don’t leave it so other drivers have to navigate around it in slippery conditions, you are asking for a few new dents when you return later to fetch it.
- Oh, and don’t ride a motorcycle in the snow. It can’t be worth it.
Of course these tips are from my experience rather than any kind of official advice, so if you are worried about winter driving skills or what precautions you should take then head over to The AA, RAC or other similar organisations for advice that’s been checked by their legal teams! Of course if you are very worried then don’t go out in your car.
I genuinely hope that all those travelling last night got home safely, and all those who abandoned their cars and went home a different way have managed to retrieve their cars without any difficulty today (and without any additional bumps and scrapes). I woke up this morning thinking of that motorcyclist we saw on the A15 (he must have been frozen in his leathers) and prayed that he made it to his destination in one piece.
I know some people definitely made the most of the snow on the hills today, I hope you found a way to enjoy it. Here’s to lots more of the pretty white stuff this winter, but preferably not the kind that gets in the way of safe travel.