A Major Incident

For most of us, the idea of being witness to, or involved in, ‘a major incident’ is probably something we idly imagine, or hope never to experience. When it actually happens, it is such an odd and disconcerting experience, I thought I had better put it down in writing before I forget. 

I have been in proximity to a major incident before, the tragic events of 7/7 – although thankfully not a witness, I was inadvertently quite close by, trying to get back to my office after being evacuated from the tube. But my memories of that day have become very much mingled with the collective memories of my work colleagues and the images which filled up the news night after night.

This time, thankfully, there were no fatalities, so the experience has become much less upsetting and more fascinating, realising you are a bystander to an event which has taken over the news on a slow news summer day.

We were going to the seaside on Bank Holiday Saturday, and had made very good time getting out of London – avoiding the south circular meant we’d barely been stationary by the time we got on the motorway. Then, suddenly, the unwelcome sight of traffic slowing down ahead.

We ground to a halt, and almost immediately saw that people were getting out of their cars. At first we were incredulous – surely if it was a crash on the other side we’d be moving fairly soon, why risk getting out of the car? – and a sense of distaste at the thought of rubberneckers, if the accident was serious. 

It reaffirmed my instinct that I am not a rubbernecker – I am terminally nosy, but I don’t want to see bad stuff, and I don’t want to see others suffering. But then, as more and more people got out of their cars, I searched for ‘M20 traffic’ on Twitter and discovered that what had actually happened was a motorway bridge had collapsed onto a lorry (or been hit BY the lorry – at this point it wasn’t clear).

Then, I started to have a different appreciation for the ‘rubberneckers’ – perhaps, after all, these were the ‘citizen journalists’ who were communicating the news story as it happened; as we waited, many people around us were tweeting pictures and video footage to local radio stations, getting the word out there fast and perhaps saving other drivers from wasted journeys.

With two children getting bored and fidgety in the back, we did eventually get out of the car, but I didn’t feel very comfortable doing it – there were still motorbikes (police and otherwise) weaving through the cars, and people opening car doors unexpectedly, but it was too surreal and odd not to take the opportunity to walk on a motorway.


This photo shows where we were, right in the middle of the jam, about 40-50 cars behind the bridge itself. We saw the air ambulance hovering but didn’t see where it landed – it was already being reported on social media that there was only one injured person, and unbelievably, it was being said they had only sustained minor injuries.


Still, even knowing it was not a fatal crash scene, I didn’t want to go any closer. I didn’t actually see the broken bridge or the trapped lorry myself, despite being so close – it is odd, but somehow I knew I didn’t want to be one of the gawpers. 

The atmosphere at this point had  changed, though – we all knew no-one had been killed, miraculously, but we all also knew we might be there a long while, so a bit of Blitz spirit had kicked in – people were chatting to each other, football was being played on the other side of the barrier and a remote control car being driven around. People were climbing the nearest stairs up the embankment and bringing back cold drinks, apparently from a local golf course. 

We had thankfully brought packed lunches for the children and lots of water, but I *was* beginning to wonder when I’d get to go to the loo. (We’d been stationary for about 80 – 90 minutes at that point).


We began to notice a few drivers were turning around near us – at first we thought ‘no way’, surely they would just get stuck in amongst the traffic facing the right way, surely there was no way through?  

Then we noticed they were going through a gap in the central reservation a few hundred yards behind us, and by then lots of engines were starting up. Clearly we were not going to leave the motorway driving forward, as it wasn’t safe to go under the hanging half-bridge, so we had to turn round to get out. 

We joined the queue weaving through the stationary cars, and in only a few blessed minutes we were being waved through the gap by a police motorcyclist. Oh the joy of being on an empty motorway speeding away from the jam, and the relief of it being finally over, and the pity for those still stuck on the wrong side!

Our day out at the seaside was not to be, but having been cooped up in the car for hours, we couldn’t just go straight home. We realised we were very close to lovely, tranquil Ightham Mote and there couldn’t have been a better place to rest and recover ourselves. 


From there we had a smooth journey home, and we saw from the news that the rest of the traffic was cleared within three hours. 

It certainly wasn’t the day we planned, but it was simply a huge relief to have been able to drive away unscathed from something that could have been an awful tragedy. 

The wider implications of what happened – the state of motorway bridge maintenance, the height of the load which hit the bridge, are still at the back of my mind, and I’m sure it will be a while before I feel comfortable going under motorway bridges again, but for now, the ‘major incident’ can become one of those ‘I can’t quite believe this happened to us’ tales we will remember for many years.

And to repeat the advice I’m glad I had already taken – full packed lunch and lots of water. The children ate two lunches that day in the end, but without the distraction of food I don’t know what we would have done.

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Walks around….the Lake District

Our summer holiday this year was desperately needed by the time July arrived – the end of June had been spent in a post-Brexit state of gloom, and despite the comfort of knowing that in London we were surrounded by many fellow Remain voters, we also fixed on the upcoming escape from the city as a respite from the traffic, trains chaos, muggy air and the general unpleasantness of London in summer.

After our trip to the New Forest last year, we decided to be a bit more ambitious and go for the Lake District – a longer drive, but we took the very civilised and humane route of breaking the journey in both directions overnight, meaning we didn’t have more than 3 hours stretch of driving at a time. To those with small children, I urge you to do the same. It made the journey so much more bearable, and we even got lucky with London traffic in both directions.

We couldn’t replicate the thatched cottage in the New Forest, sadly, and our Lakes barn conversion turned out to be smart and functional but rather dull inside, although the thick walls made it beautifully cool on hot days, and the location certainly made it very special – we were only just outside the tourist honeypot of Bowness, but we were right on the edge of proper countryside.



(This was the view on the first evening we arrived, misty fields after a day of rain. The rain didn’t last!)

Our goal for the holiday was to continue in our hunt for buggy-friendly walks, and helpfully the National Park have a fantastic network of Miles Without Stiles – everything from proper buggy routes up mountainsides to short walks to viewpoints suitable for motorised wheelchairs. It really is a brilliant idea and became our bible for the week when planning days out.


A view from our first walk, Elterwater to Skelwith Bridge.

From the list on the Miles Without Stiles page, I think we did the following: nos 6/7, 8, 11, 13, 17, and 41. Some were circular routes around tarns, a couple we had to retrace our steps, but the most ambitious and exciting was certainly the Windermere Western Shore walk. 

This walk starts with arrival by boat from Ambleside and a climb up to Wray Castle where we had a picnic and a quick nose inside the castle, but not for long, as we had a good bit of ground to cover – this was by far the longest walk we attempted, but being a lakeside path, it was mostly all flat and gentle going, and in shade the whole way.

Windermere from the lakeside path

We did have to put on a bit of speed towards the end as our final goal, the ferry back to Bowness, waited for no man (well, there was a later ferry, but we decided to push on for the 4pm boat rather than be kicking our heels for another 40 minutes, and we still – just – had time for ice creams before we got the boat). 

That walk was certainly the most pleasing in that we didn’t have to retrace our steps at any point, besides the thrill of arriving and leaving by boat, but some of the others had real highlights – our walk along Coniston Water took us past the impressive farm building of Coniston Hall Farm, with its huge chimneys and a grass slope up to the first floor to access the hay barn.


It just seemed incredible that this ancient building is still in use as a farmhouse (though admittedly part of it is derelict). It must surely have some ghost stories attached to it, I feel!

The walk to Skelwith Bridge along Elterwater also had a great incentive – lunch at the half way point at Chesters by the River, a place so chichi it really shouldn’t be allowed in fell walking country, it is so far removed from the traditional hikers cafe, but the fact that the portions of food are HUGE and prices quite reasonable, does make it acceptable to walkers. You must only be allowed to eat there if you are doing some strenuous exercise afterwards to work it off, though.

In terms of keeping the children happy (beyond the regular application of ice cream), we had a couple of big hits up our sleeve – Brockhole visitor centre, which had a very good playground and lovely gardens to wander in… 


Flowerbeds at Brockhole visitor centre

…and, on our one wet morning, I took the Big Girl to the World of Beatrix Potter which was surprisingly endearing and not nearly as annoying as I’d feared – the garden modelled on Mr McGregor’s garden, although teeny tiny and in no way resembling a proper kitchen garden, was a real gem: the fact it had just finished raining meant the whole garden was shimmering with raindrops.


Mr McGregor’s Garden

My other highlight was evening walks down to the edge of Bowness village where, by dint of a bit of searching for the exact best viewpoint, I managed to take some pretty good sunset photos: 


As far as family-friendly holidays go, I think this worked well – we did struggle to keep the almost-walking toddler entertained, true – timing her naps around the activities we wanted to do was tricky, and we had to make sure she got exercise too.

We really didn’t want to resort to soft play just to give her a chance to stretch her legs, so we had to make stops on our walks to let her crawl around – factoring this into the day was a big change from the previous year.

The boat rides were a bit hairy too, with her clambering around; it meant we had to sacrifice the lake views and sit below decks to ensure she didn’t launch herself overboard. That was the moment I remembered fondly the previous summer when she was so much more, um, portable….and immobile.

What I did like was that every single outing we did was within close reach of the Windermere and Coniston areas – we really didn’t have to go beyond the immediate area to find fun things to do. Of course roads were slow & windy in places but nowhere felt *too* far away.

This did mean we didn’t get to the legendary Pencil Museum in Keswick (saved for another day!) nor did we go anywhere close to the part of the Lakes I knew from my childhood, the Duddon Valley – but it was refreshing to find that, even in the midst of what I had dismissed as tourist traps, we could find a bit of peace and quiet – on some of the walks we passed only a handful of other people. 

Of course, it will never be repeated, as we’ll never have a holiday outside the school holidays again, (well, not for years) but it was good while it lasted.


Tarn Hows