few things I find more tedious and boring than driving on England's
M6 motorway. Typical of almost any major highway, it
weaves a line through England
to the borders of Scotland like a spinal column
on a x-ray film. Its blue appearance on the map belies
truth of its characterless concrete and tarmac contours with six
lanes of traffic, sometimes moving, sometimes not.
At the end of a weekend with my friend Will in Birmingham, I'm
again heading home on the motorway that I once saw described with
an armful of topspin as 'Britain's gateway to the North.' Traffic
is heavy but moving freely while the advised stopping
distances between vehicles remains blissfully unobserved. Different colored
metal boxes jostle for position as scenery flashes by in a seventy
miles per hour blur. You've entered the race with no winners, no
prizes, no glamor and no glory, you're on the M6... 'Britain's
to the North.'
I barrel past familiar landmarks in an effort to get home before
the sun makes it to the horizon; past the ugly glass RAC control
center, the huge stores at junction nine and the turning for the
M54 which offers me a last opportunity to take the scenic (if much
more time-consuming) route home on the A41.
The outside lane is crowded bumper to bumper, passing all the
Derricks and Hildas who are pottering along at no more than sixty
hour in the middle lane, leaving the inside lane as empty as a
road to nowhere. Tell them they are driving without consideration
other road users and they would most likely reel off the fact that
they've been driving for fifty-two years and never been involved
in an accident, as if that statistic alone somehow validates their
road hogging antics.
I casually glance beyond the confines of the motorway around
me. It's turning out to be a truly spectacular evening,
the end of an unexpected summer weekend. At the beginning of September
the British summer, which is as temperamental as a teenager, decided
to up and leave without so much of a goodbye. It took with it what
little warmth it still had to offer, and left us with the feeling
long winter was just around the corner. But when I awoke on Saturday
morning the sky was blue and the air was warm. It seemed that
had returned to perform a much appreciated encore.
In the distance to my right the low sun has transformed a large
English period manor house into a towering bronze beacon atop a
lush green hill that appears to have escaped unnoticed when time
passed by. My original plan was to get home to watch the sun set
over the Irish Sea, but as the next exit approaches I decide on
a last minute diversion. With no real knowledge of exactly where
I am, I leave the M6 and head into the usually unnoticed scenery
in search of that house on the hill.
Within just a few minutes the rushing motorway seems a world away.
With my windows open and my sun roof wishing it was a cabriolet,
I drive through quiet back roads that seem to encapsulate
everything that makes England English. I pass honey colored fields
with hay bales stacked upon one another like lego bricks, down
lined on each side by trees that cast strobing shadows over my
car, and past a red telephone box and bus stop both carefully decorated
with colorful potted flowers.
I drive a little further, passing farms and small
villages that somehow feel friendly and inviting. I want to find
the house on the hill that lured me from my homeward journey,
at every junction I stop and try to get my sense of direction.
Is it left? Is it right? I don't know where either road goes,
just go with my instinct.
Eventually I find the house and learn that it is Barlaston
the once home of Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the the famous
pottery that bears his name and is still made at a nearby factory. I stop
close to the house and wander for a few moments by the small lake
opposite. A heron takes off and elegantly flies across the burnished
surface of the water that is dotted with lilies and edged by reeds
and small jetties for fisherman to cast their lines.
I feel like I'm inside a painting, and on such a late summer
evening as the shadows reach across the ground, England rarely
classical than this. I sit down for a few moments to soak up the
regal atmosphere, to let my imagination explore the many yesterdays
and possible tales that never made it into the history books and
have now been lost in the passing of years.
With my curiosity satisfied I start back in the direction of home.
I'm in no rush and so avoid taking main roads back to the motorway.
Instead I travel along a narrow lane that actually feels like it's
heading in the wrong direction, but I continue nonetheless. After
all, what's the worst that could happen?
I stop by a large gate that opens onto a grassy hillside. As the
sun begins set the scene feels almost mystical.
It's so quiet here
with just the distant song of a dove and the rustling of leaves
resembling the sound of the ocean as the trees are brushed with
a cool evening breeze.
This is England; it couldn't be anywhere else. Everything is still
and peaceful, it looks like innocence captured and feels like the
essence of freedom. I begin to walk up the hillside, my shadow stretching
behind me as the wispy clouds above begin to turn gold and red.
The entire landscape is flooded by nature's infinite splendor, with
colors on the edge of autumn exaggerated beyond belief by the last
rays of the lowering sun.
I stand under the branches of an oak and wonder what changes this
tree must have seen in its long life. It reminds me of my youth
and the tree under which my first girlfriend and I cast away our
few remaining childhood days, taking wondrous steps we would never
I walked a little further and took a couple of pictures knowing
full well that there was no way a camera could take anything from
here that was worth holding onto. Most of life's spectacular and
poignant moments are simply not possible to reproduce or copy. They
posses an element that can't be photographed, filmed or recorded
in any way other than in the memories of those who were there.
The world around me could have disappeared and I wouldn't have
noticed. It seemed like the doors of heaven were momentarily left
ajar, allowing me a brief glimpse of eternity where time has no
meaning and beauty knows no bounds. I didn't want to leave, how
could I? After all, who could see heaven and not want to stay?