the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

On a road to somewhere

on March 29, 2020

At a time when we’re restricted in our movements due to Covid19, it occurs to me that travelling by road is now something to savour. And there have been many journeys I’ve taken by road that are worth revisiting. From unsealed routes to highways, roads are symbolic of progress, a life path, even a map to the future and a way back to the past. But it’s the physical experience of travelling by road that I’m interested in exploring here. If you’ve followed my recent posts, you will be aware that the journey from Koboko to Yumbe in Uganda is along a red dust road. Travel behind another vehicle and visibility becomes a huge problem. Other hazards include cows (they always have right of way), motorbike taxis called boda bodas (which slip in the dust) and the inevitable potholes. The drive to Bidibidi refugee settlement is even worse especially when riding pillion on an off road bike. It felt like we were driving over corrugated iron and it was hard to believe the conditions could get any worse… but they did. With the arrival of the wet season in March, rivers of rain gouged deep tracks in the paths and on more than I occasion I got off the bike to walk rather than face negotiating another gully.


Other occasions when I’ve walked alongside a vehicle include a journey from London to Kathmandu in 1981 with Top Deck. The travel company was started in the 1970s by a group of Australians who converted Bristol Lodekka buses into touring vehicles by fitting a kitchen and seating downstairs and installing bunks on the upper deck for sleeping.

Inside 'Snot' Turkey0001

photo: Philip Wadds

On the mountainous roads across northern India and into Nepal, we were frequently required to walk in order to lighten the load on the vehicle. Doug Foskett’s footage shows instances of us doing just that. Another perilous road, this time covered in snow, was negotiated with the use of only two snow chains for the wheels. As we approached the Turkish border with Iran, the bus slipped and slid so much we passengers were like crew on a dinghy, lurching from one side to the other in order to keep the bus steady.

Turkey Iran Border0001 (2)

photo: Philip Wadds

In September 2018, David and I decided to walk the 120km El Camino Inglés from Ferrol to Santiago de Compostela. It was a return to Galicia for me, where I’d lived for a year in 1985. The old roads have now become part of the established pilgrimage and it was a huge surprise to find myself walking along roads that I’d once hurtled along in a Mini Traveller. You can see from the photo, EU funding has provided flyovers where the old roads bent and twisted to give a route from rural areas to coastal paths.


With all this talk of roads, it’s somewhat ironic that I live in one of the few counties in the UK that does not have a motorway. Dorset is a rural area in the south west of England and villages are often reached by narrow country lanes. When I worked for the council, having a car and driving to attend meetings in many different locations was a requirement of the job. If anyone was ever late, the usual excuse involved being stuck behind a tractor.

During this time of restricted movements, I’ve found it pleasurable to reflect on the journeys I’ve experienced. How about you?


2 responses to “On a road to somewhere

  1. Your post and final question got me thinking about journeys I’ve made too. A 14 months ago at New Year my wife and I were in Ghana. We travelled in relative luxury (in a car with air conditioning and a driver), but I still recognise your description of red dust roads. Not sure I’d be keen to travel on them as a pillion passenger on a motorbike though!

    When I was a student teacher in Birmingham many years ago, my way to the school where I was doing my teaching practice took me in a commuter train under the original Spaghetti Junction, the Gravelly Hill Interchange. The train was carried on a viaduct under the complicated motorway junction. Looking up one could see police helicopters and, higher still, the contrails of aircraft circling before landing at Birmingham City Airport. Looking down one saw the canal system – the Grand Union Canal and two smaller canal systems also have junctions there. And then you could also see paths clealry made by people walking. In one place a complete cross-section of human transport history.

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