As I am reminded on a regular basis—so much so that it will be a blog entry of its own one of these days—I still have an American accent despite over a decade of living in the UK. While this is unlikely to ever change, my time as an expat has affected how I perceive time and distance.
The US is a big country. From my hometown in Florida it can take nearly four hours to travel the 200 or so miles just to cross the state border. As a child, it was not unheard of for my family to drive for 18 hours and 1000 miles to visit relatives in Pittsburgh. Trying that in the UK would put you firmly in the North Sea.
Despite being more compact, it can take longer to travel similar distances in the UK by car. Although the motorways can get you places as quickly as any American interstate, the problem arises when you need to travel cross country on smaller roads. In such situations it becomes a classic “you-can’t-get-there-from-here” conundrum.
This is not wholly surprising. Much of the infrastructure has built up over the millennia. The Roman invasion brought with it art, architecture, bath houses, and yes, roads—nearly 2000 miles worth. They were built to make it easy for an army on the march to get to places as directly as possible, and having spent a summer excavating a Roman road at Silchester, I can vouch that they also built their roads to last. Some modern roads still follow these ancient trails.
Today, a quirk of fate has meant that the UK did not ratify part of the Vienna Convention pertaining to the control of vehicles. As a result, the country is now positioning itself as a testbed for autonomous cars and, while Google tends to grab the headlines, we have some academics carrying out some fantastic research into how vehicles can safely drive themselves. If they can do so here, I am fairly confident that they can do so anywhere.
All of this is to say that while the UK is a country that has embraced its road network, there are a number of cases where it is necessary to take A roads, B roads, and country lanes … all of which can offer picturesque charm, but with a tendency to be less direct, more winding and therefore more time consuming. For example, it may take two hours to cover 65 miles, much like it did for a recent trip to Bournemouth.
In turn, this has changed how I perceive travel. Travelling such a distance or length of time in the US is done without much thought, but here, it becomes a proper journey (flasks of tea and sandwiches optional but an appreciated addition to the ride). Going further—three or four hours away—feels as if you’re on an expedition.
Much like winding country lanes, this blog entry has gone off in a far different direction than I originally intended. My initial plan was to provide some context for our recent journey to Bournemouth before showcasing this seaside escape, but I have managed to distract myself with the vagaries of British transport. Come back on Friday for more about Bournemouth and its artistic endeavours.