Going The Extra Mile

If I told you that the parents are happy to make a five-mile drive every Saturday simply to draw some cash out (more on that next week), it might come as no surprise that they think nothing of a 120-mile round trip for lunch.

Yes, no distance is too far for the parents to drive.

They would think nothing, either, of making a two-hour detour just to look at a building my father was vaguely interested in, or trek for miles across the Pennines in search of the source of the River Ribble (it’s a small babble of water in the middle of an isolated field in Yorkshire, for anyone remotely interested).

Once, due to my father’s inherent fear of flying, we drove from Preston to France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium – and back.

In a week.

Needless to say, my only lasting memory of that great cultural adventure was playing Top Trumps with my sister in the back of the car, while gazing at great expanses of Europe passing by in a blur.

One particular episode of my parents’ travelling madness occurred on New Year’s Day 2009, when most of the population were nursing hangovers and quite sensibly padding round the house in their PJs.

Not the parents.

Two days prior, the husband and I had foolishly agreed to accompany them (and the omnipresent Uncle Stephen – more on him later) on a relaxing country drive, hopefully stopping for a bite to eat in some quaint gastropub, en route.

What we didn’t know was that we would spend two nausea-inducing hours pretty much off-roading across the Lake District, with no guarantee of a meal at the end of it.

For someone who spends a maddening amount of time pondering over the simplest of tasks, my father turns into a cross between Lewis Hamilton and Dick Dastardly the minute he gets behind the wheel.

So it was with some trepidation, that the husband and I – feeling a little delicate from the previous night’s festivities – gingerly climbed into the back of my father’s Suzuki Swift (competitively priced, excellent fuel consumption AND one of Jeremy Clarkson’s favourite small cars – just ask the parents) before embarking on our New Year’s Day sojourn from hell.

After an hour heading into the Lake District, we began to climb higher into the hills, the rain lashing down and mist swirling around us (sounds dramatic but it really was). It might have been my imagination but the higher we climbed, the faster my father appeared to be driving, narrowly avoiding the occasional bemused sheep, and pulling over once or twice to study his trusty Ordnance Survey map – with all the intensity of a Man On A Mission.

When I tentatively broached the subject of how much further the place my father had in mind might be (resisting the urge to revert back to the child-like whine of ‘are we nearly here yet?’), it was met with a stony silence. One thing the parents will never do in the face of adversity is admit defeat.

Another hour later, my father conceded that he might be slightly lost. After all, he said, he hadnt visited this pub since 1977. For all he knew it might not even exist anymore. Yes, 1977. This, you see, is all part of the adventure.

So, it was a rather weary car load of travellers that eventually pulled up outside the Blacksmiths Inn, which according to my father, dated back to 1577. Quite an impressive history for a pub that appeared to be in the Middle of Nowhere.


Stomachs rumbling, we dutifully following my father into its oak-panelled bowels  – only to be met with the news that, as it was New Year’s Day, they were fully booked for lunch and there was no chance of getting anything to eat.

My parents and the perpetually-jovial Uncle Stephen seemed completely unfazed by this news (did I mention that they don’t actually believe in booking restaurants, leaving it purely to the jaws of fate), opting to have a drink instead, ‘now that they were here’, and engaging the landlord in a conversation about the pub’s original gas lamps that my father recalled from his last visit 35 years ago.

The husband and I, on the other hand – battling a strange mix of car sickness and gnawing hunger – were rendered almost speechless, collapsing into some hard-backed chairs and closing our eyes in silent despair.

But the day was to take an unexpected twist. Just as we were meekly sipping our coca-colas and contemplating the long drive back, the phone rang. It was a family of six cancelling their booking. Struck down by a sickness bug. The whole lot of them.

‘You’re in,’ cried the landlord triumphantly, throwing down menus in front of us. ‘Kitchen closes in 30 minutes.’

Fed, watered and hardly able to believe our luck, we clambered back into the Suzuki Swift to brace ourselves for the arduous journey back.

It was only when my father paused to linger over his map, that we realised this adventure might not be over.

‘Now, I’m sure there’s an old water mill around here…’