By Peter Warland
If a person has great travel plans and yet lives in poverty the conundrum might be solved by hitch-hiking. However it is a tenuous business trying to scrounge a ride but, like many others after World War 11 came to an end, I had a travel itch and so was forced into ‘bumming’ rides.
You see I was trapped into living and working in London England and yet had this yen to get into the mountains of Britain and so was forced to sharpen my thumb and hope for the best; I did all right; I was young and resilient; I could do without sleep if necessary.
I would frequently set off from London after work, ride the underground to the outskirts of the city, find the main road and go for it.
Sometimes a little superstition would niggle at me. After an unreasonable wait at one place or other, I would tell myself that, if no ride came along in say ten more minutes, I’d hie myself to the nearest railway station and mortgage my future, but that hardly ever happened. Some kindly – or lonely – driver would pull up beside me and away I’d go.
If and when I did not reach my destination before very late at night, I would lay myself down in fields, in wayside ditches, in deserted church portals, in abandoned army barracks and all in manner of strange places. One pleasant spot that I recall was a field in which stood a pole surmounted by a street lamp and so, beneath its light, I was able to read myself asleep.
One night, on my way to the hills of Wales and accompanied by a female acquaintance we gave up the hope for a ride and so we made our beds on a traffic island and slept soundly until wakened by rowdy lorry (truck) drivers.
One day in the bucolic south of England I found myself being offered a ride in a small car by the renowned actress Margaret Rutherford. I had seen her a few weeks before in the film Blithe Spirit and, as she bundled me and my pack into the back of her diminutive vehicle, I couldn’t help feeling that she hadn’t had much trouble playing the odd-ball clairvoyant, Madame Arcati; she was like that in real life as she, driving the narrow lanes to her destination, chatted amiably about her friend who had failed to turn up for their appointment to go camping for the weekend.
The Arch-bishop of Canterbury didn’t chat too much but asked politely of my destination, nodded, then shut the glass partition and set to writing in a note book. As we travelled, I wondered if I might have been an inspiration for a sermon on Good Samaritans but doubted whether Arch-bishops gave sermons.
As it was with my friends, nobody gave me any trouble when I hitch- hiked. In fact several people went out of their ways to help and one Scot, by then home from Kenya, apologized because he couldn’t get me to Glasgow that day and so offered me dinner, a separate room and then breakfast, so that I arrived well fed and rested.
My favourite ride was with my climbing friend John. We were on our way home from a week or so of mountaineering in The Highlands of Scotland when we were picked up and offered a ride in an empty charabanc (coach). We rode with sun-roof open and a radio playing modern music all the way from the Scottish borderlands to my friend’s home town in Yorkshire. We were existing on the remains of a tin of dried Ovaltine for that journey but, as they say, beggars can’t be choosers.
My lovely lady and I were on our honeymoon in the English Lake District and, finding ourselves in the wrong valley, we hitched a ride with three Australian girls in an open Roadster which, unfortunately, had a tendency not to climb hills. Before we got back to our hotel, we got more exercise than we had bargained for pushing that vehicle up hill and dale.