The hedgerow gave way to a small hamlet of low, sandstone cottages. Picture book perfect. Walls become living galleries of honeysuckle and roses. Jamie and Ana had quieted – something to do with me shouting (unusually successfully) at them on the pre-hamlet bend that we were going to crash and we would all die if they didn’t shut up. We were then delivered into the gaping maw of the moorland from between farm buildings, trailing straw and muck behind us.
I haven’t yet mentioned I am afraid of heights?
By heights I am not referring to the Empire State Building nor even Blackpool Tower.
I mean anything, basically, that involves the realisation that I could drop from any distance higher than the top of my head. I get dizzy and feel certain I am close to death even just trying to climb stairs that as much as give a glimpse of the height they are scaling. I drive over the Forth Road Bridge in a sweaty fug of fear, staring intently at the bumper of the car in front, my hands grimly glued to the wheel – but always strangely and morbidly fascinated by the sight of sea glimpsed through the bars of the bridge.
I am forever convinced that I will be the driver who will drive into that black water so far below. When I manage to get to the other side I shout at myself for being quite as stupid – and wonder why on earth I would drive off the bridge into the sea anyway. But at the back of my mind is the knowledge that I have got that Bridge to face again on the return journey…and I shiver.
So, when the trio of signs said 33% gradient, engage low gear, and multiple bends I could feel that gut-churning start. I was suddenly aware of my bowels – and that’s just not normal.
I heard myself say, involuntarily. Oh no. I cannot do this. Oh fuck.
The bottom of the hill began in earnest with a ford. Another sign test your brakes assaulted me. What the f… test your brakes, when you need to be accelerating hard for the climb ahead? So, I pressed the accelerator and the leaden 1.5 diesel engine whined as it began the ascent.
Midway and I was welded to the steering wheel – gripping so hard my knuckles were white. The car was silent. Meg had started saying you’ll be alright – more, I suspect to reassure her than me. Just above midway, the thin road buckled to the left, the sign beware adverse gradient coming a bit late in the day to be anything but terrifying to me. The car was whining in 2nd and emerging from the bend, the valley below presented as a sheer drop. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. We are going to die.
Ok. Ok. I realise that I am a drama queen. The person you resolutely do not contact in a crisis. I understand that I am entirely and shamelessly the person who will wail and scream and you will get no sense from… but the fear is real. Honest.
I was aware of Dads car behind stopping. But aware of a more pressing need to just get to the top. So I just kept on driving. Jamie and Ana were shouting Papas stopped. Papas not there. But did I stop? No, I didn’t. If I stopped I was certain I would never be able to start again.