Avoiding the Red

Author

W.B.

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Petrol still has to be carefully conserved by many of us, and I think those living in rural areas have an advantage over the town-folk when it comes to the “basic tour.” Most country dwellers have back-ways and quiet lanes of which they seldom tire and the traversing of which is a source of pleasure.

For my own part, although I have lived for nearly three years in the same somewhat built-up part of Hampshire, I still find relaxation in exploring the back o’ beyond that lies not far away, countryside fascinatingly bisected by numerous lanes and happily isolated from main roads and railways. There is no point in keeping the matter to oneself, equally there is no reason to quote the actual routes followed, which in any case are on the appropriate Ordnance Survey map for all to see. The other day, for example, we set off and in a mere twenty miles encountered many desirable things. A general store, for instance, that might have been 300 rather than 30 miles from London, on the wall of which dignified lettering proclaimed that it had supplied the needs of the village for over 200 years. Continuing, there was a “trials-section” to negotiate, in order to reach a hill-top from which there was a fine view of the otherwise-flat agricultural country of these parts. Not a single hint of modernity intruded, if we excepted jet-aircraft landing, like flies, on a faintly-observable strip of runway at a distant airfield. I am a Londoner bred and born, but not for any of its famous “sights” or any amount of its hustle and bustle would I have exchanged this lonely scanning of some of Hampshire’s typical farmland.

Continuing, there were other discoveries to complete the relaxation of this brief drive. A modern house with ornamental lake dominating its front garden was found facing a substantial brick-built house dating back to 1686.

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A little farther on, turning into a deserted road by a spick and span country pub, we came upon a well beneath a moss-covered roof, set up, so a partially-obscured plate informed us, as a gift to the hamlet from a local land-owner who died in 1888. Nor did the names — Long Sutton, South Warnborough, Dippenhall, Odiham — on a fingerpost at the next T-junction, dispel the sense of remoteness already fostered. Retracing our way along sunlit secondary roads with open fields on either side, most of them under the plough, we met merely an occasional farm-tractor in bright paintwork or a hurrying farm lorry, its arduous life proclaimed by the mud and dirt adhering to it. Private motorists, it seems, stick to the “A”-roads and the A.A. through-routes! What a lot they miss. We diverted a few hundred yards up a stony track, to find at the end of it an empty house in good repair, with a ten-acre field for a garden — as we opened the car door to investigate further, two pheasants rose in haste into the afternoon sky. Four miles from our destination we had to cross a white-washed bridge over a disused canal, a canal sold by auction only a week before, fortunately to representatives of the Inland Waterways Association. There, mere yards from the tow-path, its tarpaulins spread out beside it, stood a massive 1919 Ransomes, Sims and Jeffries traction-engine. It was in steam and we paused to chat with its owner while he rigged a long canvas belt between its big flywheel and the circular saw he uses for cutting trees into firewood. He told us, with a contemptuous glance at a jet-aircraft which was screaming overhead, that, burning wood chippings, his engine costs only 6d. a week to run and that the original water-tubes are still doing service in its boiler. On that note we came home. Less than a gallon of precious petrol had been consumed and although, now that we were back on smooth, hard roads, the speed and acceleration of a high-performance car were enjoyable, down the lanes and tracks, good ground-clearance, efficient suspension and plenty of wheel-grip had been the primary requirements — a Trojan would have been as appropriate as a “TC” M.G. an aged Austin Seven as suitable as an Allard . . .

Can it be that this particular area of Hampshire possesses an appeal all its own? Or have other counties as much to offer to those who avoid the broad red lines on their maps and motor mostly along ways shown only on the One-Inch Ordnance Survey? — W. B.

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