I’d take lockdown over gridlock

By Alex Reid

Before the second national lockdown I had to go back to my family home in Gloucestershire to attend a funeral. 

Despite the circumstances, I was looking forward to getting back to the villages and lanes I know so well, enjoying their tranquillity and admiring the seasonal change filtering across the surrounding woodlands. 

When I passed my driving test aged 17, I remember driving from village to village, always off to a football or cricket game, meandering through the winding roads and parking with ease in small squares. 

For me, there are few places on earth that can rival this part of the countryside, and I’ve always felt that it was a matter of time before I returned, perhaps to watch my own children enjoy a similar upbringing. 

Yet, as I drove my mother through the same villages 15 years later, a feeling hit me over and over – I will never live here again. 

Our journey took us through what guidebooks would call the greatest hits of the Cotswolds; Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water and onwards to Northleach, Cirencester and of course Bibury. 

At every turn the roads were choked with cars, squares gridlocked, traffic lights hopelessly trying to coordinate an army of engines. As the traffic ground us to another halt, my mother making general conversation, I stopped and looked at her. 

“What happened?”  

Anyone who knows – or more likely visited – these villages will tell you that they are home to traffic jams more akin to central London; cars piled in ugly fashion under worn verges, small car parks bursting by 10am on weekdays, traffic queuing for miles on narrow roads. 

Last week when the Government announced a ban on petrol and diesel cars from 2030, my immediate reaction was “about time, but that’s simply too late” to have any impact on villages like these. The damage done by such volumes of traffic means their charms, and their souls, have long departed to a different place.  

This article is not about having a go at people moving to the country – good for them – it’s about the proliferation of cars on our roads over the last 20 years or so which are destroying huge swathes of the green and grey in our country, many cities have been just as ruined.  

If I had a magic wand I might take a leaf out of France’s book by building more large car parks on the edge of popular villages, offering sustainable public transport in and out of them (or visitors could try walking, which, coincidentally, most people in the countryside do).  

But I am doubtful that would make much of a difference. The only solution I see would be to reroute entire roads around these villages, which, sadly, is more fantasy than fiction.  

The following morning I opened a Sunday paper, which shrieked that neighbouring county Herefordshire, one of the last bastions of a genuinely rural life, saw a 46% jump in property sales as people flocked out of London. I hope they’re ready.