Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

With two children at school just south of Ludlow, and one at school in Hereford, Jane and I are wondering whether to apply for Mastermind, specialist subject a 20-mile stretch of the A49. And were we to make it through to the second round, then our next specialist subject could be the A44 between Bromyard and Leominster.

At any rate, we have got to know our local A-roads very well these past three years, not to mention the short cuts down country lanes, although you can never legislate for a herd of bullocks being driven by a stockman who looks in no particular hurry to arrive at his destination this side of Christmas, which is what held me up for 25 minutes the other day on my way to catch a train from Worcester to Twickenham, where I was to cover a rugby match for The Independent.

It might be argued that the spectacle of eight bullocks' backsides is the perfect preparation for assessing England's scrummaging technique, but it didn't seem so at the time, nor when I missed my train and had to drive all the way to Reading just in time to catch the 12.12 to Waterloo, happily via Twickenham.

Still, at least I had the satisfaction of knowing that I hadn't hooted my horn. People who hoot their horns when they're stuck behind livestock, or tractors, or potato lorries, might as well display a bumper sticker saying 'ex-townie'.

To get back to the A49, which I like to do, the road was closed in both directions last Tuesday because of a dreadful crash on Dinmore Hill, a well-known local black spot. I get nasty letters from readers when I complain about speed cameras in unnecessary places, such as a 30mph stretch of dual carriageway in Worcester nowhere near a residential area, but it's not the cameras I object to, so much as the random positioning of the things.

I've been fined £120 and given six penalty points for driving at 34mph and 36mph along City Walls Road in Worcester, yet I've been overtaken on Dinmore Hill by vehicles - a lorry, in one terrifying instance - travelling at 80mph. What will their punishment be? Paralysis? Disfigurement? Death? And who else will they paralyse, disfigure or kill while they're at it? I would personally provide the money for a speed camera up there. In fact, when I tot up my fines, I already have done.

Still, things were worse in 1148. Jane is reading a novel by Elizabeth Chadwick called Shadows and Strongholds, in which Joscelin de Dinan, Lord of Ludlow, understandably eager to get home to Ludlow Castle and his fragrant wife Sybilla, sets off from Hereford on what was presumably the forerunner of the A49. But as he and his party get close to Ludlow they are ambushed by men belonging to the dastardly Hugh Mortimer and Roger de Courcy.

Actually, I've just checked and it is Gilbert de Lacy, not Roger de Courcy, who of course is a modern-day ventriloquist. I'm sure Nookie Bear had nothing to do with the ambush. Whatever, I suppose the deadly ambush was the 12th century version of the crash on Dinmore Hill; the unpredictable episode that could stop you getting home in one piece.

According to Elizabeth Chadwick, Hereford to Ludlow was "a comfortable distance that could be covered in less than a day when it was high summer". It can now be covered in less than 40 minutes, even when keeping to the speed limit, which is why our friend Jennifer decided the other week to drive from Ludlow to Hereford to pick up her daughter Susie from school, then from Hereford to Ludlow to take Susie to the dentist, then from Ludlow to Hereford to take Susie back to school.

Even by our standards that was a slightly eccentric undertaking, and it led to one of the funniest predicaments I have heard about for a long time, which was what I was going to tell you about when I started writing this column, except that I've run out of space, so now it will have to wait until next week. Until then, wherever you live, drive sensibly.

Tales of the Country by Brian Viner, is on sale now (Simon & Schuster £12.99)

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