Dispatches from the North: Stranded on the M1

This week of all weeks I had to head down to The Cotswolds for a two day training session for my new job. I did have quite an ordeal getting down by train on Sunday and arrived 4 hours later than I had expected, but most of my time that day was spent waiting in the cold at train stations. When Tuesday rolled around and it was time for me to head home it became clear that there was a good chance I could end up stranded if I set off on the train again, so I was able to hitch a ride with another coworker also down for the training session who lives nearby in Stockton.

My coworker and I set off from Malmesbury, Wiltshire just after 4pm on Tuesday afternoon for a 250 mile journey which did not quite go as planned.

The first three hours were fairly smooth sailing, a bit of snow here and there but the roads were mostly clear. Then at about 7:30 we hit Derbyshire on Britain’s biggest motorway the M1 just south of Shefflied and traffic slowed down to a crawl before coming to a complete stop. We sat there in one spot not moving an inch for an hour, so we turned off the engine for a bit because we had less than a quarter tank of fuel and weren’t sure how long we would be sitting there. We moved a couple times but never more than a few feet and we kept turning off the engine to save the gas, as did pretty much everyone around us.

We got out our phones and started calling around and trying to get some read for what was going on. Our loved ones on the outside were able to look up the travel update websites and saw that there was a report of two broken down vehicles (later we found out it was two lorries who got stuck on an incline on the motorway) about a mile ahead of us and the travel authorities were saying it would be cleared up at about 10:30. So we held tight for a further two hours and sat there waiting for 10:30 and hoping we would be able to get on our way again.

Then at about 10:30 we got the news that some travel websites had been updated to say that all three lanes of the M1 Northbound were closed completely and wouldn’t reopen until 1 AM! At this point both of us kind of freaked out a bit. My coworker knew he didn’t have enough fuel to keep us warm in the car until 1 AM, we had no food, we both had to use the bathroom and it was just an incredibly scary situation as we sat in a sea of dark cars being buried in the fast falling snow. We both started frantically grabbing what clothes we could find from our bags and got as warm and bundled up as we could. The prospect of being stuck there in the cold for another 2 1/2 hours with no food, toilet or heat was nothing short of terrifying. Nervous jokes about cannibalism were exchanged and for much of the time we sat there in complete silence trying not to reveal how frightened we both were.

Luckily the travel updates were wrong and at about 11 the traffic finally started moving again and we felt the relief leave our bodies that we wouldn’t be stranded in that spot any longer. At this point all of the other motorists in this massive traffic jam started lining up at the nearest service station because many people were low on fuel, hungry and desperately needing the toilet.

When we arrived at the Woodall Services there was already about 6 inches of freshly fallen snow. We headed in and had a bit of food and used the facilities and got back in the car and started getting in line to get out of the parking lot and drive down to the gas station to fill up before getting back on the road. Then we stopped again as we waited to join the line of cars trying to leave the service station, but nobody moved for a about 20 minutes. I decided to get out and trudged around in the snow to see if I could identify the hold up but couldn’t see anything so I asked some other people outside of their cars who told me that a vehicle was stuck. Then we heard someone come back and say it was a lorry (semi truck) that was stuck on the single lane road that led to the gas station and back out onto the M1. My coworker got out and walked down the row of cars and came back a bit later to report that the lorry was stuck in a narrow bit of road left where two lorries had double parked along the road and there were about 20 men trying to dig it out fighting against the fast falling snow and trying to rock the truck out. My coworker went back to join the group of men and lent a hand with the effort as when the police were contacted they said they couldn’t spare anyone to come out and help the people who were now trapped in the service station car park.

Finally 2 hours later, they got the lorry free and the cars could start slowly making their way toward the gas station or out to the exit. As we approached the gas station another lorry in front of us got stuck on the approach to the pumps so we had to go around and the cars had to take turns going in the exit a couple at a time, filling up, leaving the same way they came and then letting another couple go up the exit. Everyone was helping direct people and getting out of their cars to help each other and eventually everyone got on their way. Finally at 2 AM we got back on the road and were able to set off to complete the journey. It was rough in several places especially in South Yorkshire with conditions I haven’t seen in a very long time and it was my coworker’s first time driving in that much snow but he did an amazing job, stayed calm and got me home safe.

Photo taken from my iPhone of the poor visibility and terrible road conditions in South Yorkshire

The entire 250 mile journey from Malmesbury, Wiltshire up to Teesside took us a total of 12 hours, 6 of which were spent within a three mile stretch of the M1. Its definitely an experience I will never forget as long as I live, or the terror I felt while I was stranded on the motorway unsure if I’d be able to keep warm or when I would get home. Mostly I just feel really grateful that my coworker got me home safely even if it wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning.

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