They are a part of living in the country. They’re a lot faster than they used to be, and there are a lot of them… And when you’re stuck behind one, on a narrow Cumbrian lane, there’s little you can do but wait.
Often, you find yourself thinking ‘I’m late… could anything be worse than this?’
Plenty… as we found the other day when this behemoth was suddenly ahead of us, completely blocking the road; and not just any road: Sedgwick’s most notorious country lane, which curls over the stone bridge at the River Kent to twist steeply upwards, narrowing as it climbs from a width of two cars, to one… to a distance that has driven many in the village to vow they will never use it again…
Bernie and I are both competent drivers. Our many years of commuting into Salford from Chorley made us so. When we arrived in Sedgwick, ten years ago, we scoffed at the idea of being frightened by narrow lanes; and our confidence has proved correct. ‘Slow lane’ as it’s known, locally, has never challenged us… to date. The odd snarl from folks who don’t know the width of their vehicles, but nothing serious.
On the day of the photograph, Bernie was driving – which allowed me to grab my phone and take the shot without us ending up in the river…
When we pulled up behind the giant machine in the picture, we groaned for two reasons. The driver, Ken, is a local man who specialises in cutting the hedges and verges of the area’s villages – twice a year. Generally, he does a fine job, but he once sliced through the main signal BT signal cable that supplies our small enclave of five houses with phone and broadband. We were out of contact with the world for a week before the cable was restored. Thank goodness for the modern digital phone!
We recognised the tractor and Ken’s spinning blade before we saw him in the cab. We knew there would be no chance of passing him, as he was approaching the narrowest part of Slow Lane and concentrating on the skillful placing of the deadly hedge-trimmer. What neither of us saw until a moment later, was the small silver car that was inching its way into the opposite hedge, as though creeping sideways. I’ll swear I’ve never seen a car do that before. It seemed to be expressing the fears of its terrified occupant – an elderly lady.
Within a few seconds, she was stuck; and gazing at us and, increasingly, upwards at Ken, as he loomed on his weapon of destruction above her. At the last moment, he saw her plight and stopped the tractor.
I could see she was frozen in terror. We stopped our car, ready to get out. It was suddenly much quieter on Slow Lane. I paused to see if Ken was going to clamber down, but he was waiting for her to use the ample space he had left to exit the scene. Only she was effectively stuck in her side of the hedge and going nowhere. She looked like she needed some help.
I got out of our car and walked across the lane.
“Can I help?” I asked in a voice that I hoped was devoid of accusation. “Tricky this bend…”
Her eyes blinked, then re-focused on me, scanning up and down to check if I was a n’er do well or a decent bloke. I could hear her exhale when she determined I was the latter.
Five minutes later, and innumerable turns of the wheel, we managed to get her enough space to manoeuver her way free. Ken had left her lots of room, and soon she was on her way. I looked up at his smiling face as we exchanged a look of ‘job well done’.
As I got back in the car, I watched him edge the tractor into the hedge on his side, leaving us a generous amount of room to pass. I had left my window down, and, as we crept past, he yelled in a lovely thick Cumbrian accent. “Lot easier in this bugger!”
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.