Outside, the snow is thick on the ground and the wind has the bite of a Rottweiler with a hang-over. Even Lucy the Dog refuses to set paw outside the door. The enforced incarceration means that I have to turn to that list of jobs I have been putting off – and in particular the massive challenge of tidying my room. I am an addict, a hopeless hoarder: the kind of compulsive collector whose life has been ruined by the mass production of plastic boxes. I keep things, I put them in plastic boxes, and then I put the plastic boxes in other plastic boxes. My room is a labyrinth of plastic: each box bursting at the Polyethylene Terephthalate seam with papers, photographs and books. When I eventually get around to trying to tidy things up, I get distracted by the first thing I come across. Which brings me on to “The Contour Road Book Of Scotland”
I have no idea where I acquired this small book from – it has been happily housed in one of the many plastic boxes for years. My tidying resolution caused me to examine it and to fall in love with what is a wonderful item of social history. Published in 1913, the book forms part of a series of small handbooks which were designed for the early motorist. It contains maps, descriptions of places of interest, a guide to common road signs (it appears there were only four in use at the time), and a detailed description of the gradients and conditions of all the roads in the land. These were the days when a hill might pose a challenge too far to early petrol engines.
A motorist setting out 105 years ago was setting out on an adventure.
“338 LAIRG TO LOCHINVER
Description : Class II. A narrow road like the most of the other Sutherland roads. Fair surface but long hill over to Rosehall; thereafter an undulating road, with surface inclining to be loose and gravelly according to season, almost the whole way to Lochinver. On the whole it is a very good road for this County. Care must be taken on the hill descending into Lochinver”
The challenges were not just in terms of the steep hills and the state of the roads – anxious moments could arise from meeting other motorists out on the road.
“A TRAFFIC SUGGESTION
As the priority of position at Road junctions, Crossings, and Forks, is frequently the cause of anxious moments, it is suggested that the nautical rule be adhered to, and that all traffic should give place to that approaching on the right”
It all seems so very long ago. Then, however, I look out of the window and see the line of abandoned cars, set still in the snow and the ice, beaten into submission by the gradient of the road outside. Their drivers should have had a copy of the appropriate “Contour Road Book” in their glove compartment.