I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this but I have and I find it rather unnerving!
You’re driving around in a strange part of the country when you notice that all of the roadsigns on one particular side of the road and over a distance of several miles all point not only to the same place (when you REALLY should have passed it by now) but to a place that you’ve never heard of and cannot find on the map.
Know what I’m talking about?
Then let me give you an example.
We had successfully followed my route down to Devon right up to the point in the middle of Crewkerne when I found an oncoming overtaker in the “straight ahead” lane at a big junction and had to rapidly shift to the “left turn” lane! I then had to do whatever felt right to try to get back to where “straight ahead” would have taken me.
Unfortunately, my impromptu twists and turns so confused the already bewildered lady who lives in my Sat-nav system that by the time her panic-stricken cries of “Recalculating!” ceased I was on a much smaller road than intended and no longer heading directly for the village of Colyton – where we had intended to pause and get our bearings before the final few miles to the farm.
Instead, we found ourselves directed down increasingly narrow roads towards a place called “Umborne”. This didn’t appear anywhere in our paper Road Atlas so for the want of any better routing suggestions we followed “Madame” Sat-Nav’s instructions!
I am sure that you have all heard horror stories of heavy lorries being directed down tiny country lanes and even across fields by the wonders of Global Positioning technology and I felt I was moving into that sort of situation!
We were heading steeply downhill and every time we passed a turning of any sort or negotiated a particularly tight bend we met something coming UP! And the ones I met in head-on confrontation always seemed to have another one right on their tail so that it was always ME who felt obliged to back UP the hill and around the bend to the last known passing place in an extremely complicated three dimensional manoeuvre!
If the “oncomers” were fellow holiday-makers they would then squeeze carefully past with embarassed smiles and resigned waves of the hand all round.
The NATIVES, however, would just steam through as fast as they could manage and you could almost hear the drivers “tutting” as if I had deliberately kept them from their important business of counting their European Farm subsidies or milking the Bull or whatever it is they do out there!
I just smiled cheesily back at them and muttered something under my breath that resembled “A curse upon your Umborne children!”
I think that over a three mile stretch of road we passed a grand total of THREE houses built into the sides of hills with impossibly steep driveways leading up or down to them but nothing that anyone would call a village or even a hamlet – and yet, suddenly, the road signs were showing Umborne to be back the way we had come!
We emerged from the dark arch of trees which had been hiding the road (and us) from outside view and found ourselves only half a mile or so from our farm accommodation!
During the following week we drove extensively and in different directions around that area and wherever we went there was, inevitably, at some point in the journey – a sign pointing to “Umborne”! Needless to say I did not at any time succumb to the temptation to follow any of them!
I have two theories about “Umborne – the place that never was!”
The first and slightly more whimsical of these is that Umborne is a Devonian version of “Brigadoon” (or “Germelshausen” as it would have been if the world hadn’t still had a bit of a downer on the Germans in 1947 when Alan Jay Lerner wrote his Scottish version of an older tale) – that is to say a village that only appears once every hundred years or so. Quite what they’ll think when they next appear and find their main street jammed solid with nose-to-nose tourist traffic I just don’t know!
The other, somewhat darker, theory is that Umborne is a concept. I don’t know what the place name means in the West Country dialect but I suspect that it derives from a local word meaning something along the lines of “The absolutely WORST place imaginable”.
In other words, “HELL”!!
And we went through it!