It was a cold winter's day and overnight it had been snowing very hard and Bristol awoke under a thick blanket of snow.
Roads were deep in snow and driving was very difficult since the gritter lorries were caught completely unaware. We knew it was going to be a very difficult day for our ambulance duties. I managed to drive to the station armed with a snow shovel and two 2 ft wide and 6 ft rolls of carpet so if we were to get stuck we could use the carpet to gain traction. I had used them before to good effect.
Mike and I were scheduled to drive an ambulance to Weston Super Mare General Hospital 25 miles away but collecting 6 patients situated in several small towns around our destination, which meant a 40 mile round trip to the renal dialysis unit. These renal patients have to have this treatment three times a week to stay alive and to get them there was essential and we would do whatever it might take to do it. The world of the renal patient cannot stop just for a bit of snow. Normally I drove the journey myself but that day no-one went solo - an extra person was assigned to every job in case we ran into difficulties.
We set off with me driving and we had loaded the carpet strips and shovel just in case. The roads were very slippery but manageable. However cars were sliding about all over the place and we hoped one would not crash into us because we did not want to be delayed because of the patients.
Fortunately there was not an excessive number of vehicles on the road since a lot of people had stayed at home, wisely heeding warnings given by the met office over the local radio. Even so the roads were pretty congested. We managed to get onto the main Bristol road south and at first we made some headway. Our progress was short-lived because as we rounded a bend we were alarmed to see an articulated lorry blocking the entire road in both directions - it must have just happened. We stayed for a few minutes and could see the driver's efforts to reverse were futile. There was no way round it so we had to backtrack all the way to Bristol.
Mike rang the police asking if they knew a way through but they said all routes were impassable. I said to Mike. "Blow that! - I know a way!"
Clifton Suspension Bridge engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, opened 1864
The snow conditions were much worse than this picture shows but for illustration purposes the road we wanted was a little further back to the left and across the river to the left. It runs up the hill not too steeply and climbs 200 feet to the road we wanted. I figured if we could make that hill we stood a good chance of getting round that lorry the long way.
Fortunately there was nothing on the road and we did not meet anyone so I charged at the hill and was relieved when we maintained traction but skidding a little here and there. We could see the top of the hill but horror of horrors, a tree had come down and was three quarters blocking it so I had to go onto the wrong side of the road so we could maintain our speed. Fortunately nothing came the other way but by this time we were slipping all over the place but we just. and only just, made it and from then on it was much easier. We cut through and made our first pick up and managed to get the others one by one, with several adventures along the way. I got Mike to ring the renal unit to say we were on our way and by the time we picked up the last patient we were only half an hour late, and forty minutes late at the unit, which was totally manageable for the nursing staff.
We got them all inside and were treated to a nice hot cup of tea and biscuits by our friends, the nurses who we knew well.
The return journey was much easier and when we got back to the station, control was very relieved to see us although we informed them of events from time to time during the day. Several of our ambulances had gone off the road and had to be towed back onto it but everyone was safe and most of the journeys were completed to plan . . . but not on time, which was entirely understandable.
Although our adrenalin was flowing pretty quickly I thoroughly enjoyed that day and felt a sense of achievement.