Spectator on detours

When two events coincide within days, it can make you take a long, hard look at yourself. First of all, I met a woman, signi-ficantly younger than me, who’d visited most countries ending in -stan-Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and so on. She exp-lained her three simple rules for selecting her next destination: first, she went to a bookshop and had a quick flick through guidebooks to find something that piqued her interest; secondly, the country must have mountains; and thirdly, ideally, the Foreign Office would be advising tourists not to go there. This, I realised with envy, was a woman with an adventurous spirit.

I asked her if she ever got lost or lonely, my two biggest fears. But, she replied, if you travel alone, you’re never short of company. And, armed with her Lonely Planet guidebook, she had rarely got worryingly lost. She’d never gone without a bed, although these might be provided by a shepherd or shepherdess, and had never been completely stranded, although buses and trains in any of these countries have a timetable that is utterly unfathomable from any printed guides. She said that, actually, the loneliest she’d ever been was in Paris, where nobody spoke to her and she once joined a three-hour queue for something she didn’t want simply in order to talk to someone.

A few days after meeting the impressive traveller, I was very surprised to find myself on a tour of an amazing scented-rose plantation with many miles of rose and herb beds, sweet peas and wild flowers. It’s run by a scant but dedicated staff whose passion has helped it overcome the same nightmares experienced by any gardener on any scale-deer, rabbits, weeds, the British weather and with the additional challenge of being set in a frost pocket, so each plant is hand-reared and tended.

The results are used by the best florists in the country, are sold in Selfridges among other places and can be sent direct to your door. It’s huge, ambitious and inspiring, but the reason I was surprised was because it’s approximately 10 minutes from our house, down a turning I’ve passed countless times, but have never considered taking. I am, geographically speaking, the least curious person I know.

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 On any journey, Zam often suggests a detour because he wonders what’s down there and he’s not afraid of getting lost. These are characteristics we do not share. If you mix unadventurous with a chronic sense of direction, you get a person who spent so many hours trying to navigate the fiendish one-way system of Winchester that, for the first six months of living here, I could only get home if I started at the railway station.

We have some friends who live in what I consider to be the Ber-muda Triangle, a trio of roads about six miles away that look identical to each other. No matter how hard I try to pinpoint landmarks, I’m always on the wrong one. On one attempt to find their house, I turned down what I thought, wrongly, was their drive and, as I reversed out, a young man advanced on me from a nearby house brandishing a shot-gun. I abandoned visiting the friends and headed home.

While writing this, I mentioned to Zam that there’s a particular lane near here that I’ve always meant to go down-I know it’s a dead end, so no chance of getting lost-and I wondered why I’d failed to ever take the opportunity. He looked up and said it had actually always amazed him that I never took a detour.

He’d been down this particular lane a couple of years ago and had seen a grass snake swim across the river. And yesterday, while driving Will to a friend’s house near Salisbury, he’d pulled over to show him Ibsley Bridge on the Avon. When they looked over the bridge, they saw an otter. Both of these stories are quite annoying, confirming as they do that I must take more detours. I’ve never seen an otter.

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