The Friday evening of the spring bank holiday weekend, the beginning of the school half-term holiday, in normal times there would be a flood of traffic into the West Country. On the M5 motorway, there would be tailbacks at Bristol, at Weston-Super-Mare, and at a succession of other spots where breakdowns, collisions, or sheer volume of traffic brought progress to a standstill.
The M5 might seem a prosaic six lanes of tarmac but for millions of people who travel it at this time of the year, the motorway is a route that is travelled with optimism and anticipation.
There were many summertimes when crossing the M5 on the way to Bridgwater or to Taunton, when I pondered those who travelled it, the constant lines of those bound south-west, what had they thought on their slow progress to the next point where the traffic came to a complete halt? There must have been something special that drew them onto this road year after year. On weekends such as this, their journey times would have been very long.
Until last weekend, I had imagined that few of them left the motorway in Somerset, I had assumed that it was the seaside resorts of Devon and Cornwall that they wanted to reach. Our county was beautiful and historic and filled with unexpected delights, but I had thought that such things could not compete with beaches and boats. Then, reading a news article on breaches of the lockdown, there was a startling statistic: the local authority area of North Somerset receives seven million visitors a year.
North Somerset has a population of 200,000 people, 80,000 of them live in Weston-Super-Mare, the town where most of those seven million visitors would head. It was a statistic that explained the 1,000 car parking spaces on the seafront. It was a statistic that explained why the local authority spent £51 million on restoring the promenade and £34 million on the restoration of the pier. The income from that number of visitors must run into hundreds of millions.
Weston will have visitors this weekend, but there will be little that is open. Until the lockdown is lifted, the town remains in hibernation. The cost to local businesses is such that many will not reopen.
To see the M5 motorway jammed again would gladden the heart. It would mean jobs saved, businesses surviving, and hopefully it it will bring a bit of excitement and romance to those who travel the road.