Greetings from Yorkshire. I'm spending the best part of a week up here, courtesy of work, which is a bit of a novelty because they've never paid for me to stay away before. Yorkshire eh? Fantastic. I've got a bed for the night in one of the most interesting counties in England - somewhere I rarely get to visit - so there ought to be ample opportunities to explore some good bits. Except no.
When I say Yorkshire, I'm not talking about the interesting part. You may be thinking rolling moors or heritage industrial, but I'm staying nowhere near any of that. The tourist brochure in my hotel room lists all the supposedly nearby great things to do in God's Own County, but none of them are at all close. Number three on the 'local attractions' list is York Minster, which is so far away it'd be quicker to get there from King's Cross than from where I am. With a vehicle of my own it'd be different, but I arrived here by taxi so I'm a bit stuck.
When I say Yorkshire, what I mean is a trading estate beside a motorway. There are a lot of motorways in Yorkshire, hence a lot of motorway junctions, hence a lot of trading estates. Where better to set up your warehouse than a former field attached to the rest of the country via high-speed dual carriageway network? Where better to set up a nationwide business? And where better to set up a hotel with a very big car park? I'm stuck somewhere people come because it's terribly easy to get to, not somewhere that's worth visiting in its own right.
Please imagine that in this space there's a photograph of a lorry parked beside a warehouse.
When I say a trading estate beside a motorway, what I mean is a logistics hub. Warehouses, and warehouses, and more warehouses. A steady stream of lorries pouring in from the motorway, bringing stuff and things from all over the country. Documents, chemicals, perishables, whatever, all transported into one central location ready to be sent straight back out again. It's how modern society works, how that thing you want to buy tomorrow gets where you need it to be at a price you can afford. And it's rumbling down my nearest access road at all hours. Wish you were here?
Each morning I have to walk from the hotel on one side of the trading estate to my place of work on the other. It'd be a short stroll were it possible to walk direct but no, instead I have to take my chances negotiating the maze of turnoffs inbetween. The first bit of the walk is a fragment of tree-lined country lane that's somehow survived the arrival of motorway sprawl, presumably by being a dead end. But it doesn't last long. The light industrial units start soon after, plus a field full of caravans for sale and a depot where school buses hide during the day. Main road ahead.
Mail lorries, car transporters, articulated monsters - any of these could mow me down as I attempt to nip across the speeding traffic. I'm in extra danger every time I cross the entrance to another depot, because drivers aren't used to anyone passing by on foot. You can see where their wheels have churned up the grass verge by swinging in slightly too fast, then reversing with a beep into the 'Goods inwards' loading bay. There may be a pavement along the road, but nobody else is using it. All the local workers drive, it's expected, and park their cars in abundant space near the warehouse doors.
I pass a carton of screenwash discarded in the hedge and a billboard with the phone number for Steve's Mobile Towbars. Somewhere off to the right is Bevz Grill, ideal for hungry truckers, while nextdoor there's 40000 sqft of prime warehouse for rent. The bus stop gets one visit a day, been and gone before 8am, with one corresponding service in the opposite direction in the early evening. Low scrub, high fences and identikit metal sheds - all absolutely nothing like the sights on my normal commute.
I spend each day at the end of a spur road off a spur road, in office space that must cost a fraction of my usual London hideout. And then at the end of the day I walk back again to my hotel hideaway, complete with swimming pool, health club and spa. Several of my colleagues avail themselves of the facilities, sneaking in a quick twenty lengths or manicure before dinner. But not me. I prefer another exploratory walk around the trading estate before dark, because that's the kind of bloke I am. A logistics hub may not be York Minster, but there's always something interesting to see on your doorstep.