Jonny McCambridge: A cautionary tale about getting lost in Corbet

As Saturdays go, this one is pretty good.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 5:00 am

The sun is bringing out the pale freckles on my son’s skin and it’s an afternoon of fun. We’re in a large playground in Banbridge and the jollity of the children playing here seems infectious.

There’s a new spirit of adventure within my boy which enables him to go on the big slides and tall climbing frames which previously he would only have gazed at longingly.

Even the act of departing the park passes without complaint as I buy him an ice cream and we chat happily while walking back to the car. The amiable conversation continues as I drive from the car park.

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Getting home should be no problem. I’ve driven this route many times before, straight through Banbridge and then up the A1 towards Hillsborough. But, perhaps today I’m just a little bit too relaxed, chatting so much that I’m not thinking about the journey. Not concentrating on where I am going.

Whatever it is, I drive for about ten minutes before I realise that I am lost.

To give some context, I am bad at navigating. I’ve lived close to Lisburn for many years but still am unable to drive through the town centre without getting disorientated.

Once, in a hotel, I mistakenly stumbled into a walk-in wardrobe and had difficulty finding my way out.

So here I am; I’ve clearly taken a wrong turn and now I’m driving along a rural road somewhere in Co Down trying to find anything that I recognise or a sign that will guide me to where I need to go.

Then, just as I’m beginning to lose hope, we spot a settlement. A tiny hamlet.

‘Here we are buddy, here’s a little town. We’ll be able to work out where we are now.’

We pass a sign. It reads ‘Welcome to Corbet’.

I read it aloud. My son begins to laugh. There is something onomatopoeically comic and pleasing about the name. I’ve never heard of Corbet before.

I look for a sign to tell me how to get home but can’t find one. There are no people in the street. Corbet seems to be a quiet place and we pass quickly through it.

I turn off onto a smaller road and drive some more. Then I make another turn, and another. My logic is that if I drive for long enough, I’m bound to spot somewhere I recognise.

Then we pull out onto a larger road, after another minute I see a settlement and a sign.

It reads ‘Welcome to Corbet’.

‘Bloody hell’, I whisper, but my son can’t hear me because he’s laughing again. We drive through Corbet again. Still there are no people. I wonder if anyone lives here.

This time I go off in another direction. The road I’m driving on now is very narrow, just one lane and no room for passing. It’s when I notice that there is grass growing in the middle of the road that I realise I may have made a terrible mistake.

I speak to my son.

‘I really hope we don’t run into another vehicle on this road.’

No sooner have the words escaped my lips than a huge tractor pulling an even bigger trailer appears on the road in front of me, blocking out the sun. Both vehicles stop. The young farmer driving the tractor meets my eye. I begin to reverse along the narrow country lane.

Which is hard. Which probably explains why I reverse one of my rear wheels straight into a ditch.

I pull the car forward, the wheels spinning as they bump out of the trough. Then I reverse again. After what seems like several miles of retreating with my car engine squealing in protest, I come to a farm entrance and am able to pull my car in so the tractor can pass.

I look at my son. He looks at me. His role-model.

We drive on. A couple of miles later I see a man in a field. I stop the car and get out, waving him over. I ask if he knows the way to Hillsborough.

‘Hillsborough?’ he repeats, scratching his chin, ‘I don’t know how you can get there from here.’

Despairingly, I ask him if he knows the way to Dromore. He points me in a certain direction, although without conviction.

I follow his direction. I turn onto another road and see a settlement and a sign.

It reads ‘Welcome to Corbet’.

I’m a bit worried now. I consider the possibility that Corbet doesn’t actually exist other than as an idea in my brain. It’s a Blair Witch-type vision of horror that I’m condemned to repeat over and over again, each time my hopes are raised only to be shattered when I see the sign ‘Welcome to Corbet’. I’m cursed to keep driving through Corbet until I’ve got a long, white beard, warning off other foolish young travellers who get lost.

I gather myself and try again, even though leaving Corbet is evidently harder than leaving the EU.

We set off again, on another road which I’ve never seen before in my life. We drive a few miles until we come to a settlement. The only really good thing I can say about this village is that it is not Corbet.

We come to a little crossroads and I finally see a road sign.

The arrow to the left says ‘Dromore 4’ The arrow to the right says ‘Dromore 4’

I sit there. I look at my son, he shrugs his shoulders.

I pick one of the roads and drive for a bit until I see a sign for Dromara, which I know is close to where I live. I follow it and am eventually able to find my way back to Hillsborough.

After I park in our driveway, my son gets out and falls to his knees on the tarmac, kissing the ground. Then he hugs our house. It all seems a touch melodramatic.

When we go inside, he breathlessly recounts to his mother the details of our adventures, the story of getting lost in Corbet.

She stares at me.

‘Why didn’t you just use the satnav on your phone?’

I stare at her. I have no answer.

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