Perhaps the most important thing about going on holiday is the going; the anticipation and the journeying, and there can be no better direction to go than south.
J.R.R. Tolkien understood how attractive travelling south was to the people of these islands. There is a line in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ that has about it a great schoolboy appeal (well, more precisely an appeal to schoolboy ideas of geography). Treebeard declares to the hobbits Merry and Pippin that he always liked going south, he felt it was like going downhill.
Heading south from a cool and damp Ireland will always seem like going downhill; it means foreign countries and warmer weather and memories of holidays. At 53 degrees north, Co Laois sits on the same latitude as Hudson Bay, which is under ice for much of the year; were it not for the Gulf Stream the country could barely continue as it now exists. The desire to travel south is perhaps part of some psychological programming inherited from prehistoric generations, an intuitive desire to escape from cold and darkness. At a primitive human level, warmer climes meant longer growing seasons and a greater ability to cope with the winter; it is no accident that the ancient civilisations appeared where they did.
The sensation of going downhill can only really be reproduced by actually doing so. Going south is like that, you can only really appreciate it by covering each mile of the journey.
Each September, for the past three years, we have flown down to Bordeaux, leaving an autumnal Ireland to arrive in a France in low season, but still warm and there has been a sense of having missed out on something, having missed the Treebeard moments, that sense of going downhill. This year the air fares have risen sharply, to the extent that it is cheaper to take the car and have a comfortable cabin on an Irish Ferries overnight crossing from Rosslare to Cherbourg, than it is to pay the air fares – and we, of course, save the cost of airport parking and car hire.
It does mean we spend a day at either end driving from Cherbourg and back, but that journeying is part of the experience. To roll down through France in gentle sunshine, stopping where one likes, eating when one chooses, is an experience hobbits would have found quite acceptable. More than that, it means that we can return with a car laden with good things from France, produce that would have been enjoyed by dwellers in Tolkien’s Shire.