The weird sensations of driving in the countryside at night
Night drives in the countryside are an eerie adventure, says BBC journalist and broadcaster Jude Rogers, when the world shrinks to you and your headlight beams – with a mysterious dark world beyond
In the deepening blue darkness, in the heavy, gloomy gloaming, it is only you on this road, in your bubble, and two columns of light. The slow roar of the engine is your only accomplice as together you illuminate objects for a moment, before they whoosh, disappear, cease to exist.
For seconds, here are browning, lopped hedges – gone – twisting arms of trees mourning their leaves – gone – the dashing gait of a pheasant – gone – and other tiny animals escaping your torches, those two inquisitive flares of your travelling detective.
In the hours of the evening, the early morning, and thickest, densest night, it feels like the world is only you and your steering wheel, here, as the countryside outside stretches its arms, and yawns into blackness.
This is the time of the year when that blackness starts to edge into our lives even more, minute by minute, as Autumn arrives. Countryside driving at night is a very different beast to driving anywhere else, too. On a motorway, you feel like you’re in a moody piece of arthouse cinema, carried along by the weight of a thousand neon trails.
In cities, the night skies aren’t even dusky – they’re orange. Shuttered shopfronts, tall towers, the rush and pace of busy life, all glows much more warmly under that Lucozade haze.
But in the countryside people are scarce. Most are tucked up in their houses, or beds. Any sign of life purring along on four tyres is announced way in advance, snaking brightly across a distant B-road, or brightening a sharp, potholed bend, allowing you time to accept its company.
There is a power that can be felt in this aloneness, a feeling of control that radiates from yours and other drivers’ full beams. This can’t be felt in the day either, when everything is visible, clear, pin-prick sharp, apart from the vehicle that suddenly appears around a corner, in front of you, taking that country lane wide.
At night, warnings are foreshadowed. Time is allowed to slow and unfurl. It often feels magical in the driving seat as a result, your car a beacon of presence in the middle of the emptiness.
But rural driving at night can also bring feelings of unease. This is sharpened in the autumn and winter, when fogs and mists suddenly appear like ghosts in the darkness, then settle and stiffen. Then comes the rain, lashing at the glass, closing down your defences.
If the roads on which you’re travelling are roads you haven’t encountered before, this also tightens one’s grip on the wheel. Who roams there? What roams there? What lies ahead that could make your little world jerk and swerve?
But these moments are only moments. Soon, you will be at your destination. Here your bubble – bright and comforting for the most part – will slow, then land, then pop open. Your columns of light will fade to black, and you will emerge, a real person, into the shadowy, rural world. Lock the magic up for another night. You are here.
Main image: Car On country road, Dartmoor/Credit/Getty