Progress stays slow and sticky until we pass Inverness, just a couple of minutes adrift of our bogey time, but with the rain turning to snow.
At first, the flurries of flakes barely bother the Karoq’s wipers and the road stays reassuringly black. But as the A9 begins its steady climb towards Slochd summit, the fall gets heavier and starts to stick. Even with the Karoq’s four-wheel drive and winter tyres, the occasional stretches of passing lane are soon too white for prudent use and it’s not long before we’re grinding up the grade in a long line of cars and lorries, following distant gritting truck and with the speedo needle pointing at just 5mph. The sat-nav’s ETA starts to slip backwards, soon beyond the 7:19am at which first light is due to arrive in the far west of Cornwall.
Not that Highlanders let a little weather stop them. The snow stops falling before we reach Aviemore, and although there’s a decent amount on the ground, the well-gritted road is soon clear again. My instinct is to try to claw back some of the lost time, but it needs to be fought hard: the entire length of the A9 is now policed by average-speed cameras, past Perth and all the way to the M9. For the next couple of hours, speed management means little more than knocking the cruise control up and down to take account of the different limits. This, I reckon, is the future.
Joining the motorway network just south of Dunblane feels like liberation with the promise that it will carry us the 450 miles to Exeter. But the Google Maps navigation, which is running as back-up, now causes alarm, reckoning we’ll reach Land’s End one hour later than the time predicted by the Karoq’s own system. Zooming out reveals no obvious red patches: does it know something we don’t?
Crossing the English border just six hours after setting off means we’re ahead of schedule again, and with enough margin to switch to a two-stop strategy. The original plan had been to stop once, but a splash and dash at Southwaite also offers the prospect of a stretch and a fresh coffee. The services deliver on the walk and visit to the gents, but not the much needed Americano, with the Costa franchise closed for stocktaking. Energy drinks will have to do.
Midnight arrives just before Preston does and the radio news reports that we’ve officially entered Groundhog Day. It certainly feels that way, the motorway schlep sharing much of the déjà vu of the Bill Murray comedy. Place names change and the mileage on signs counts downwards but, for the most part, the M6 might as well be the repeating background in an old-fashioned cartoon. Another problem with choosing February is soon evident: the numerous sets of roadworks that have sprung up as, I presume, budgets are spent before the end of the financial year. There are five temporary worksites between Preston and Birmingham, most of which reduce the motorway to a single lane, plus a grindingly long stretch of camera-enforced 50mph zone.