True grit: A shift with a team keeping our roads clear during winter
PUBLISHED: 12:35 14 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:40 14 December 2018
On cold winter nights, most people are wrapped up in a blanket and sipping a hot drink. But while we sleep, a team of up to 56 gritters are out in the early hours keeping Norfolk's roads safe.
So, as temperatures begin to inch down to freezing, one of the gritting teams took reporter Abigail Nicholson on a three-hour run to learn more about the role.
On arrival at the Ketteringham gritting depot near Norwich, some 20 lorries were preparing for their runs across the county.
The drivers, employed by Norfolk County Council as road workers, found out just six hours before they were required to grit. This was more notice than normal.
The unsung heroes and heroines cover a staggering 2,200 miles of road on a total of 49 gritting routes.
Among them is Jason Seaman, 54, of Blo Norton, a gritting veteran who has kept the roads safe for 17 years.
As we began the route around Poringland, Brooke and Hempnall, Mr Seaman explained how he began his career. He said: “I began this job as an apprentice and worked my way up from there. I remember filling up the lorries with salt when I was working my first winter season.”
Workers are on call for 26 weeks of the year and can have a couple of hours notice for a shift.
Mr Seaman said: “Our shifts are split in two, we spend half of the day working on the roads and the evening or early mornings gritting them.
“Even if we have holiday booked, we have to come back if the roads are bad.”
On shift we passed hundreds of houses covered in Christmas lights, curtains open with families inside spending time together.
Mr Seaman said: “You get used to being on call, it’s a normal thing for us. It is difficult to have a social life and go out with the family but they understand.
“I have young children at home, sometimes they ask my partner where I’m going and why I’m not home, we tell them that daddy is out making the roads safer.
“I feel good knowing that I’m out while people are asleep, making the roads safe for commuters and loved ones.”
The whole experience reminded me of the book by the Maccabees frontman, Orlando Weeks called ‘The Gritterman’, a touching story about the unsung heroes that go out to work, through the wind and the snow to keep the roads safe.
Mr Seaman was one of the gritters on the roads during the Beast from the East earlier this year, which saw days of chaos across the region.
He said: “Last winter was difficult, we were doing 12 hour gritting shifts everyday just to try and keep the roads open.
“The snow was coming in so rapidly that it was covering up our salt.
“It was a team effort, at one point I got stuck twice in one shift because the roads were so bad.
“I came back into the yard and could barely feel my hands and feet because I got that wet trying to get myself out.”
Throughout the lengthy drive, the truck’s radio was constantly on as other gritters and duty managers checked in with each other.
Mr Seaman said: “We’re like one big family, we all look out for each other, we have a bit of banter over the radio and work as a team. Especially when the weather gets really bad.
“Being alone in a cab for three hours can be a really great time to reflect, or if you don’t want to be alone you can have a laugh on the radio or sing to your favourite songs.
“You get to see things you normally wouldn’t, such as deer, stags, owls and foxes. Sometimes owls will fly alongside the truck because they like the lights.”
As we came to the end of the route, Mr Seaman explained his excitement for heading home to have a meal with his family, something that’s rare at this time of year.