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Scenic driving in Britain

 
     
 

Once you leave the Motorways and other roads designed for the motor car, you eventually come to Britain. It is a land of winding little roads and narrow lanes, the consequence of more than a thousand years of settled ways.

Many of these tracks follow the ancient footpaths between markets and villages, some make use of the remnants of the Roman military roads, while others would have been "chases", or horse ways, later used by horse drawn vehicles.

The Roman roads were built in straight lines because no-one argues with a three hundred pound gorilla . . . particularly if he has a short sword and a shield. Parts of them remain undisturbed, and can still be seen, but most later tracks would have had to wind their way around property boundaries.

 







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Buildings, and in many cases whole villages, have sprung up right alongside the old tracks so that the only way to widen them would be to demolish the buildings.

It is a great quality of the English that this demolition would begin another civil war . . . most of them love the quiet beauty of their countryside. Some roads have, of course been widened, as the modern age has savaged the land, but many remain as they were.

Driving in a land of "Anoraks"

One of the other lovely things about the British, well, more so the English than anyone else, is the tendency to become a shameless "anorak". These are the people one can observe on any freezing afternoon, standing on pedestrian bridges over railway tracks. They come complete with fieldglasses, notebooks and recognition charts, and spend the precious days assiduously marking the passage of an ever more dreary parade of trains. Other examples of the genus may be found, for example, up to their waists in a really smelly, cold and muddy bog, quietly photographing a small, often brown, usually entirely unimpressive bird of some kind.

They are called Anoraks because of the kind of coat they wear. An anorak is the sort of waterproof duffle that only those more concerned with the wind than elegance could contemplate.

Many of the great English achievements in science, literature and architecture have been achieved by people who probably thought the anorak an obvious choice in outer wear. These are the sublimely oblivious amateurs, who do their "thing" for the joy of doing it, heedless of personal gain and personal elegance. So it is that in this more or less United Kingdom we can enjoy the "Been there Done that" (click here) guide to driving in Great Britain.

The folk who put this together won't try to sell you a hotel room, hire you a car (thanks be) or get a contribution from you. For the simple joy of doing it well they have compiled one of the best driving guides in the world. Ya gotta love 'em!

. . . and now, for those whose thrill is the road itself, and not the scenery

Exmoor Brendon Common Road
The Brendon Hills and Brendon Common are crossed by fast B-roads that are rarely congested, even in the height of the caravan migration. The B3223 is the best of the bunch for driving thrills. Good visibility and nice corners make for a great few miles that you will probably want to repeat.

Blandford Corners
A short but stupendously entertaining section of the A350 exists just north of Blandford Forum. Here as the A350 makes a detour around an old manor estate, the extremely tight turns and short sprints remind me more of an airfield trackday than any other bit of road I know. Fantastic!

Hardknott and Wrynose Passes
Easily the most outrageous road in the Lake District, the single track road across Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass is just plain silly. The road is very narrow, roughly surfaced, extremely steep, world championship twisty and, all too often, busy with traffic. Great fun and hugely frustrating at the same time.

Hartside
The climb up Hartside along the A686 is widely known as a stupendous ascent. It is often busy with bikers, tourists and other traffic. The sequence of twisties, sweepers, hairpins and short straights make it a challenge to driving skill and a rush like almost no other. There's a cafe at the top, where you can view the road and grab some bad food.

WALES

Fforest Fawr
The only road here that is located in South Wales, the Fforest Fawr road, or A4069, connects Brynamman with Llangadog via the Black Mountain. The sections across the open mountain are nothing short of breathtaking. Tight turns, good visibility and surface, stunning views and the odd wandering sheep make for one of the best drives Wales. The desent heading North is a brake tester, so make sure you don't have pads that fade easily!

Llyn Brianne
For the fearless this is about as good as it gets, but the single track mountain roads around Llyn Brianne can fight back. The network of lanes include forested twisties, sweeping open cliff-huggers and two notable sequences of hairpins. One of these is named the Devil's Staircase, and if you are anything less than extremely alert, will bite great chunks out of your car. A fabulous thrill, but watch for tourists, sheep and farm vehicles.

Elan Valley
Further North from Llyn Brianne, the Elan Valley road also crosses the heart of Wales along a mountainous route. This is a much less demanding route, although many sections are still single track and accidents seem all too frequent. Highlights include the echoes from the cliff sides and the short squirts along the Elan Valley itself. You can do the two above routes as a loop including lunch in Tregaron or Devil's Bridge.

Pass of Llanberis
The passes in Snowdonia are all scenic and thrilling to drive. The pick of the bunch is the Pass of Llanberis. This is a busy road, with stone walls, caravans, walkers and narrow lanes. Consideration for the other users of the road must be a priority but this is a top rate scuttle if you get a clear run. Similar thrills are present over a proportion of the nearby Glyders road, and whilst in the area, try the two great roads below.

B4407
My favourite open moorland road in Wales is the B4407 that connects Ysbyty Ifan with Ffestiniog. The route is partly single track and has several dramatic humps that will cause light cars to jump. The corners ore especially tricky, with a couple located on narrow bridges.

A543 & Mynydd Hiraethog
The moorland road across Mynydd Hiraethog is a series of sweeping bends and fast straights with a number of exhilarating twists in drainage dips. There are two roads that form the sides of a triangle up from the A5 at either Pentrefoelas or Cerrigydrudion. It's not an especially technical challenge for the most part, although you must be careful that nothing is hiding in the dips. Becuase of the variety of challenges and the light traffic, this is a favourite of mine and many of my friends.

Berwyn
Connecting Welshpool with Bala, the A490 joins the B4391 to cross the Berwyn mountain. This road is quite simply a corker! After a few scenic villages with great valley and mountain views the road rises to wiggle across the mountain along the boundary of Snowdonia National Park. Sweeping bends, dips and distracting drops fill the highland section before a descent through farmland and woods.

A44
Forming the main route East-West across mid Wales, the A44 offers great scenery, thrilling corners and in season annoying traffic jams. The route includes a scenic section along Plynlimon Fawr with good visibility and monster hairpins. This is most challenging section althoug the road remains a good one for many miles as it heads East towards England.

Wye Valley
Finding this road empty enough to enjoy is very rare. You will need to be an insomniac or very lucky, but if you do get a clear run, then the complex sequences of corners are as rewarding as they are entertaining. The route connects Chepstow with Monmouth.

 
 
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