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
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.