great driving roads - driving to a new beginning
part of the excitement of buying a new car is in the prospect of all the fun you're going to have driving it. but are there any good driving roads left? jonathan crouch reckons there are
The motor industry has seen the future - and you won't like it. Sprawling cities, congested motorways, endless residential areas. All point to the need for smaller, simpler cars.
But what if things were different? What if there were great driving roads still left to test your skills and your car to the ultimate? Wouldn't we yearn for better handling, more dynamic cars - and wouldn't the motor makers be forced to produce them?
Sounds like pie in the sky doesn't it? After all, when was the last time you went away for a motoring weekend and really enjoyed the journey? Exactly. But don't despair. Not only do these fabled routes actually exist, you don't even have to travel to the tip of Scotland to find them.
Of course, there's a little travelling involved in most cases, but if you're planning to buy a new car and subject it to its' first serious test, you won't mind that. Make a weekend out of it; find an out-of-the-way Bed and Breakfast or a quiet country pub.
Don't get me wrong. These are not routes along which you can hurl your machine with scant regard for those around. In fact, the real thrill of driving has very little to do with speed. Instead, it's more to do with the instant response and handling satisfaction that many of today's affordable family cars can give.
As to deciding upon your chosen destination, a glance around your local bookshop will reveal a number of useful titles. I used the AA Tour Guide Britain (around £10 from AA shops and booksellers) but there are a number of others that you'll find equally helpful. So what can you expect? Well I looked at two very different alternatives that you may like to consider. So strike a weekend off the calendar, fuel your new car up and enjoy!
The Lake District
One to do sooner rather than later. Over fourteen million visitors visit the region every year and the number is growing - so much so that a new road classification scheme is being proposed to preserve the dramatic countryside.
This will limit general access to many minor roads and impose speed restrictions on others. Wordsworth country will become very restrictive. Certainly the 175-mile route outlined here would be affected - though it would at least remain completely open.
It goes without saying that the time to enjoy these roads is not in the peak of the holiday season or over the next available Bank Holiday weekend. Weekdays in mid-summer or weekends in the early autumn should offer you a clear and unfettered run through the garden of Northern England.
You start in Carlisle with its imposing castle and medieval history. Then it's off to the Lakes (using the B5299), via Caldbeck where you can stop for a verse of D'ye ken John Peel - the famous huntsman is buried there.
Don't linger too long though. The charms of Bassenthwaite Lake lie just ahead, a long, reed-lined stretch of water with Skiddaw rising over 3,000ft to it's left, with a range of fells half as high emerging on the right. Whinlatter Pass (reached via the B5291, the A66 and the B5292) cuts through them, one of a number of steep routes through the volcanically-formed rocks of this area.
From here, you're into wild moorland, where rare hunting birds search for prey. Then the road descends towards Crummock Water and Buttermere (via the B5289), before rising again through Honister Pass to Borrowdale. If you have the time, stop to enjoy this astounding scenery and overnight in Derwent Water or the nearby centre of Keswick.
That should leave you fresh to head south to the picturesque town of Grasmere (via the A66, the B5322 and the A591), whose main claim to fame is the location of Dove Cottage, home to the famous poet, William Wordsworth. Check your map afterwards and you should find a pretty little unclassified short cut to Coniston which takes you under Loughrigg Fell.
Once at Coniston (reached via the A593), there's a chance to leave the car and step back in time with a trip across nearby Lake Windermere in an 1859 steam launch, the Gondola. Back on the route, it's necessary to cross the lake using the Bowness ferry (reached via the B5285) on the way to the beautiful forest-lined Ullswater lake (via the A592).
From there, it's on to Penrith, with it's 12th century castle, then across the Penines (via the A686 and the A689) to Haltwhistle, Hadrian's Wall and your way back to Carlisle (via the B6318 and the A69).
Much ignored by the caravan set - which is good news for the enthusiastic motorist. You start in the imposing town of Ipswich and then wind your way on the A137 and B1070 into Constable country, through Dedham Vale, past Flatford Mill and Willy Lott's Cottage, which inspired John Constable's most famous paintings.
This is an area rich in artistic history and Sudbury, your next port of call (reached via the B1068 and A134), was the birthplace of Thomas Gainsborough. If castles are more your style, then visit Castle Hedingham (via the A131 and B1058), an imposing 12th century edifice which stands on a hilltop above this beautiful village.
Moving on into Essex via the A604 and B1053, you pass through Finchingfield, pretty as a picture with it's 16th century cottages, duck pond, pubs and tea shops, then on (via the B1051) to historic Thaxted. From here, the fast B184 leads north to Saffron Waldren, another town rich in character with an imposing church and medieval colour-washed buildings.
Duxford (reached via the A1301), with its impressive aircraft museum, is next up, before thoughts turn back to the arts in Grantchester, where the church clock has moved on from "ten to three" as recorded in Rupert Brooke's famous poem. You're now only a few miles away from the university city of Cambridge where the Kings College Chapel and the Bridge of Sighs are must-sees.
Newmarket (reached via Lode, the A1303, the B1102 and the A1303), with its equestrian tradition is next up, before you head back to Ipswich on the B1063 and the A1092 to the market town of Clare. From there it's on to the pretty villages of Cavendish and Long Melford (via the A134) and Lavenham (via the A1141). Then, the A1071 from Hadleigh takes you back to your starting point.