When I first set out to post a monthly update on this site, I expected that it would be an easy way to find something to write about. That has not proven to be the case this month, though, because I’ve hardly driven at all. The Leon has racked up about 250 miles, while the Outback has acquired another 550 or so.
A few times a year, I go to a meeting near Scarborough for a couple of days, and the usual route to get there from my home in the Selby area is to take the A19 to the A64, and the A64 across, as highlighted on the map below. If there is no traffic, this route should take right about an hour. However, this is a journey I make somewhat regularly, and only once have I managed to do it in an hour. Usually it will be one hour and fifteen minutes; my most recent trip took over an hour and a half. Continue reading “Take the long way, it’s good for you”→
Veteran cars have never held much appeal for me, despite the fact that the very first automotive book I owned, a gift from my grandfather, was all about cars of this era. While they are the forerunners of the cars we have today, they have always felt rather remote, resembling more the carriages they evolved from than anything in the last sixty or seventy years. In my mind, they were just slow and finicky, rattly and uncomfortable, and happily consigned to the pages of history.
When I moved a year ago, however, I met someone who has been a part of the veteran car scene for decades, and gained a lot of new insight into and appreciation of that era of the automobile. He owns several veteran cars himself, including a 1912 Renault AX, and his most recent purchase, a 1925 Austin 7 ‘Chummy’. Today, he brought the Chummy round, and took me for a spin through town.
Tell someone that you are about to embark on a 2000-mile road trip in a 19-year-old car you paid £1000 for more than two years ago, and they’re likely to question your judgement. Cue Jeremy Clarkson leaning in towards the camera, raising an eyebrow, and uttering those immortal words: ‘What could possibly go wrong?’
Well, in this case, absolutely nothing went wrong. In fact, thanks to the car, this was probably the most comfortable and enjoyable road trip I’ve ever been on.
Because I spent the first 24 years of my life near Toronto, Canada, I have seen my fair share of winter driving, occasionally in some pretty extreme conditions. So it was to my surprise today to find myself in the middle of the most terrifying winter driving experience I’ve ever had, in the North of England, with only a couple of inches of snow on the ground.
A couple inches of snow is proving to be no trouble for the E39.
Still fine – until I go round the bend ahead and hit an unexpected drop.
Wandering into the North Yorkshire Moors for a lazy morning of recreational motoring, I found myself on a rather narrow, snow-covered road. The road had a few hills, but was relatively flat, and I was having no trouble with traction in the E39. Following the map, I could see that I was about to rejoin a proper two-lane B-road, so decided to press on. What I wasn’t expecting was for the last half mile of the road to feature a 15-20% downhill grade. Or that it would be covered in a sheet of ice.
Someone, somewhere, has probably concocted a recipe for the perfect drive, using some sort of advanced scientific analysis. But as science was never my strong point, I am more inclined to think that there are probably several different recipes that would do the trick, depending on the circumstances.
As a case in point, I went out for a drive on Friday evening. Taking a familiar route, I circled through Northumberland and the southern end of the Scottish Borders, mostly using A-roads. Normally, if I want an enjoyable driving experience, I look for less-travelled B-roads that require more attention and engagement. However, after a long week of work that left me feeling tired and worn out, I wanted something more relaxing.
One of my more regular weekend activities is to head out into the countryside and look for good driving roads. In the year or so that I’ve been doing this, I have found some great roads here in County Durham, as well as in Northumberland, North Yorkshire, and Cumbria. Not wanting to keep the joy to myself, this site seemed like a good place to share some of the results of my searches.
Look for this, then, to be a more regular series from this point forwards. My plan is simple: give a bit of a description of the road and link to it on a map, briefly discuss what qualifies it a good driving road, and share some photos. Continue reading “Good driving roads: A new series”→
In a recent piece in The Guardian, Melissa Harrison argues, as she takes us on an intriguing tour through modern literature, that the car has ruined our love of the countryside. She writes:
Travel was once a way to understand topography, but the modern road network often disengages us from it. Most of the time, all that’s visible from a motorway is fast-moving embankment or a half-mile strip of field. On the dashboard, the satnav tells us nothing about the physical characteristics of the land we travel through – only that we are on the right route.
Whilst her point could easily be true for those who use their cars merely for commuting purposes, as a means of getting from A to B as quickly and effortlessly as possible, I find the complete opposite to be true for those of us who consider ourselves recreational motorists.
One of the things I’ve taken to doing on my day off on Saturday is to load up my young sons in the back seat with some books and toys and head off into the North Pennines or the empty spaces of Northumberland to explore the backroads. Part of the reason I do so is to enjoy both my car and the act of driving in places where I can open it up a bit more, navigate twists and turns, and let my ‘ultimate driving machine’ do the sort of thing it seems to have been designed to do.
But it is not just the car that comes alive in places like this; my senses do as well. The kind of recreational motoring I do at the weekend has given me a fresh love for rural Britain. The moorlands and hills of County Durham and Northumberland are beautiful places, and I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to spend some time admiring the countryside. Whether it’s coming round a sharp bend and seeing a stream tranquilly cutting its way through the moors, spanned by an old stone bridge, or cresting a hill and watching a wide expanse unfold before me, I drive to take in the land and its physicality as much as I do to enjoy the car. More, I begin to feel its contours, its rises and falls, through the vehicle as we traverse the landscape (and this becomes even more true, perhaps, in adverse weather conditions).
The fact that I stop rather frequently to take photos of the places we drive through (much of which ends up on my Instagram feed, a few samples of which are posted here) is, in part, a testament to that. It puts a smile on my face when my 5-year-old son, learning to appreciate the world around him, will look out the window and say, ‘Daddy, look, it’s so pretty!’ And every once in a while we step out of the car to simply be in the place, to hear the sound of the wind and the babbling of the stream, to watch the way the sunlight casts its rays across the hills and vales, to take in the silence, before we continue on to discover the delights that lie round the next bend.
Harrison suggests that beacuse of the car, we now have ‘a much more detached way of looking at the countryside’, and concludes,
We all exist beyond our world horizons now. Yet for me there’s still no way of understanding a landscape without walking it: without using, as generations have before me, feet and body and breath. To belong somewhere – or to write about it well – we need to step out and seek thing-experience, too.
As someone who enjoys walking, I don’t dispute the merits of the activity. But if the car detaches us from the countryside, it’s only because we allow it to do so.