April 14th, 2010

The long and winding road

What makes a good road? John Slavin investigates.

On Sunday I got in my car, which is by no means a ‘drivers’’ machine, and set out to the Lake District, in Cumbria. Now, my car is falling apart. The suspension is squeaky, and the silencer is expelling all of its sound deadening in clumps of what looks like rabbit fur. Like I said, not a brilliant car to drive.

But despite all of that, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. I drove by Ullswater, along to Hardknott Pass, which traces a twisting route between two mountains. This lead us on to a road signposted as – and I’m not joking – ‘The Struggle.’ And it was. The surface was more or less completely missing, and the route was so twisted and gnarled it looked like whoever had laid it out was far from sober when they did so. Yet it was fantastic.

On the return leg I drove straight over the country’s spine; the Pennines, and down Wensleydale on to my very favourite road of all time, the Buttertubs Pass. I live about 12 miles from this road and I’ll think of any excuse to drive over it, because it’s glorious. It’s about 5 miles from start to finish, and it raises, falls, twists and turns along open moorland, then clings to the top of a sheer drop, before descending into the narrow valley of Swaledale, which is the place I call home.

I thought to myself about that trip, and realised that while I love cars, my real love is driving. Not driving along a dual carriageway, or around a roundabout, but driving the odd, deformed routes like ‘The Struggle’ or the Buttertubs. To enjoy them, you don’t need 500bhp. You don’t need to speed. You don’t even need a car that works properly, you just need a steering wheel, a throttle, and some brakes. A passion for cars comes second to a passion for driving. So go out next time the sun is blazing, and find yourself a real driving road.

John Slavin

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