Riding along in my automobile… There is something of Chuck Berry in most of us. The desire to get behind the wheel and go for a spin is enduring. Berry hymned especially the pleasure of ‘cruising’ or what we across on this side of the pond might call ‘pootling’. If Berry had no particular place to go, we have roads you should certainly enter into the satnav — or, better, find in an old-fashioned road atlas — both for the joy of the drive and for the beauty of the passing view.
Britain has an embarrassment of scenic routes and the seasons to set them off. The blazing autumnal colours of the beech hedges of the Brendon Hills in Somerset, looking across to Wales, and the heather-clad, snow-dusted Cairngorms are presently exquisite through the windscreen. Some roads are perennial joys, such as the A466 along the Wye, where road and river mirror match in deep valley drama. And where does the list end of big-skied coastal routes in the North-East one could spend a Sunday afternoon moseying down? Or up.
There is no need to be prescriptive. Part of the delight of pootling is going from A to B via T along the back lanes, rather than A to B direct on the outside lane of the M6 Toll. Or one can simply throw the alphabet out of the passenger window and road-wander; one is certain to discover natural and historical treasures, not to mention recapturing a little magic of the heyday of driving, when leather gloves, a silk headscarf and a pub lunch at The White Lion in Thingy-cum-Lovely were givens; when life was in the slow lane, a Shell Guide by Betjeman in the glove box.
Whisper this, won’t you? We still have some glorious, unsung straight roads: there is one over the Blackdowns, from the A303 towards Axminster in east Devon. Equally, there remain uncluttered S-bendy wonders, such as the mountain road from Abergwesyn to Tregaron across the roof of mid Wales.
Yes, we shouldn’t be emitting carbon, and the good people of Thingy-cum-Lovely might not be entirely pleased to see us, but, once in a while, might we not get our motors running (at a modest speed) and hit the open road?
The car gets a bad press, but it was, and is, liberation on four wheels. The vulnerable find it a safe space. It is all but indispensable as a means of getting the elderly and the infirm, who would otherwise be trapped inside, out into the country. Here’s raising a cup of warm thermos-flask tea to ‘a nice drive’.