I revisited an old friend this morning, and it was like I was never away. If you’ve not heard of Pathetic Motorways, then I genuinely recommend paying a visit. I’ve been an irregular visitor since I stumbled across the website in 2006 – and, even after all this time, it holds my interest.
I remember reading a single comment about the site that went, ‘this site kept me up far too late the other night,’ and couldn’t agree more. The premise of the site? To celebrate the shorter, lesser known, abandoned and never-built motorways that cross our land. The thinking behind motorways such as the A308(M), M898 and A6144(M) are recalled with obvious relish.
Being into cars doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be into roads (and vice versa I guess), but I have to admit to having a fascination with the development of our transport network. The way that new routes are opened, thus making the existing byways redundant – and how once busy roads become almost abandoned, leaving remnants of a bygone age, almost untouched for years to come.
Lost hopes and dreams
Motorway building programmes also reflect the hopes and ambitions of planners from a previous era – and, sometimes, they reveal just how development doesn’t often go the way they were expecting. Look at the M18 and M180 in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire to see what I mean… three-lane highways that serve areas which were ripe for expansion in the 1950s and 1960s, but which somehow never reached fruition.
Abandoned projects can also show just how the planners were correct in how road use would expand – motorways that stretched from Manchester to Sheffield, or Stoke-on-Trent to Nottingham would have alleviated years of frustration in these regions, but which never happened because of the financial morass in which our country found itself during the 1970s.
Enjoying the M45 motorway
My favourite ‘road to nowhere’ has to be the the M45. Peel off the M1 (northbound) near Watford Gap services for a wonderful time travel experience. It’s possible to drive up this eight-mile stretch of motorway and not see another car, thus experiencing first hand what it must have been like at the very dawn of the motorway era.
Okay, so if you were able to get out and about on the roads in April and May 2020, all motorways will have felt like that, thanks to the first lockdown, which pretty much swept all the traffic off the roads. But not many of us were able to experience that. A trip on the M45 will give you that experience at any time.
Built in 1959, this two-lane section of motorway leaves the M1, and basically stops at a large roundabout near Dunchurch on the outskirts of Coventry. It was built as a spur to Coventry, but soon fell out of favour when the M6 was built a few years later. Since then, it has remained almost untouched – a monument to a planning U-turn that saw the transport emphasis move to Northern Coventry.
A real trip into the past
Whatever the reasons for the abandonment of the M45, it really does allow us to experience what motorway travel was like in the 1960s – and that makes it an evocative diversion from the M1 for anyone – like me – who enjoys experiencing interesting roads.
The flyovers are the standard concrete design that fell out of favour shortly after this motorway was built (and many have since been removed from the M1), and there’s an almost complete lack of signposting (a blight on the modern landscape if you ask me). Okay, so most petrolheads might wonder why on earth this 15-minute trip can hold any fascination (it’s straight and almost deserted), but for those who hanker after a simpler era of motorway travel, this will be a magical mystery tour.
Just like the Pathetic Motorways website, I suspect…