A friend headed for England who heard about their speed cameras asks how many he’ll encounter. Answer: a lot. Even out in the country, they’ll snap away at you.
Since 1974 I’ve logged 80,000 UK road miles, from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Islands from Jura in the Hebrides to Guernsey in the Channel. For a long time it was a driver’s paradise. More recently UK driving turned from a joy to drudgery. Of course a lot has to do with the huge growth of cars on cramped roads. The modern depredations of the State are a result rather than a cause. Headed into Dorchester one Saturday morning, I had to resort to an Ordnance Survey map to get in and out using one-track roads—all the regular arteries were packed and stuck.
Big Brother is watching
I recently drove extensively in the West Country and the Scottish Highlands, and those yellow cameras (some dummies) were everywhere. They love to put them on the tourist routes. Thankfully the UK still has only a few basic speed limits—30-50-60-70, maybe some 40s. Not those constant 5 mph changes that bring in so much revenue elsewhere. But an Oxfordshire friend told me he was nailed for 53 in a 50 by the ever-vigilant cameras of Big Brother.
When I first visited in 1974, I drove a hot Triumph Dolomite Sprint from the British Leyland press pool, 800 miles from Cotswold storybook land to the Lake District and Scotland. On the way back I drove Carlisle to London, 300 miles, in four hours. It was like dying and going to heaven. The same speed limits existed, but fast cars went up to 90 on the motorways, lane discipline was superb, and if you looked like you knew what you were doing the coppers usually ignored you. If, however, they got you for DUI, the roof fell in, and rightly so.
We diced on backwoods A- and B-roads, and on the wider ones we even passed on curves. “Why do you overtake on curves,” I asked a British friend. “Because we don’t have anything else,” he laughed. It’s a simple technique. The oncoming driver and the passee politely moved over to create a third lane, and nobody got terribly excited.
All this is gone in the hyper-regulated age of the all-powerful State and the Me Generation. In 2009 I drove a fast six-speed VW Passat Diesel from Edinburgh to Skye and back and those bloomin’ yellow R2D2s were all over the place. (Some cameras are dummies, but no less intimidating.)
Possible exceptions today
The only roads you can still have fun on over there are one-lane country tracks with “lay-bys” for passing, where, when an oncoming car approaches, you only argue about who has the hono(u)r of reversing. Hard Knott and Wrynose Passes in the Lake District are still like that, though you need to be wary of sheep. Here’s a video from a motorcycle. In flatter terrain where you can see well ahead (see photo above), you can go like almighty clappers. No cameras. (I think!)
Addendum: click here for a slightly clearer video, but who will watch this for 20 minutes? That poor bloke had to follow a red van. I was nose-to-tail with an MGBGT driven “with assurance” by a professional drive. It was well that only sheep were coming the other way.