British Roads Oddities

On October 29, 2013 · 7 Comments

I spent quite a long time, probably a solid couple of hours going through the British Roads FAQ on Chris’ British Road Directory. I found map locations for those that fascinated me the most. The FAQ was extensive and I’ve shared a small sample of questions and explanations below, with links and all due credit to CBRD of course. I embellishing them with additional facts and figures complied from various other Internet sources. I left plenty of wonderful morsels untouched so go to the FAQ and have fun.

Where is the highest section of motorway in Britain?

M62 Summit

CBRD noted that the very highest point was the "M62 Summit… in the wilds of Saddleworth Moor" (map) between Manchester and Leeds. A sign placed at the summit signified its prominence as the highest motorway in England at 372 metres, or 1221 feet. Various other sources considered this to be the highest motorway in the entire UK. Maybe the Highways Agency decided to play it safe by specifying England only?

Also note that this pertained to motorways; certainly other roads (those not motorways) climb higher.

Where is the narrowest section of motorway in Britain?


This was a a true oddity, a unique situation for British motorways. The southern portion of the Carnforth Spur, A601(M), was the only part of the system that’s a single carriageway (one lane of traffic going in each direction). This segment, lasting only about a third of a mile, was also discussed on Pathetic Motorways which called it "… probably the section of motorway with the lowest standard in the UK."

With only two lanes, and being the only segment of British motorway where that occurred, it would have to be considered the narrowest section of motorway by default.

What’s so bad about the Hanger Lane Gyratory?

Hanger Lane Gyratory
Hanger Lane Gyratory by diamond geezer, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I liked this one primarily because I’d never seen the term gyratory before so that was a new one for me. I didn’t even know it was a word. I consulted The Free Dictionary which defined it as "Having a circular or spiral motion." From what I could determine, a gyratory in the context of British roadways signified something considerably larger and/or more complicated than a typical roundabout or traffic circle. Mostly I wanted an excuse to type gyratory.

The Hanger Lane Gyratory was designed to handle traffic at a point where the North Circular Road, Western Avenue and Hanger Lane all came together in London (map). The answer about why it was so bad, as summarize by the FAQ, had to do with its particularly poor design.

Two additional points piqued my interest:

  • The interior of the gyratory circle included the Hanger Lane tube station, which was above ground even though part of the London Underground. An oddity within an oddity!
  • The BBC reported that this specific gyratory had been voted the scariest junction in Britain.

What’s so bad about Spaghetti Junction?

Spaghetti Junction became a well-known Birmingham traffic landmark because of its stunning complexity. The M6, A38 and A38(M) all joined together at Gravelly Hill in spectacular manner (map). The same poll naming Hanger Lane the scariest junction voted Spaghetti Junction as second place.

Spaghetti Junction even had its own entry on Yelp where contributors rated it four stars. One reader stated, "Yes, Yelp, I actually am a fan of Spaghetti Junction. Firstly, it’s called Spaghetti Junction. That’s awesome. What other stretches of motorway are named after pasta shapes?" Actually there were lots of others named for pasta although that didn’t make Birmingham’s version any less awesome. Spaghetti Junction has terrified motorists for over forty years.

What’s the secret “Works Exit” on the M4?

View Larger Map

I’m not sure why this one caught my interest other than I’m always fascinated by a good conspiracy theory, and this location had a bunch of them. CBRD investigated the mysterious motorway egress and noted its "signs have red borders, implying a military exit." Indeed it once served as a back entrance to a Royal Air Force Station, RAF Welford (map) although it’s no longer in use. The Google Street View car actually took the exit until stopped by a gate. Another back entrance ended in restrictive fencing and razor-sharp concertina wire.

US Air Force 120411-F-NV814-132 Welford Airmen at work
Wikimedia Commons: RAF WELFORD, United Kingdom – A crew from the 420th Munitions Squadron add munitions to a container.
U.S. Air Force photograph in the Public Domain.

The main presence at RAF Welford in recent years was actually the Air Force of another nation, the United States. The USAF stores bombs in vast quantities at this facility to be rained down on conflicts around the globe, supporting the Global War on Terrorism as an example. Consider the size of the Welford bunker in the photograph released by the USAF, above. Then ponder the number of bunkers in the satellite image. Those roads lead to tremendous firepower.

On October 29, 2013 · 7 Comments

7 Responses to “British Roads Oddities”

  1. David Overton says:

    One of my favourite British road oddities is the Magic Roundabout in Swindon:

  2. David F-H says:

    I think my favorite (favourite?) piece of this article is that google street view has (slightly) blurred ‘feet’ in the top sign.

    What tech went in to the blurring? But more importantly, who decided that although the English put that unit there, it shouldn’t be posted online!?

    Another winner from Mr. TMC. Thanks!

    • I wondered the same thing. My theory was that Google’s blurring software mistook the double-e as a pair of eyes and decided to blur the "face."

      • Rhodent says:

        One thing I’ve discovered playing Geoguessr is that Google Maps obscures a lot of text…basically whatever algorithm they have to obscure license plate numbers has a lot of false positives. I suspect it’s the license plate algorithm and not the face algorithm that’s at play here (I’d expect the blurred area to be more circular if it was the face algorithm), but I’ve no idea why it would obscure “feet” and nothing else on the sign.

  3. Alex says:

    One of the lovely things about Spaghetti Junction is that not only do you have the 6 roads (the M6, A38, A38(M), A5127, Minstead Road and Slade Road) meeting there, but in the same location and with their own complicated mesh of bridges are the Cross-City and Chase (or Wallsall) Railway Lines, the meeting of the River Tame with the River Rea and Hockley Brook and Salford Junction where the Grand Union Canal meets the Tame Valley and Birmingham and Fazeley Canals.

    Meanwhile the underground actually passes above ground in quite a lot of places- generally once it gets into the suburbs with the extensions in the interwar and post-war eras when they just took over a small branch line and connected it to the tube. The Northern Line is unusual in this respect because the section in the south London suburbs remains underground almost until the Morden depot.

    • Alan Twelve says:

      As Alex says, Underground is something of a misnomer in London where only two of the lines are actually entirely underground (The Waterloo & City, which travels only one stop between Waterloo and Bank stations, and the Victoria, which is rather longer) and 65% of the track on the network is above ground.

  4. Peter says:

    If you look at the aerial view of the RAF Welford base it is lacking in the one thing normally associated with an air force base: a runway. At one point it had a runway as the remnants thereof can be seen on either side of the ammunition bunkers.

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