If you’ve read the news in the past week, you’ll probably be aware of a new Wetherspoon’s pub which has opened up in the Beaconsfield area. Situated in a service station just off the M40 motorway, it’s been condemned by various authorities for being a silly idea and giving out the wrong message to drivers. Whether you agree with this or not, there must be some more interesting things to talk about on our motorways than a generic pub. Well, we’ve managed to pick 10 particular highlights from the British motorway network that we thought deserved attention…
Angel of the North
Overlooking the A1 motorway in Gateshead, the Angel of the North is a bit of a Northern icon. It was first completed in 1998 with the majority of the funding provided by the National lottery. The designer, Antony Gormley, created it with three things in mind:
“Firstly, a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future, expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears.”
Brockholes Nature Reserve
Situated just off the M6 inside an old disused quarry site is the Brockholes Nature Reserve. In 2007 the land was bought by the Wildlife Trust, who then proceeded to transform the excavation site into a modern day paradise. Complete with the UK’s first floating village, it opened to the public for the first time in 2011 and is home to restaurants, shops and several walking trails for nature lovers. This is a definite hidden gem.
Gravely Hill Interchange (Spaghetti Junction)
Although this is technically just another stretch of motorway tarmac, the notoriety that surrounds it surely makes this something of an icon in itself. Similar to the mind-bending “Magic Roundabout” in Swindon, the original spaghetti junction has garnered a reputation for chaos and confusion. Located in Birmingham on the M6 motorway, it’s known for being the most complicated interchange in the United Kingdom. Its infamy has even inspired numerous other countries from around the world to come forward with their very own versions of ‘The Spaghetti Junction’.
Llama Karma Kafe
A bizarrely themed bistro just off the M6 in Cumbria, the Llama Karma Kafe is home to such delights as ‘half day picnic treks’ and ‘walking with Llamas treks’. This is not a joke. Just off junction 40 you can find a cafe where the owners actually keep several fully-grown Llamas. So now you can chill out with a brew while an adult Llama unnervingly stares you down from across the paddock…
To quote from the website, “The Llamas daytime paddock is right alongside the kafe and conservatory windows and we are not quite sure who is watching who!”
Retro Neon Lucozade Sign
Need a drink? No? Now you do… With the neon tagline of “Lucozade, replaces lost energy”, this undistinguished local sign became a minor celebrity when it was unceremoniously taken down in 2004. Located on the side of a building in Brentford, it was one of the first things that greeted you along the M4 as you entered into London. It was missed so much that locals campaigned to get it back and succeeded, albeit with a replica. The original now sits in a museum in Gunnersbury.
Scott Hall Farm
Long before the M62 motorway, Scammonden was a quiet, peaceful place. When the bulldozers eventually came and knocked everything down to make way for new infrastructure, they randomly left the lonely Scott Hall farm by itself. Standing right in the centre of the M62, it forced the motorway to fork around it as if repelled by some mysterious force. Legend has it that the owner of the farm refused to let motorway workers knock his beloved home down, but the story is actually far less inspiring. Simply put, the geology of the moor at that point couldn’t support all those lanes side by side. So they built around it.
Scottish Sawtooth Ramps
Popularly known as the Pyramids, this set of 7 sculpted ramps follow along the eastbound side of the M8 motorway in Livingston. Part of the M8 art project which set out to decorate the roadside of the motorway, the pyramids were constructed in 1993 by New York environmentalist artist Patricia Leighton. They have been featured numerous times in the press, more famously in 2007 when the local grazing sheep were dyed red.
There are a lot of huge, spectacular bridges in the UK, but not that many have major motorways running across them. The Severn Bridge is a particular exception as it serves as a key connection between England and Wales, offering some amazing views out to sea. With the original successfully completed in 1966, there are now actually two bridges that cross the Severn with each catering to a different motorway. The Severn Bridge connects the M48 motorway, while the Second Severn Crossing connects the busier M4. Tip: drive along them at high tide for the definitive experience.
Cutting straight across the M60, the Stockport Viaduct is the largest brick structure in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. It is a marvel of Victorian engineering and was first opened back in 1840, taking 21 months to build at a cost of £70,000. It originally served the old Manchester and Birmingham railway, but now serves the entire West Coast Main line over the River Mersey. The M60 passes directly under the viaduct through two of its arches.
Sometimes mistakenly referred to as the Wicker Man, the Willow man is a giant 40ft sculpture created by Serena de la Hey in 2000. The figure stands beside the M5 motorway in Bridgewater and is comprised of woven willow withies on a 3 tonne steel frame. The current Willow Man is actually the second iteration, as the first was burnt down in an arson attack back in 2001. As a result, this new figure now has a 40m moat built around it for extra defence.
So there you have it, these are our top 10 weird and wonderful things on British motorways. Maybe we’ve missed something though, do you have any local motorway landmarks that are legendary around your parts? Maybe you pass something every day on your way to work that you feel deserves a mention? Let us know on our social media profiles.
Written by Tom Wellburn
Angel of the north image attribution: Martyn Wright
Spaghetti junction image attribution: asgw
Stott Hall Farm image attribution: Vaidas M