Hastings to Birmingham – another road trip with Battleaxe

Recently, I wrote about our road trip from Hastings to Lands End.  It was very popular, so I thought I’d do another similar post. We’ve done the 185 mile drive from Hastings to Birmingham, our former home, so many times… on the A21, now apparently one of the most dangerous ‘A’ roads in the country, the notorious London Orbital M25, almost the whole length of the M40, and then onto the Birmingham Orbital M42 before turning off into the city. It may not be as scenic as the drive to the West Country, but it has plenty of excitement. 

Nearly home again – leaving the M25

   Sometimes we get caught in terrible traffic, and other times we whizz straight through. Wet weather on the motorway is horrible, with the lorries throwing out spray etc.
   Philosopher tends to drive for the Birmingham trips. I’m not sure he totally enjoys being a passenger with Battleaxe at the wheel. Athough he contains himself, he does emit the odd muffled hissing intake of breath. I didn’t pass my test until I was in my late 30’s, went straight from nowhere to aggressive speed-maniac, until I had an accident (my fault) in the fast lane of the M5. I wasn’t hurt, but it slowed me down and made me sensible. I think I’m an OK driver, but I guess everyone says that about themselves…. Philosopher is a good driver, he’s been at it since he was 17, but he does do much effing and blinding….

Horrible spray…..

   The pictures here were taken on our most recent two-way journey – taking grand daughter home to Birmingham, and then our return, after spending time with friends, a couple of days later.  They were all taken on the move – my iPhone 6 is remarkably good at that. However, on the way up I had to sit in the back – GD prefers the front – and on the way home it was raining, so a few of the photos are added from the internet.

    The first section of the A21 is the narrowest, and the most potentially dangerous, as it drops down a long hill from the Hastings Ridge, and winds up and across the High Weald.  I described stopping places on the road in an earlier post on farm shops, so I won’t spend too much time here.  Much of the way is heavily wooded, in some places with steep banks and a rural over-arching tree effect – great on a country lane, but not so good on a major trunk road.
     Many of the trees are sweet chestnut, formerly heavily coppiced for building, chestnut paling fencing – and Sussex trugs.  This lovely photograph is actually from a coppiced  Hampshire wood, but is typical – it was a bit early for bluebells on our trip, but we saw plenty of wood anemones.

Coppiced sweet chestnut wood- not my photo

    The Wealden views are often beautiful. In the old days, before we moved to Hastings full-time, we saw the A21 as the transition between frantic Birmingham and the slower pace of Hastings. These days, we just want to get it over with.

Country lane? No, the A21

Wealden view

     At Flimwell, you glimpse the brilliant line-up of recovery lorry rigs belonging to Mick Gould Commercials. The bright red monsters, all chrome and massive radiators, are a familar sight round here. They’re like an American road movie.

     After Flimwell, the road opens out a bit. We pass Scotney Castle – see previous post, and under the first ever wild-life ‘Land Bridge’, built in 2005, carrying the ancient driveway to the Castle across the A21.  We’ve been there, of course, but I never realised until now that you actually drive across the bridge to reach the Castle. It is covered in greenery, and you can’t see the road below at all.  Apparently the bridge is home to rare dormice and shrews – you won’t be glimpsing them from the road, I guess….

Scotney Castle Land Bridge

     Soon enough, you reach the massive road works between Pembury and Tonbridge – upgrading the road to a dual carriageway. The works go on for about a mile, and it is strange that they needed to turn such a wide swathe of woodland into a lunar landscape in order to widen the road… (the word ‘swathe’ is interesting. Why does it now appear so often in print as ‘swath’? Illiterate….).

Lunar landscape….

Joing the M25 is always stressful – you never know what the traffic is going to be like, but we soon pull in to Clacket Lane Services for a break. It’s one of the more peaceful, old-style service areas. It was going to be called Titsey, (ooh, I wonder why they changed it?) after the wood/Roman villa/road they tore apart to build the motorway and the service area. Here’s the archaelogical map, and there are various Roman artefacts on display:

    Then the M25 proper. It can take as little as 40 minutes or as much as two hours to get from the A21 to the M40 junction, and we hate it.  The overhead gantries post messages that are either mysterious or depressing: ‘Debris on road’ – where? ‘Incident’ – where? ‘Congestion’ – uh oh, ‘Queue after Jct’ – oh no, ‘Accident’, OMG. I wish people would just stop having accidents.  They should enforce speed limits more fiercely.
     Passing Heathrow is interesting – the planes pass low over the motorway. I was lucky enough to snap this one:

     I always like these cherry-pickers near the M4 junction. They are like flamingos or something.

    One of the two great wild-life spotting moments on the journey comes where the slip road peels off the M25 to join the M40. A population of muntjac deer live in a wooded area next to the carriageway. Virtually every time we pass I see one, and tell Philosopher. Negotiating the slip road, he just grunts disbelievingly. This time, however, we saw at least six, he saw them as well, and I actually managed to photograph one – not very well, but plainly it’s a deer.  As they live on the motorway side of the boundary fence, I wonder that they don’t cause more accidents, but they seem quite happy.
    Muntjacs are a small deer with a characteristic barking call. Native to South Asia, they are an introduced species, now widespread, having first escaped from a herd at Woburn Abbey in 1925.

Muntjac deer, M25/M40

    Then, onto the M40, and the dreaded Beaconsfield Services. We often stop here. It is half-way to Brimingham, and we often collect GD from her father, or just have a break if we are by ourselves. The place is utter Hades. A huge, incredibly noisy shed, with piped music competing with the racket of the people,screaming kids, the crash of crockery, the scrape of chairs on hard floors. The loos are even worse. They must have the noisiest hand-dryers in the world. Not surprisingly, GD finds the noise very stressful. She won’t go in the Ladies, and uses the disabled loo. One time I had a hideous row with some woman who said she shouldn’t be using the disabled because she ‘hadn’t got a disability’. Me shouting and yelling with this woman only made poor GD worse. When she eventually got into the disabled loo she refused to come out for about 20 minutes….
    Having said all that, they do have a nice sitting out area and a walk around a lake, with ducks, but clearly that’s only for fine weather. Just for nerds, Beaconsfield has the largest petrol filling station in the country, and is the only service area with a pub – a Wetherspoons.
    Past Beaconsfield, the motorway passes through an area with special memories for me, the Chiltern Hills. For many years I lived with my parents firstly near Radnage, near High Wycombe, and then in a little village called South Western, near Tetsworth. I learned to ride at Radnage, and spent happy times riding through the beech woods. I find those woods very beautiful, with the towering grey trunks, pale leaves, copper leaf mould. Here’s a photo which shows exactly what I mean.

Chiltern beech wood – not my photo

     Here, also, is the second great wildlife sight – the red kites. Reintroduced to the Chilterns in around 1990, there are now estimated to be around 1000 breeding pairs.  Being carrion eaters, they are inevitably attracted to motorway roadkill, sometimes with fatal results, but it means that the enormous birds often swoop about near the carriageway. Since we have been travelling up and down, the birds have spread for miles beyond their original release sites, and some alarmed householders must now be faced with kites visiting their bird tables… 
    This time, of course, they were not co-operative, and I only managed this distant sighting:

Very distant red kite

     The motorway runs down a deep chalk cutting and then opens out into an amazing view of the Oxford plain. If you are quick, you can glimpse South Western in the distance, beyond Lewknor. Here’s the view from the back seat of the car!

View from the Stokenchurch gap cutting

  Not much to say about the rest of the journey on the M40 – amazing cloudscapes, and often a lovely malty smell from the Kraft/General Foods factory at Banbury.

Clouds on the M40


Obelisk on the M40

   There’s one more interesting feature just before the M40 morphs into the M42, near Hockley Heath. This obelisk was built in 1749 by someone called Lord Archer, who lived at nearby Umberslake Hall. Nobody knows why he built it.
    In the rush hour, the M42 can be nearly as bad as the M25, but fortunately we don’t stay on it very long, turning off onto the A435 for the last few miles to south Birmingham.
    The first glimpses of the city are not edifying, past Maypole, the Druids Heath estate.

Druid’s Heath

 A few miles further on, we drive through Kings Heath, and finally reach leafy Moseley, our destination.

Billesley Lane, Kings Heath

Looking down our old road, in Moseley


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