Simon Calder: How to get from A to B (20 million times a month)

The man who pays his way

Set the controls for the heart of the sun? Whether you are driving to the Sussex coast (the sunniest shore in mainland Britain) or the Costa del Sol, you could simply tap in your target into a sat-nav and follow the synthesised instructions until you reach your destination. But to do so is wrong, both aesthetically and practically. You surrender any sense of your surroundings and erase the chance of making a shrewd detour should you encounter a traffic jam.

Ideally, you need an expert navigator in the front passenger seat. But the next best thing is a detailed itinerary delivered by one of the free online route-planning systems.

The Automobile Association says that its free online Route Planner system delivers 20 million detailed itineraries a month, which I reckon is eight trips a second – and shows there is still a healthy appetite for knowing where precisely you are going. “Even in an age of sat-nav, the AA Route Planner lives on,” says Edmund King, the association’s president. He has kindly shared with The Independent the routes that UK drivers crave above all others.

There are dream destinations, and there are places you need to reach. And, as the AA data shows, they rarely coincide. The two top online searches are by motorists seeking to leave the country on British Airways through the airline’s main gateways of Gatwick’s North Terminal and Heathrow Terminal Five.

While London’s two leading airports top the chart, the capital as a destination comes nowhere. “London doesn’t feature, as anyone driving to Buckingham Palace – apart from the Queen – would be mad,” says Professor King. He also claims: “At any one time, 15 per cent of drivers in London are lost.” Perhaps the AA could bring back its splendid Pilot service, whereby members could request professional assistance to guide them through the capital: the 20th-century predecessor to sat-nav, with the personal touch. Nothing new under the sun, indeed.

Gerry and the placemarkers

Online route guidance became available around the turn of the 21st century. Before then, the average driver planning an unfamiliar journey sat down with a road atlas. AA members could go one better, with personalised advice available on tap. A century ago, pioneering motorists who belonged to the association were given handwritten cards detailing the journey between way points. By the Sixties, the trip itinerary process had become mechanised. Route compilers were assigned route segments to check, then wrote up the results for the printer. Gerry Knight was a compiler for the AA Route Planner for four decades from 1969. He recalls: “When a member wrote in to request a route, the compilers would select the relevant route sections and piece them together to form the completed route.”

The young Edmund King was one beneficiary of the trip advice, which used to arrive in a big yellow envelope. “I remember my dad getting the printed AA route from Norwich to Dover in the late 1960s when our family of nine kids would cram into a Citroën DS to travel to France. The route became part of the excitement and the holiday.” With nine children in a family saloon, I’m surprised anyone could find it.

The longest road

These days travellers have a choice of route planners – so I took a trio of them for an online test drive, on the benchmark route from Land’s End in Cornwall to John O’Groats close to the far north of mainland Scotland. The AA Route Planner took three seconds to generate a route for the 838-mile trip, complete with a map showing the speed cameras I would encounter along the way. The drive was calculated to take just short of 16 hours – not counting stops for fuel.

The Government’s site, Transport Direct, clunked for 17 seconds before delivering its itinerary – which was identical to the AA’s. No mention of speed cameras, but I was advised to stop for a 15-minute break every two hours. Without these stops, the site predicted it would take 11 minutes longer than the AA.

The RAC revved a route over in three seconds flat, adding that a typical saloon would consume £150-worth of fuel. The directions matched the previous two – but the timing nearly an hour faster than the longest estimate. The RAC plan assumes an average speed of more than 55mph. Watch out for those speed cameras.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss