Millions of British travellers were inspired by the unprecedented run of public holidays and equally unusual April weather to begin spring holidays yesterday. But across the nation they soon discovered, beneath the sunshine, a familiar litany of travel misery.
Flights at the UK's major airports were delayed as the outbound rush began, while Easter closures at key locations on the national rail network spelled lengthy, awkward journeys.
There was gridlock on roads as motorways were filled to fuming point. But frustrated drivers sweltering in their cars and dreading the mass return to reality on Monday evening need only reach for their atlases to discover there is another way to travel.
Before the motorway age, motorists enjoyed a far closer and rewarding engagement with the country through which they travelled. Britain is latticed with a chronology of thoroughfares from Iron Age tracks via Roman roads to Thomas Telford's magnificent works connecting London with NorthWales. As these were superseded by roads that were wider and faster (at least in theory), many of them were relegated to B-roads – bestowing the UK with a shadow network of highways for motorists keener on the quality of the journey than sheer speed.
While the French have a long and proud tradition of using "D" (départemental) roads as alternatives to the routes nationales and autoroutes, Britain's motorists have yet to waken to the joys of using what Private Eye scornfully called "Rural Rides". One leading motoring figure claims that B-road Britain is blossoming, with light traffic on a wide range of secondary roads running parallel to trunk links.
Edmund King, president of the AA, told The Independent "When you've got four bank holidays in a row, B-roads are the way to go. They're not like B-movies, they're like road movies." In Sussex yesterday, the B2038 offered a pretty and tranquil alternative to the M23/A23 corridor to Brighton as Londoners flocked to the seaside to enjoy the first of the sequence of bank holidays on the beach. At the other end of Britain, the main A82 through the Great Glen between Inverness and Fort Augustus was very busy for the opening weekend of the Highlands tourism season.
Yet on the scenic B862 on the other side of Loch Ness, following the course of General Wade's Military Road, cars were outnumbered by cyclists and hikers enjoying the spectacular views.
Mr King advised motorists to: "Take your time, stop off at a pub in then middle of nowhere, and enjoy the drive through woods and across rivers that you never experience on the M4, the M5 and the M25."
Rarefied Roads Your Sat-Nav Won't Know
B3181, M5 junction 27-Exeter
Circumvent the final four junctions of the M5 by taking the B3181 that meanders over the motorway several times and deposits you in the beautiful centre of Exeter. If you sense that the road seems surprisingly good for a B-road, that is because it was once the main A38.
B390 & B3095, Stonehenge-Gillingham, Dorset
The M3/A303 ‘fast track’ to the South-west becomes frustratingly slow in good weather. This pair of B-roads may therefore save time as you meander across Salisbury Plain, as well as providing a satisfying journey through ancient landscapes.
B2036, Gatwick airport-Burgess Hill
Bank-holiday weekends drive Londoners in their tens of thousands to the nearest ‘proper’ seaside resort, Brighton. Avoid the constricted M23/A23 corridor from Gatwick airport by taking this picturesque and undulating link through wonderful unspoilt villages.
The A1(M) is one of Britain’s most dispiriting highways, bypassing almost everywhere of interest. But patches of the old Great North Road remain, and this section connects two historic market towns and reminds drivers of the loveliness of Lincolnshire.
B5381, St Asaph’s-Llandudno Junction
The main route along the coast of North Wales towards the Llyn Peninsula, Anglesey, obscures views of Snowdonia and the shoreline. So steer off the for a dozen junctions on this scenic byway.
B7078, Abington Services-Hamilton
Forget the M74 link between Glasgow and Carlisle: the Borders offers a serene alternative – and even has long stretches of dual carriageway to help ease caravan rage.
B862, Inverness-Fort Augustus
Main Street for the Highlands is the monstrous A82. Far better to take the high road on the opposite bank of Loch Ness. Besides sublime views across the mountains, there is even the option to take a sub-byway in the shape of the B852 along the shore.