It may be an obvious thing to say but motoring for pleasure has changed, and not for the better. Here at The Winding Way it is as much about the journey as the destination. Unfortunately road networks are increasingly focused on the destination.
Road systems are now designed to link major hubs and to bypass the interesting towns and villages. It is understandable that roads are designed for commerce rather than to support leisurely exploration. It is entirely reasonable that people living in small villages do not want a stream of 40 tonne trucks driving down a high street that probably grew up around the occasional horse and cart. Bypasses are important for the quality of lives of those village residents especially with the huge growth of road vehicles since the Second World War. But it does not easily support slow, considered travel.
It can be argued that the overriding support for big commerce has had a deleterious effect on local business. In the forty years we have been travelling in France we have seen the virtual disappearance of road side restaurants. When we started one could get a decent and inexpensive meal at the frequent Relais Routiers, both in villages and by the road side, especially along Routes National and even Département roads and even . Now those N and D roads are fast, essentially straight roads that bypass almost every village between major towns. Indeed even the simple roadside friterie seems to have disappeared; is this because the roads are so fast no one can stop?
It is not just in France, it is much the same in the UK and, I suspect, across most of Europe. I recall the traditional British transport café disappearing in the 1970s as main trunk routes were turned into dual carriageways and roundabouts removed. Many café were located on roundabouts which slowed the traffic enough for drivers to make the decision to stop for a break. At that time I also found that it made hitch-hiking much more difficult as there were fewer places that drivers could stop. The same has now happened to ordinary A and even B roads; at least the cafés have been replaced by the occasional trailer or shed in a layby offering similar fare to old transport caff: bacon sandwich and mug of tea anyone?
Although new fast roads may have facilitated national commerce and made villages quieter and safer it seems to have had a major impact on local commerce. Even when we divert through villages there now seem to be fewer places to stop to buy a meal, or even food, especially in the early evening. So simply enjoying the journey by pottering from coffee stops to lunch stops, at least in the developed parts of Europe, seems to be a vanished pleasure. The old way of travelling is long gone, a new approach to slow, leisure motoring is needed.
That alternative approach to motoring for pleasure, slow travel, will be the theme for a future article. It is something we need to sort out for our travels in 2016. At the moment those plans are very unformed. We will enjoy shaping our plans during the long, dark winter evenings.