Written by Laura Lexx


An Ode to a Road: The M40

Laura Lexx is back behind the wheel for her series on the UK’s odeworthy roads. This time, she’s taking us for a speed-limit-respecting spin on the M40.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

The M40 is probably my favourite motorway: it’s an excellent piece of kit in the toolbox that is Britain.

The first feature that makes the M40 so brilliant? Service stations. It has four: Beaconsfield, Cherwell Valley, Oxford and Warwick. Immediately disregard Cherwell Valley and focus on the other three: Oxford and Warwick are a great distance apart and are both Welcome Break, making them Taylor Swift to Moto’s Miley.

They are clean, wholesome (Waitrose, you goddess) and don’t make you question humanity by their existence.

While Beaconsfield isn’t a Welcome Break, and therefore should technically be shunned, it is a modern marvel. It has a Wetherspoons. What kind of logic keeps that place going? Who is…? Why is…? What text is starting with: “Fancy a drink somewhere nice like the Wetherspoons on the M40…?” AND GETTING A POSITIVE RESPONSE?!

It’s a spectacle – it has so much to offer, you will be enthralled.

The second feature that pushes the M40 up my list is its birds of prey. As you drive along it you will notice a huge number of… um, I guess eagles? Kestrels? Falcons? Albatrosses? I dunno, mate, it’s not a bloody bird blog is it? Anyway, there are a fuck-load of birds and that’s fun to see. Makes it feel like a really dieselly nature reserve and that breaks up the monotony.

The best time to explore the M40 is autumn, in this writer’s opinion. (It’s not an opinion: it’s fact. Albeit possibly an alternative one.) The whole stretch of road is bathed in orangey hues from the trees that line it – a fantastic catwalk of natural striptease. It’s beautiful.

Not to say that it’s not beautiful all year. The best view comes around Junction 6 for Princes Risborough, especially in the northerly (towards Birmingham) direction, when you come out of Windy Canyon (NEVER DRIVE THAT BIT WITH FIVE PEOPLE IN YOUR 12 YEAR-OLD CAR AND EXPECT TO GO OVER 30MPH) and see the flatness lying before you after the hill. It’s absolutely breathtaking. The countryside just reclines into a duvet of fields and trees and spectacularly long horizons.

“No matter that you’re overtaking someone doing 50 in the middle lane, if that ton-toting BMW wants to get past you, you’re getting full beams until he has. It’s a downer.”

Comedian Gary Delaney assures me that if you are driving northbound at around 11pm to midnight, you get a wonderful smell of cakes around that section of the M40. How many motorways offer you an olfactory delight like that, eh? Shove it M1.

The M40 is a particularly reliable motorway; it’s like the prefect older sister to the M1’s teenage tantrums. Something about its proximity to the landed gentry area of Oxfordshire renders it prone to be fixed and maintained in a far superior manner to other motorways.

It also has no fixed speed cameras on it. Again, I wish I knew the connection between it being a road that a lot of people with influence use, and it not being subject to a lot of the issues that usually plague a motorway. One day I’ll spot the pattern.

I find the lack of speed cameras a two-pronged issue: on the one hand, it’s nice to not have that panic when you’ve accidentally crept over the limit that you’re going to lose that night’s earnings on your moat subsidy for Chipping Norton’s MP.

On the other hand, as someone who rarely speeds (having been six cars out from a fatal pile up and realised that gambling my life and countless other people’s for 10 minutes extra at home wasn’t worth it), I find that motorways without speed cameras attract a certain breed of confident asshole.

No matter that you’re overtaking someone doing 50 in the middle lane, if that ton-toting BMW wants to get past you, you’re getting full beams until he has. It’s a downer.

Thankfully, it’s not enough to put me off the M40. A glorious stretch of seemingly well-funded tarmac that works like a charm. Now, if only more politicians had second homes in hospitals, eh?

Take a spin on Laura’s other roads of note here.


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Written by Laura Lexx

I am a comedian, writer, baker and glorious feminist. I am nothing if not enthusiastic about everything. @lauralexx