Laura Lexx is pressing on with her series on the UK’s odeworthy roads. This time she’s finding the beauty on either side of the M5. On a good day.
Driving the M5 is like sitting on a gameshow conveyor belt watching wonderful scenery pass you by on either side. A sort of “This is what you could have won if you didn’t live in an urban shoe box…”
Of course, it can be a total tarmac travesty on a bad day. Top tip: avoid the M5 like the bubonic plague on any day that someone with a caravan is likely to have strapped the flimsy box of disappointing holidays to the back of their perpetually overheating Nissan.
The M5 basically connects the West Midlands to Devon through a sea of cascading hills and opportunities to go and see what Wales is like without paying £6 for the privilege.
Traffic wise, it’s at its most lairy as it gets involved with Bristol and passes the M4. At this point it becomes tight and confusing with some very major roads intersecting and leading to perplexed tourists and impatient locals.
On a bad day it’s not much better as you get further up towards Birmingham; the impending doom of the M6 means many cars choose voluntary breakdown over trying to inch along that valley of ass-fault.
“Even the intoxicatingly flatulent Jack Russell I was sharing the passenger seat with failed to out-gas my happiness.”
Recent months have seen intensive cone farming on the lanes of the M5, which has in no way reduced the congestion in the area. Day or night. Everyone loves a diversion, right?
But let’s focus on the M5 on a good day shall we? Let’s.
One of the big highlights of the M5 is the option to visit Gloucester Services for a quick Ginsters pasty or… oh no… wait… what’s this? A service station so closely modelled on the Teletubbies’ house that at first you will think you’ve stopped for a wee in Hobbiton?
This service station has a farm shop… a bloody farm shop! You’ll likely eat better here in the spacious vestibule than you would at home. Of course I’m basing this claim on being a travelling comic who usually only has a questionable egg in their possession, and no idea whether said egg belongs in the fridge or on that egg helter-skelter we inexplicably own.
Gloucester Services is the creation of The Westmorland Family and is aping its sister station Tebay (regularly voted as Comedian’s Choice in case you ever wondered about something so banal) as a truly lovely place for a cup of tea and a spot of porcelain bothering.
Recently I was lucky enough to travel most of the M5 (up and down in the same day due to my life being Just That Good™) as a passenger for once. I was able to soak it up uninhibited by control of a vehicle… and the view is spectacular. Even the intoxicatingly flatulent Jack Russell I was sharing the passenger seat with failed to out-gas my happiness.
In between fumigation sessions I was spellbound by the hamlets nestled in foothills – tiny villages snuggled down into their protective hilly cradles. Interspersed between these towns and villages are lone farmhouses dotted sporadically up the country; isolated homesteads with farm buildings of varying impressiveness.
The skyline undulates beautifully; either completing the rural illustration with a flourish or, when the industrialisation creeps in further south, jarring exotically against the billowing chimneys and boxy factories.
As you pass through the Bristol area there is a lake of cars that stretches twinkling beneath you towards the water, but turn your head to the other side and you see trees cascading down a steep hillside. For a fun game here, you can attempt to spot the hidden house in the trees – it’s visible both ways (to your right as you head northbound and vice versa).
All the way down the rural nature of the West Country is striking; so much movement to the landscape, visible pigs, goats, horses and cows, with the occasional Tudor-style house sitting gracefully in the lush panorama.
New settlements are also sprinkled in view; hopeful little boxy houses looking just right for a Sylvanian Family or a lucky 20-something.
The Willow Man near Junction 23 has company now by way of one of these little settlements. I’ve always enjoyed the Willow Man’s prominent bottom and was very glad when it was resculpted, along with the rest of him, after an arson attack in 2001. I’m glad he has families nearby to love him too.
The M5, when moving, is a real treat; enjoy the richness of the view as you get to the turnoff for The Malverns, look out for a giant glittering stick in Mid-Somerset and marvel at the industrial beauty of the Avonmouth Junction.
It’s a peach of a road which I urge you all to devour. Unless you have a caravan, in which case I hear the M1 is lovely this time of year…
I am a comedian, writer, baker and glorious feminist. I am nothing if not enthusiastic about everything. @lauralexx