Friday, October 09, 2009

The dark secrets of the side of the road

The discovery of what Melanie Hall's father distressingly described as "a bag of bones" beside the M5 made me turn back to something I'd just been reading in Joe Moran's book "On Roads".
"If you're ever on the run from the law, I would strongly recommend that you hide in the motorway verges of our oldest motorways, like the M1 or M6. There is just enough room for a tent in the half-century of undergrowth and you could surely live like Stig of the Dump, undisturbed for months or years, in this uninhabited wilderness just a cone's throw from the road."
Stuck in a traffic jam on the M1 last week I was looking at what he calls "this liminal land" and wondering what kind of strange world might have taken root there over the years. The only sign of life visible from the road is the occasional hovering bird of prey. I never see them dive. It's as if they're trying to pretend they're doing something useful.


  1. Try a trip up the M40 and watch the bird life between junction 5 an 8. Red Kites have been reintroduced and are now prevelant in huge numbers. it's like vultures circling the Sahara

  2. As a kid I always use to imagine you could living in the middle of big roundabouts the landscaped one with bushed and mounds looked great places to build dens.

  3. Anonymous7:29 pm

    If you haven't already read it, then take a look at 'Concrete Island' by JG Ballard; written in the mid 1970s, an architect crashes through the barrier on the newly built Westway and lives Robinson Crusoe existence, marooned just feet from busses speeding towards Heathrow.

    Adrian Woolrich-Burt

  4. StuartM11:40 pm

    In the darker, rural parts of the motorway network, employees of the Highways Agency occasionally discover vehicles that have careered unwitnessed off the motorway and down a wooded embankment in the wee small hours. The only evidence is perhaps skid marks or some tyre marks in the grass verge. Cars and passengers seldom win in a collision with trees, and these horrific scenes can remain undiscovered for hours (or sometimes days).

  5. Round where I live on the edge of the centre of Sheffield, the huge Park Square roundabout is densely forested in the middle and on banks rising up across the four lane carriageway towards the Park Hill Flats. Until a year or so ago, when concerted Neighbourhood watch action (involving police and community officers) cleared them out, a regularly reinforced group of homeless drug users lived in the bushes sloping down to the road. For several years everyone knew about them but no one was ever that bothered about it because they kept themselves to themselves. I once poked my head inside an opening in the bushes on the pathway running up to town and could clearly see tracks leading down to an encampment, with plastic bags and old clothing used as shelter.


  6. A recent series that was right up my street (sorry) was The Secret Life of the Motorway, narrated by Philip Glenister, especially the bit about Stott Hall Farm on my favourite motorway, the M62, which the road forks around.