The endless highway snaking out of sight, a red sun setting on the promise of new thrills, a dusty roadside bar surrounded by ticking bikes, cooling muscle cars, cigarette smoke and the clink of ice cold beer bottles.
It’s a world of endless possibilities, the classic road trip; for 100 years the stuff of petrol-head dreams, on two wheels or four.
So there was much excitement recently at the news that Britain is to get “its own Route 66”; an iconic highway for drivers and riders to head along in search of adventure, excitement and the journey of a lifetime.
To be known as the “North Coast 500”, or NC500, the UK’s own highway of dreams will snake around the coastline of Scotland, from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast, through the north to John O’Groats then back down the east coast to loop back to where it started.
The proposal comes from the North Highlands Initiative (NHI), a body set up by Prince Charles (a man who used to love a V8 Aston himself if I recall) to regenerate the Highlands.
David Whiteford, NHI chairman, told the Scotsman newspaper: “Across the globe, touring routes have become famous and are often the very reason for visitors making the journey to that country.
“While it may be a coastal route, it is also about the wonderful diversions from it where you will experience the places, the personalities and the craic that make up this extraordinary journey.”
Wonderful stuff. Unfortunately, it’s also crap of the first order. NC500 will never be one of the great touring roads and if I were you I’d give it the swerve and fly-ride to the States, or anywhere else for that matter. You want to know why?
Because NC500 will be in Britain.
The thing about the actual Route 66 (and indeed any great touring road) is that it’s not about the tarmac, it’s about the freedom. It’s about the feeling that you don’t quite know what tomorrow brings, who you’ll meet, what you’ll do. It’s about flying along on your bike with the feeling that nobody and nothing is the boss of you, and you can do pretty much what you like. That’s why they’re adventures.
And adventures require space. Great rock n’ roll songs tend to be about empty highways, not congestion back to junction six.
If they build it, NC500 will be laid down in consultation with the police, the Department of Transport, the Scottish Government and numerous smaller councils. And of course scores of “local communities” (which doesn’t mean local communities, but the six Daily Mail reading, bike hating, busy-bodies who have the time and inclination to become the representatives of their communities).
Obviously a touring road attracts car and bike fans. I can hear the “community consultation results” now. So expect fixed, mobile and average speed cameras (and fair enough, something needs to pay for the new snooker table in the cops’ subsidised canteen).
And when you need to stop for food? How about some little, wooden porch diner that’s been there since 1936? Well, yes, but they can’t afford the franchise or the land costs so expect the usual soulless array of burger chains and “road-chef” horrors. Peas swimming in 2cm of water served with a grunt Sir? That’ll be £11.99.
The great touring roads of the world are great partly because they pre-date the terrifying rise of “them”: the bureaucrats, the civil servants, the campaigners and the busy-bodies. Even the real Route 66, which is more of a theme park than a road these days, has a proud lineage stretching back to open roads, little enforcement and endless possibility. That bleeds in to the cracked tarmac, and even the cracked people, over the years and that’s why the chance to ride it still attracts hundreds of thousands of bikers and drivers a year.
And if you want real adventure, the world is your oyster. From Australia to Spain, and Alaska to Norway, you can find the open road and who knows what?
Sing along with me now: “Get your motor running, head out on the highway, please be aware of the variable speed limits, police enforcement cameras in use, no camping, private – keep out, tiredness can kill, average speed cameras in force, stay in lane, roadworks one mile, congestion ahead, smart clothing only, pay by phone for bike parking (credit card required).”