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How the M25 became a tourist attraction

Simon Calder’s Travel

“By Byfleet station we emerged from the pine trees, and found the country calm and peaceful under the morning sunlight.”

I recalled that line – from H G Wells’s War of the Worlds – at West Byfleet station in Surrey as I emerged from the first train of the morning from London on Saturday.

In this leafy corner of the home counties, all was “calm and peaceful under the morning sunlight” – until the first Bulgarian truck came thundering through. The lorry had been diverted from its planned trajectory by the unprecedented closure of a stretch of the M25 orbital motorway around London. And the A245 between Byfleet and West Byfleet has become part of a diversionary route – as well, I was to discover, as a temporary tourist attraction.

Byfleet and West Byfleet became estranged in the early 1980s. What came between them was an 80-yard-wide cutting carrying six lanes of traffic – later “densified” to eight lanes. Over a normal weekend, every minute an average of 100 cars, lorries and buses barrel through this deep divide.

Ten miles to the north: Europe’s busiest airport, Heathrow; 20 miles southeast, the UK’s main holiday airport, Gatwick. And wherever you want to go in Britain, if you can’t access it from a motorway or A-road junction on the M25, it’s probably not worth going.

Since Margaret Thatcher opened the full circuit in 1986, the M25 has become one of the most critical pieces of infrastructure in Europe. For the first time, a daytime closure is taking place. A stretch of the motorway southwest of London is shut for the weekend, until 6am on Monday.

The aim: to improve Junction 10, where the M25 meets the A3 trunk road linking London with Guildford and Portsmouth (not to mention Chessington World of Adventures). The only way to do this is to close the entire five-mile stretch to Junction 11.

The message from National Highways: stay home. Ahead of the closure, Jonathan Wade, the senior project manager running the weekend adventure, told The Independent’s daily travel podcast: “Please, if you can, avoid travelling completely, find something to do at home – decorate the bathroom or something, or play in the garden. If you must go: travel by train, walk, use a bicycle.”

I am not in a position to judge how much bathroom decoration is happening in the home counties, but many people seem to have heeded the…

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