Highways and Byways: Three Great Sunday Drives From London
London is a wonderful place, never to be left off any sane person's shortlist of the greatest cities on earth.
However, when millions of people choose to live in one place, there is a downside: traffic. There may be more gridlocked metropolises in the world, but for anyone not from Mexico City, the roads here are quite bad enough.
Luckily, you don't have to venture far outside the M25 to be reminded that driving can be something you actually do for fun, rather than just to avoid public transport and the subsequent inhaling of other people's unfriendly odours.
People do sometimes complain that the character of the Cotswolds is being ruined by all the second-homers heading out from London, but if you're just visiting, you needn't fret about the house prices being pushed up. Also, at least the metropolitan invasion means you can always get a decent cup of coffee.
For the first part of the journey, take the simplest route, heading northwest on the M40 for about 40 minutes before veering off at junction 8 and taking the A40 towards Oxford. Half an hour on you will see a sign for the A361 to Burford. Sitting just a few hundred yards north of the A40, Burford has a beautiful, wide high street full of lovely shops and cafes. A great place for lunch - and to sleep too, if you are not hurrying back - is the Lamb Inn, round the corner on Sheep Street.
For pure driving pleasure, the fun starts as you head north of Burford. Take the A424 through beautiful rolling fields, pass the pretty market town of Stow-on-the-Wold, then after about half an hour you arrive in Chipping Campden, full of the limestone buildings that are a signature of Cotswolds architecture. From here, take the B4035 north, then the B4632 west through Willersley and Broadway; then take the A44 south, a lovely stretch of fast-flowing curves with a few tight bends to check you are paying attention. Follow signs for Bourton-on-the-Water before picking up the A40 again and heading east back into London.
The Kent coast
Again, it is probably best to take the direct route first, hopping on the M20 down to Dover. After drinking in the famous white cliffs, take the Dover Road (A258) north for 10 miles of gloriously undulating roads to Deal, once a major port and now a pleasantly laid-back seaside town. The beach may not be sandy, but to make up for it there are some of the best skimming stones known to man.
After a perfectly adequate lunch at the Royal Hotel in Deal, get back onto the A258 and head five miles north to Sandwich, a charming little town that retains much of its medieval character, but thankfully none of the smells. Also worth a visit is nearby Richborough Castle, which has the remains of a Roman fort and amphitheatre. Then it is a nice 10-mile drive down the A257 to Goodnestone Park, a historic house with lovely landscaped gardens. From there it is a short drive to get onto the A2 that links up with the M25 to take you back whence you came.
The Surrey Hills
If the Cotswolds and the Kent coast are a little bit too far, you can take a short drive down the A3 to Guildford in Surrey. You may think of Surrey as just a dormitory for London, but that is a very narrow view - rather like people from Surrey thinking that London is just a place to come and watch Mamma Mia.
Head east out of Guildford on the A246/A25. Go past the village of Merrow and take a right, following signs to Dorking. After a mile or so you come to Newlands Corner, a well-known beauty spot. Here, you can park up and enjoy some of the best views across the rolling Surrey Hills.
Then get back on the A25 and head southwest through the charming villages of Shere, Gomshall (the Gomshall Mill is a great place to stop for a pub lunch) and Abinger Hammer. After you hit Dorking, follow signs to Box Hill, a National Trust-maintained site at the top of the South Downs, which gives more amazing views over the hills. From there you can loop back over the north of the Surrey Hills back into Guildford, taking the fast-flowing A246 through Great Bookham and East Horsley. Alternatively, Box Hill is a short hop from the M25, so you can get back into London that way. Only a quick jaunt out of London, but in driving terms, it is another world.
Main image: Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds.