Across the road from the raised platform which offers some of the most spectacular vistas on the island, its car park lay empty. I pulled in and was suddenly aware of the crackle of my tyres rolling over the grit and the gentle splash of the puddles in the potholes.
There was not a soul at the viewpoint. From here you can gaze down at a colony of 200 grey seals in Scalpsie Bay. You can see the Isle of Arran, the Kintyre peninsula and an ever-evolving panorama of weather systems.
I posed for some pictures on the platform and, once the photographer had moved his lighting equipment into one of the carriageways, we did some more in the road, my feet straddling the white line in the middle.
It was then we heard a low hum in the distance and, some moments later, we spied the source of it. It was a car, would you believe.
Jonathan Brocklebank is in little danger of being knocked down on A844
A little red one coming our way. In, oh, about half a minute, it would be upon us.
We cleared the trunk road to let it pass but the vehicle pulled up beside mine in the car park and out strode Edinburgh bus driver Jim Daly, 63, and his wife Sandra.
‘This is pure heaven,’ declared the man who is paid to sit in city traffic all day.
He told me that, on his annual leave, he liked to drive roads he had never been on before. I told him his choice of highway this year was inspired: the one we were standing on was the newly crowned quietest A-road in the UK.
On average, just 77 vehicles use this five-mile stretch of the A844 on the Isle of Bute every day. That is just over three per hour. In this hour, Mr Daly’s car and my one accounted for almost two-thirds of the expected traffic.
We were, as the crow flies, just 34 miles from the centre of Glasgow. Much closer were the neighbouring bottlenecks of Greenock and Port Glasgow, both of which I fought my way through at a crawl to reach Wemyss Bay for the ferry to Bute.
Yet here, a 40-minute sail and 15-minute drive later, was the A-road of maddened motorists’ dreams. It hugs the western coast of Bute for two or three miles of twists, dips and inclines, then wends its way inland where it meets the B878, which leads back into the island capital of Rothesay.
Drivers prepare to board the ferry from Wemyss Bay to the Isle of Bute
Sign to Scalpsie, and the A-road of maddened motorists’ dreams
On average, just 77 vehicles per day use this five-mile stretch of highway
And, given that this stretch between the B881 and B878 takes just ten minutes to drive, your chances of having the entire road to yourself are roughly evens.
Compare and contrast with Britain’s busiest route, the M25 around London, where more than 200,000 vehicles per day are typical between certain junctions.
As we rolled off the CalMac ferry and headed out of Rothesay on the A844 I felt the tension of mainland motoring draining away. It was a phenomenon I discovered was well known to islanders here. With journeys almost entirely unimpeded with traffic lights and roundabouts, their experience of driving is a throwback to a golden age before crazy volumes of vehicles brought competitiveness and wrath.
We were soon stuck behind a tractor. No biggie. This was island driving. Then it stopped as a herd of cattle dawdled past on the opposite side, followed by a farmer on a quad bike. I gave him a friendly wave as island motorists do.
But I wondered whether the stretch of A844 – a mile ahead of us – could live up to its billing as the most deserted in Britain according to research from Jeep UK. We were, after all, in a traffic jam.
Minutes later, the motoring oasis I had come to Bute to experience was at hand. We hooked a left to stay on the A844 and beheld pristine tarmac weaving its way into the distance, not a vehicle in sight. No sign of vehicular activity either by the time we reached the viewpoint a mile on.
Indeed, until the Dalys showed up 15 minutes later, there was a vaguely post-apocalyptic eeriness about the solitude. Where were the tourists, the ramblers, the householders? Come to think of it, where were the houses?
I eventually found one and stopped to see if anyone was in. It belonged to furniture-makers Ray and Angela Beverley, who told me they had heard my car pull up some 50 yards away. Coffee and biscuits were proffered for the passing stranger from the trunk road running past their door and they explained what it was like to live on the quietest one in the UK.
‘Sometimes,’ said Mr Beverley, ‘when someone’s driving past, we say to each other, “Who’s that?”.’
‘We actually say, “Who’s that on our road?” corrected his wife.
‘There are hardly any houses here, so this really is kind of our bit of road.’ Both former bankers in the City of London, the Beverleys moved from Southend in Essex 20 years ago after deciding to quit the rat race.
A Scottish relative sent them the details of the property and, after viewing it with their daughter Amy, they put an offer in and within a week were the owners.
Only later did they discover locals referred to this stretch of the A844 as the ‘Road to Nowhere’ – so called because there are so few island destinations it offers access to which would not be easier to reach by another route.
At this time of year, if it is not the school bus or the postie or a neighbour – of whom there are hardly any – the chances are whoever is behind the wheel on the road outside has taken a wrong turn.
Its dearth of traffic carries distinct advantages for those who appreciate peace and quiet. Mrs Beverley, 59, recalls being aware of children’s voices while she was in her garden and thinking they must be on the road outside. ‘I looked out and actually they were on a sailboat out on the sea,’ she said. ‘That’s how quiet it is.’
And on what other A-road within easy reach of a major city could a wedding party pose for photos, untroubled by traffic on the highway outside, as Amy Beverley and her bridesmaids did after her home ceremony last year?
‘This is just the norm here,’ said her 62-year-old father. ‘It’s only when you go on to the mainland and drive on the motorway and then come back that you realise again how quiet it is.’
And rush hour on the A844? Is there such a thing? ‘Only when they move sheep and you might get a queue of three or four cars. Total gridlock,’ he said, laughing.
When the fancy takes them, the Beverleys set off on the 20-minute walk to their nearest neighbours. They are farmer Ian Dickson, 36, and his German-born partner Lisa Gast, 33, a shepherdess who breeds and trains Border collies and runs glamping pods at Scalpsie Farm.
‘I didn’t actually realise this was an A-road,’ admitted Mr Dickson, intrigued by the news. ‘Of course, it was even quieter during Covid.’
Yet the couple said that even this A-road idyll saw its share of moronic driving. Boy racers gravitate to it on summer nights and over-revved engines pierce the tranquillity.
‘When the boy racers are out, it’s not so quiet,’ said Ms Gast. ‘They crash into our walls quite regularly and run away without paying for the damage.’
Originally from Frankfurt, Ms Gast’s journey to Bute and the most sedate of Britain’s trunk roads took her by way of Sweden and the Borders before she applied for a shepherding job at the south end of the island.
A dawdling herd of cattle temporarily stalls vehicular progress
Ian Dickson, Lisa Gast and Gibby, left, and Edinburgh bus driver Jim Daly and his wife Sandra love the peace and quiet on Bute
She said: ‘It was a horrible day with horizontal rain – and then I stayed overnight, opened the curtains in the morning and it was like the Caribbean.
‘The sea was turquoise, the mountains were gorgeous. I got the job and I never left.
‘Then one day I was driving around these quiet roads and I thought, “Oh, this farm looks nice”.’ Smiling at her partner, she added: ‘And I found out there was an eligible bachelor here.’
The couple now have an 11-month-old son, Gibby.
What marks the A844 – and the island as a whole – out as special, she said, was the fresh view around every corner, often as breath-taking as the last. And, on this near-deserted road, there is all the time in the world to appreciate it.
Back up at the viewpoint, bus driver Mr Daly and his wife drank in the panoramic splendour for a few more minutes.
How strange, he reflected, that this island treasure lay a mere hop away from the Central Belt and was largely ignored, while Skye – a much more distant prospect – was mobbed with campervans for much of the year. Gazing out over the water, he said: ‘You really can’t buy experience like this.’
If the journey between Edinburgh and Glasgow ranked as his most hated in Scotland, this one, he told me, was a new favourite.
The Road to Nowhere, it turns out, does go somewhere. It takes careworn motorists to their happy place. I drove the full five miles, turned around, and did them in reverse, this time meeting nothing at all coming the other way. For those ten glorious minutes, I was king of the road.
It would be a different story soon enough. A motorway awaited across the water. The darkening skies set the tone for the place where I was headed.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Daily Mail