Navigation Skills

Ok, another whinge today, this being really just the culmination of many years of fulminating on a particular hobbyhorse of mine.  Signs.  I mean, proper road signs, giving comprehensible directions to major routes and with major points along those routes.

All this will of course be utterly incomprehensible to any of you below the age of 50, since you will no doubt have a sat nav pinned to your headstock.  Now, don’t get me wrong- I am no Luddite.  I use computers at work all day, every day.  I think much of the IT revolution in the last 20 years has been amazing and on the whole, beneficial to society (with the exception of the particularly vile phenomenon of “social networking sites” such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which simply cause me to go purple and start frothing).

Sat nav is a very clever gadget indeed and the cheapskate version on my mobile has helped me out a good few times, particularly when trying to locate clients’ houses in the Welsh valleys or in the heart of the Devon countryside.  But to my mind, any rider who has never sat up poring over a good, old fashioned road atlas, working out a route, and making a list of waypoints, has missed a particular pleasure.  I have always enjoyed the mere studying of road maps- it gives me a peculiar satisfaction to correlate the coloured lines on the page with the actual landscape through which I shall be riding.

Moreover, if the electronic gadgetry goes down, where does that leave you, if you are unable to turn the map the right way up, let alone work out where you are and which way to go?   How many of you actually have an atlas in your topbox?

The necessary partner to the map is the road sign.  I don’t think I am wearing rose-tinted specs when I recall that signeage around the UK used to be a lot better than it is now.  You could rely upon finding the names of significant waypoints faithfully printed on the route markers along the way, and following them in logical fashion.  If you were working your way for the first time through the hell which is the Leicester ring road, to pick up the road to Northampton, you could be confident that “Northampton” would appear reassuringly and logically on subsequent boards.  On many occasions in the last few years, I have been infuriated to find the location I have been following suddenly just disappear from subsequent signs, although I am still nowhere near it.  And I am roused to spitting, blasphemous fury when I find that not only has the major destination mysteriously been erased, but that some moron from the highways department has seen fit to substitute half a dozen local rural names of miserable 2-goat, no-pub, 8 yokel hamlets which mean absolutely bugger all to me.

All this compels me to stop, tear off my gloves, tear open my tank bag and try to find said yokel-spots, in order to orientate myself to them and the nearest A road.  On a sweltering hot day, and a 350 mile run through the Midlands, as last month, that is the last thing I need.

The worst excesses of this seem to be the result of a known route being bypassed; the road gurus in the DoT then don’t bother to amend the old signeage, presumably on the basis that no human being will thenceforth venture anywhere other than on the spiffy new feeder tarmac they have laid down to whizz you through most of the UK without ever seeing the landscape.  This is particularly bad round places like Oxford and Milton Keynes- I nearly had an aneurism last month trying to find my way out of my old, well-known route up through Bicester and Finmere, only to find it petered out into a rash of light industrial estates, bollards and Premier Inns.  My own fault, I suppose, for not having been there for 20 years and for being cursed with a retentive memory for places and routes.

And don’t say to me to get a sat-nav.  Not only does that beg the point, but when I want to end up being sent down a cart track and into 6 feet of river, I can do it all by myself, thanks very much- I don’t need a mal-programmed bit of IT to do it for me.

On the plus side, there is reassuring evidence of resistance in some pockets, notably my home county of Norfolk.  Where else these days could you see a primary route sign, one of those green and yellow ones, saying “Cromer- 19¼ mls”?  Nice one, boy.

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