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The car is right up my backside. I’m doing 30mph in a 30mph zone, yet I’ve watched the car gaining steadily on me for the last couple of minutes, clearly driving over the speed limit. I glance into my rear-view mirror to see who is on my tail; it’s a silver-haired speed freak in a woolly cardigan. In a couple of hundred metres, the speed limit changes to 40mph and then, another couple of hundred metres after that, becomes de-restricted. I know exactly what is going to happen next. We hit the 40mph sign and I put my foot down. The car behind falls back a tad. When we reach the de-restricted speed sign, I floor it, and surge forward, relishing watching the car behind rapidly receding. There is no change at all in the speed at which he’s driving irrespective of what the limit is because, as I suspected, he is a member of the forty miles an hour brigade.

Rough rural road, Portugal

Negotiating narrow, unsurfaced, and challenging roads wasn’t uncommon when we lived abroad.

I don’t know whether this club is exclusively British, but the proliferation of 40mph-ers is something I’ve only noticed since our return to the UK. They might even be a rural blight. I don’t remember them from when we lived in Stockport. But then, achieving the giddy heights of 40mph was just a fantasy during my daily commute from Great Moor to Salford Quays.

Devon lane in snow

The narrow lane leading to the farm where we stayed in Devon.

Driving in rural South West England isn’t always the easiest task. I know it took me some time before I felt comfortable negotiating the Devon/Somerset lanes. In Portugal and Tenerife, I was used to single track roads, crazy switchbacks, and ascents and descents that could bring on a nosebleed, but the sunken lanes of the South West are a different animal. I love driving them … now, and can happily reverse 200m along one pursued by a Godzilla-sized farm vehicle. Before we returned to Britain, I’d struggle to reverse into a parking space. When we lived on a farm in Clayhanger in Devon, I knew exactly the number of passing places there were between the main road and the farm (11) so I had contingency plans ready should we encounter another vehicle. Now I don’t care. There are four roads into our village, none of them wide enough for two cars to pass. You have to adjust to these lanes, or every voyage would require Diazepam. Not everyone does though. That’s understandable where visitors not used to ridiculously narrow country lanes are concerned, but there are plenty of residents who do a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ when faced with another car coming in their direction. Some just hit the brakes, stop dead wherever they are, irrespective of whether there’s sufficient space to pass or not, even when there’s a wider stretch just a few metres ahead of them. Others seem unable to reverse, even if the ‘passing place’ is barely the length of their own car behind them.

Farm vehicle in the village, Somerset

When you meet one of these on a Somerset lane, you reverse.

And then there are the 40mph-ers. Do a Google search and you’ll find them moaned about on everything from RAC forums to Mumsnet. They are the bane of many good drivers’ lives, and they drive me loopy.

Aha, but we’re only driving safely, some claim, and won’t be intimidated by people trying to force us to drive faster.

Another explanation I’ve seen online is that they know the country roads they tootle along, and to drive them at anything faster than 40mph is dangerous.

The problem with the first excuse is it would be fine if they actually obeyed speed limits. The majority of the 40mph-ers I encounter don’t slow down when travelling through villages. They keep on going at 40mph whatever the restrictions. Nope, the safety of others is not their concern.

Somerset lane - The forty miles an hour brigade

Driving country lanes like this becomes second nature. But not for everyone.

The second is often used to try to hoodwink ‘townies’ into thinking they don’t know how to drive country roads. It’s a red herring, because the 40mph-ers I’m referring to don’t just stick to lower speeds when the road twists and turns like a sidewinder snake, they do it when it’s straight as a die and you can see for miles and miles ahead (admittedly not common in these parts).

A 40mph-er up my backside when the limit is 30mph and an ant in the rear-view mirror when it is 60mph is just bloody annoying, nothing more. Far worse things happen at sea as they say. If someone wants to stick to one speed, that’s up to them … so long as it isn’t dangerous, and that’s my main gripe. The 40mph-ers drive too fast through residential areas. This betrays the fact they are neither good nor safe drivers.

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Jack Montgomery

Jack is an author, travel writer, photographer, and a Slow Travel consultant who has been writing professionally for twenty years. Follow Jack on Facebook for information about his writing, travel tips, photographs, and tales of life in a tiny rural village in Somerset.

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Some of the items on this site won’t be to everyone’s liking, I get that. Basically this is my place, my wee studio to mess around in – experimenting with words and thoughts. I’ll be chuffed if you enjoy it, but if you don’t, c’est la vie. As a friend used to tell me “it would be a boring life if we all thought the same.”

Jack Montgomery
A wine press,
On a farm at the end of the dirt track,
The Setúbal Peninsula,