- the most remote areas in which to breakdown
In the early days of motoring, the question wasn't so much where you were going as what the chances were that you'd get there. Fortunately, more than a century of development has led to modern cars being the safest, most comfortable and most reliable ever, allowing us to get to spectacular and remote locations in the warmth and dry. Unfortunately, though, even the best modern cars are fallible.
Breaking down is never pleasant, even if it just leaves you becalmed on your own drive. Further afield it can leave you stuck in the city, parked on a hard shoulder, or stranded in the middle of the countryside. And, as beautiful as the British Isles are, there are some roads so remote that you really don't want to find yourself coming to an unplanned halt. Here we look at some of the most isolated spots in which to avoid breaking down.
England - You only have to look at a map to see that most of England is well-served by a network of roads where, should you be unlucky enough to break down, help would be at hand before too long. Most, but not all. Exmoor national park offers walkers plenty of scope to escape the beaten path, but a small cul-de-sac not far southwest of Porlock Hill leads motorists away from it all, too. From here it's 2km to the nearest farm, and 8km to a town.
At the other end of the country in Cumbria, a similarly remote road west of Mosedale leads the intrepid driver to a spot 2.5km from the nearest house, 4.5km from a small hamlet and nearly 25km from Penrith and the nearest railway station. According to Jan Sjorup of Cumbria Police, "It's so remote that there hasn't been an accident recorded since 1994".
But if you prefer to get further away from it all, you could always take a trip to Bryher in the Isles of Scilly. With only one road, Bryher's website defines a traffic jam as the meeting of two tractors. Bryher is the smallest of the five inhabited islands of Scilly, some 6km from the nearest of the bigger islands and around 50km from Land's End on the Cornish mainland.
Northern Ireland - in terms of area, Northern Ireland makes up less than 6% of the UK, but there's still plenty of space to get away from it all. In fact, about 6km southeast of Ballyneaner is a place so remote that even the internet hasn't heard of it: Camanreagh. Ballyneaner itself is around 6km from the nearest village of note - Claudy, with its population of only around 1,300.
Wales - Parts of Wales are famed for their rugged and remote countryside, but one road in particular takes remoteness to a new level. Anyone driving south out of Cwm Penmachno, Betws-y-coed, on the B4406 won't see another village - or even a house - for around 10km.
Astonishingly, Wales has an even more remote road to offer on Bardsey Island, about 3km from the mainland of North Wales. It runs perhaps 700 metres from the ferry landing point to some of the island's few houses. There are no streetlights: the island has no mains electricity.
Scotland - Scotland's not short of wilderness. The Highlands feature mainland Britain's most remote place, put by Ordinance Survey at grid reference 202020,877000 - a spot near 918-metre-tall Ruadh Stac Mor, but at least 15km (9 miles) from the nearest road.
For a remote place to break down, though, the Shetland Islands off Scotland's northeast coast are hard to beat. Known to have been inhabited since at least 3400BC, the islands' sizes vary. But while all are remote, three in particular stand out: Fair Isle, Foula and Papa Stour haven't a filling station between them, and cars on the islands don't need an MOT.
Fair Isle is reckoned by the Ordinance Survey to be Britain's most remote inhabited island. Forty kilometres (25 miles) from Mainland island (Shetlands) - let alone the mainland of Scotland - even getting to Fair Isle is a challenge: the regular passenger ferry Good Shepherd IV has space for a single car, and it sails once a week in winter - weather permitting.
Just over 7km of unclassified roads navigate the island's rocky moorland, which supports crofters and the island's famous knitting industry. It's a well-established observatory for migrating birds, and is home to its own species of Wren.
Foula also lays claim to be the 'most remote inhabited island'. With no shop or pub to be found in its area of less than nine square miles, its 30 or so inhabitants have the food they can't grow or farm delivered by air. There are roads - just over 5km of them - but at the last count only 12 vehicles to use them.
Tourists arriving with cars must have them lifted off the ferry by a pier crane and, according to Brian Woods of the Shetland Islands Council, "cars are often seen in peculiar states on Foula".
"No headlights; just holes where they should be. No wipers."
Finally, the sea caves and stacks dotting the coastline of fertile Papa Stour make it a Special Area of Marine Conservation. Although the ferry servicing the island does carry cars, there's only one significant road. It's less than two miles long - so at least if you did break down you wouldn't be too far from your destination.
Moving on - how to drive safely in remote areas
Of course, it's probably not worth shipping a car to the UK's remotest islands, but driving is a great way to take in much of the country's scenery. It's a good idea to be prepared if you are heading somewhere remote.
Before you set off, make sure you've planned your route and checked the latest regional weather forecasts. Remember that exposed or high land is much more prone to severe weather, and that remote roads can be treacherous or un-passable when main roads seem fine. Make sure you have a full petrol tank, some spare food, water and clothing, and a fully-charged mobile phone - but don't forget that you won't get a signal if you're too far from the beaten track. Keep some change for public phone boxes, and make sure you've a note of your car breakdown cover provider's emergency line number.
If you have to travel across quiet roads in bad weather, tell someone the route you'll be taking and roughly when you expect to arrive. If you're unlucky enough to breakdown or have any other incident, a road atlas will help you identify landmarks and the nearest main road or junction. Tuning to a local station will get you regular weather and traffic updates.
While you're driving, remember that country roads can throw up all sorts of surprises - especially in severe weather. Keep your speed down, and anticipate walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wild animals. Look out for black ice in temperatures below 5° Celsius, particularly on exposed hilltops. In icy conditions, drive smoothly and slowly, and use a higher gear than you normally would.
What to do if you break down
No matter how well you prepare and how carefully you drive, anyone can suffer a break down, and accidents can and do happen. If your car starts playing up, pull off the road and try to steer yourself into a safe position away from other traffic. In bad weather try to stop uphill from streams, ditches or rivers that could flood. If the car comes to a grinding halt, switch on your hazard lights.
- Stay calm
- Switch on your sidelights if you break down near other traffic at night or in poor visibility – but turn them off again if your battery begins to wane.
- If you have a warning triangle, place it at least 50 paces behind your vehicle to warn other drivers.
- If you have a mobile phone signal, call your breakdown firm and give the clearest possible details of your location – use your road atlas for landmarks.
- If you have managed to pull up in a safe place, stay in the car and lock the doors while you wait for help. Run the engine for warmth if needed, but be careful of exhaust fumes in deep snow.
- In extreme weather such as heavy, drifting snow, shelter in your car and wait to be discovered, or for the weather to improve. If you need to find a payphone, take your torch and wrap up in warm clothing. Lock the car and when you set off be sure to take notice of any helpful landmarks and memorise your route so you can find the way back.
- If the car has come to a halt in a dangerous place, or if you fear it might catch fire, take your food, clothes and blankets and wait a safe distance away, off the road. Whether you are a lone man or woman driver, you are more likely to be hit by another vehicle than assaulted.
- Only dial 999 if you are in danger or if your car is in a dangerous condition or place.
Car breakdown cover
Investing in car insurance cover with a breakdown policy with a reputable insurance provider will not only give you peace of mind but save you money in the long run.
Whichever provider you choose, investing in comprehensive breakdown cover, which offers a swift 24-hour service every day of the year, is the smartest option. And while such policies can appear expensive, you will receive cover for a full year. If you breakdown and don’t have cover, remember that the police will charge you a substantial fee for simply removing your car - and even more if you need to be transported home. Local garages may charge a call out fee, and you'll pay by the mile for a tow.