I approach London from the south, crossing the river Thames over Westminster Bridge and heading towards The Houses Of Parliament. Above, two yellow discs hang side by side in the still-dark morning sky. The one on the left is the moon, the one on the right the clock face of Big Ben.
As the city sleeps at 4am, motoring journalist Angus Frazer comes out to play in the early dawn, experiencing the UK’s capital in a whole new light.
The Circus is in Town
It’s ten to four in the morning, six hours before the London Eye starts turning and the tourists can take to the air. I’m here to find my own unique views of the city, driving on clear roads, proving that you don’t have to live by the gates of the Nürburgring or at the foot of the Stelvio Pass to enjoy your car.
Ten minutes later I’m gridlocked at Piccadilly Circus. Big Ben may be telling the world it’s Sunday morning, but to everyone here Saturday night is far from over. The roads are as busy as they would be at nine o’clock on a Monday morning. When a gap appears in the traffic, I head for quieter streets; with Trafalgar Square behind me, there are plenty of them.
It’s nice to be moving again, to feel the tyres rolling along the Strand as I drive through the Temple legal district. It’s a pleasure to drive these great streets free of the certainty that I’ll be snarled up in traffic at any second.
West End Show
I drive clear of Fleet Street and Blackfriars Bridge carries me over the Thames. I cut through the backstreets to Borough Market, just south of London Bridge, but there’s still no company to be found. Near The London Dungeon I have no choice but to follow the road into a long, dark tunnel, before heading to the West End.
By the old West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs, I crane my neck to take in the towering Canary Wharf. I soon drive back west towards the old town, worried I’ll never see the sunrise down at the bottom of this vast building. I park up on Waterloo Bridge and watch the sun appear slowly, sparkling the grey waters of the Thames.
It’s time to try my luck at Piccadilly Circus again. Over Westminster Bridge the hands of Big Ben are now standing at half-past five and it’s just me, the statue of Churchill and the odd copper patrolling the streets around Parliament. Up past Trafalgar Square I go and ahead I can see the perpetual neon lights of Piccadilly Circus.
Solitude in the City
But the traffic that ruined my drive earlier this morning has gone. Amazingly, even Piccadilly Circus is deserted. A slow smile spreads across my face. The streets of London are all mine. Best not to delay. Who knows how long this peace and emptiness will last?
Down Piccadilly I drive, then around the massive roundabout that is Hyde Park Corner. From here, I take the long drag to the top of Park Lane, around Marble Arch and back down the other side of the dual carriageway to Hyde Park Corner, taking the Constitution Hill exit. Once again the road is totally deserted and the experience gets even more surreal as I pass Buckingham Palace.
For the next hour or so I lose myself among the backstreets, neither knowing nor caring where I end up. In just an hour or two these streets will be so packed it’ll be nearly impossible to drive them.
Soon enough the freshness has gone out of the morning and the driving. The streets are no longer mine and must be shared. But then I remember that while all roads may lead to London, there are plenty of roads that lead out of it too. And there are plenty of great driving routes within reach of the city.