My introduction to William Rees Jeffreys was quite by accident one sunny Sunday in the summer of 2011. Travelling back to Manchester after a weekend camping in Dolgellau to walk the Mawddach Trail to Barmouth. Keen to extend the carefree holiday feeling as long as possible, my partner and I took the country road from Llan Festiniog over the hills. Spotting a car park with a view, we couldn’t resist stopping for a brew and a stroll. The splendidly positioned car park had a plaque and always one to check out such things I learnt that the car park had been funded by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund. It certainly was an excellent place for a motorhomer to stop; no height barrier, an extensive view, a babbling stream and Rhaedr y cwm waterfall and enough bilberries to fill a pie all within a few 100 metres.
Like many brief encounters, I didn’t give Mr Rees Jeffreys another thought until twelve months later I had another chance meeting with this enigmatic fellow. Once again on the lookout for a good place to pull up in the Blue Bus and have a brew, although without the good weather, we pulled off the M6 at Tebay (Junction 38) and followed the road towards Kendal. Spotting a lay-by with a view across the M6 and the railway line to the Howgill Fells we pulled in and realised we were parking next to a familiar plaque. The kettle went on and I climbed out, despite the drizzle, to read that the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund had also funded the construction of this road side parking. Over a brew I starting wondering what the story was behind this man, why he felt the need to pay for car parks as far apart as Wales and Cumbria and why he deserved a plaque.
Back home, an internet search revealed some information about William Rees Jeffreys. He was born in 1872, before Karl Benz had patented his internal combustion engine for a Motorwagen in 1886. William Rees Jeffreys was a keen cyclist and was initially motivated in his campaigning to improve roads for cyclist. As cars became more widespread, William Rees Jeffreys held positions with the Road Board (the precursor of the Department of Transport), the RAC, the Roads Improvement Association and the Institute of Automobile Engineers. From 1919 he was a leading light in the classification and numbering of the roads in Britain to help drivers navigate. The road classification project was complete in 1926.
Following his death in 1954, William Rees Jeffreys generously wanted to continue improving facilities for road users and his estate provided the endowment for the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund. This gives financial support every year for education and research related to road transport and also for physical road transport projects, hence all the lovely road side parking areas.
Motorhomers always need car parks and lay-bys and those next to roads often suit our purpose of a rest stop on a trip, giving a chance for a brew and a quick stretch of the legs without going out of our way and here was an organisation providing just the facilities the motorhoming community needs. So, interesting as the Rees Jeffreys website was, it lacked a list of the road side rest areas the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund had supported and I wanted to know more. An email to the Secretary quickly led to the arrival of a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund roadside rests list in the post a few days later. This typed list showed 68 rest stops they had supported, from Wester Ross in Scotland to Cornwall. With the list, I was now able to plan holiday routes to include a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund road side rest areas.
My next opportunity to meet my double-barrelled friend was on an early March trip to Pembrokeshire. The delight of a quest like this is that you never know exactly where it will take you. We had the small Cardigan Caravan and Camping site to ourselves and after star-gazing in the clear night sky; we woke to sunshine, white frosty fields and a frozen tap at the outside washing up facilities. A warming breakfast slowly got us going and we drove the short distance to the small parking area on the B4582 for the Crugiau Cemmaes barrow. The parking did not really merit the title car park but it had the usual Rees Jeffreys Road Fund plaque and did mean that we visited the round barrow, thought to be Bronze Age, and enjoyed the clear views over the Welsh countryside.
It is evident from the typed list that some local authorities have cottoned on to the availability of funding from the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund better than others and Pembrokeshire is clearly one of those, with six rest stops on the list, only matched by the Isle of Wight. However, it soon also became clear that the list had some limitations; with no grid references or even road numbers, some were tricky to find. Even with the help of online maps with street view, I never found the rest stop located at St David’s Road, Haverfordwest.
Not a person to give up on a friendship easily, the exploration continued further south with a couple of nights near Saundersfoot. The generously sized lay-by at Wood near Newgale on the A487 was easier to find, although the extreme slope meant that even walking up and down the van was challenging. Ditching the idea of brewing we enjoyed the wide view over Newgale Sands and St Brides Bay with fruit juice!
Heading north back through Wales, I sought out the only roadside rest listed in Powys. Pont Marteg on the A470 north of Rhayader in the stunning river Wye or Afon Gwy valley was easy enough to find. The beautifully sited car park had room for the Blue Bus and provided the opportunity I sought to stretch my legs and watch the Red Kites circling above. It looked like a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund road side rest but a thorough search didn’t reveal the familiar plaque, so I couldn’t be sure.
The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund has over £7 million in the bank and uses the interest earned on this investment each year to fund mostly research projects and educational bursaries. In 2017 no new car parks or road side rests were built but funding was given to encourage wild flowers on road side verges. In 2016 The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund published a report on the need for a Major Road Network across England.
Having visited Rees Jeffrey Road Fund rest stops in England and Wales, I thought it was time to seek one out in Scotland. Only twelve locations feature in the list for Scotland, so I wasn’t overwhelmed by the choice but a trip up to Oban and Mull at Easter was coming up and I got the list out and checked the map for possibilities. I soon spotted that just north of Glasgow a rest stop was listed at Queen’s View on the A809 between Mingavie and Drymen that would work well with our route. Only 45 minutes from the centre of Glasgow, the car park, funded by my old pal WRJ, enables the locals to park up and enjoy some fresh air and exercise. From the car park a quick five minute pounding of the legs will take you to the view point where it is said Queen Victoria stopped to take in the view of Loch Lomond, the more energetic can spend two or three hours walking up to the crags of the strangely named hill, the Whangie.
The list of road side rests doesn’t give a year when a particular site was funded but the Queen’s View car park must have been some time ago, as even given the extremes of Scottish weather, the tarmac would benefit from renewing. On a bank holiday, it was also busy and this spot didn’t provide the peaceful respite from driving I have come to associate with our esteemed friend.
We also visited the Iron Gate car park in Flintshire on foot, as part of a snowy walk over Moel Famau and so now have 62 of the 68 roadside rests funded from the endowment of William Rees Jeffreys left to visit. The list travels with us in the glove compartment of our campervan and I have no doubt that my acquaintance with William Rees Jeffreys will be maintained and I will continue to be grateful for his generosity to motorhomers and other road users.