My introduction to William Rees Jeffreys was quite by accident one sunny Sunday a few years ago. Travelling home after a weekend camping in Dolgellau and keen to extend the carefree holiday feeling as long as possible, my partner and I took the B4391 over the hills from Llan Festiniog. Spotting a car park with extensive views, we couldn’t resist stopping for a brew and a stroll down the lane to pick bilberries and sit by the babbling brook. The splendidly positioned car park had a plaque and I learnt that it was funded by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.
Like many brief encounters, I didn’t give 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 in for a drink, we turned off the M6 at Tebay and followed the road towards Kendal. Spotting a lay-by with a view towards the Howgill Fells we pulled in and realised we were parking next to a familiar plaque. The kettle went on and I climbed out to read that here was another car park funded by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund. Over my cup of tea 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; 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 aid the assignment of the money from the Road Fund and to help drivers navigate; the final list was completed in 1926. Following his death in 1954 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.
As frugal campervan owners we always need car parks and lay-bys and those next to roads often suit our purpose of a rest stop on a long drive. These halts give us a chance to have a hot drink at little cost and stretch our legs without going out of our way and here was an organisation providing just the facilities the motorhoming community needs; I’ve not found a WRJ funded car park yet that has a height barrier.
Interesting as the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund 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 list in the post a few days later which showed 68 funded rest stops; these spread from Wester Ross in Scotland to Cornwall in the south-west. 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 use the list was on a Spring trip to Pembrokeshire. The delight of a following a quest is that you never know exactly where it will take you and we found ourselves in some idyllic spots just because they were Rees Jeffreys Road Fund rest stops. Our first find was a small parking area on the B4582 near Cardigan, alongside the Crugiau Cemmaes bronze age barrow, which has stunning views over the Welsh countryside. At Wood near Newgale we enjoyed further views over Newgale Sands and St Brides Bay from the dramatically situated sloping car park.
Our final stop on this trip showed up the limitations of the list; with no grid references or even road numbers, even with the help of online maps and street view, there were some rest stops that were very difficult, if not impossible, to locate [you will notice my list is annotated with notes]. I think we found the road side rest stop at Pont Marteg on the A470 north of Rhayader in the stunning river Wye or Afon Gwy valley. The red kites circling above I stretched my legs, searching for the now familiar Rees Jeffreys Road Fund plaque; I never found it and so wasn’t completely sure we were in the right place.
The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund uses the interest earned on their investments each year to fund research projects and educational bursaries as well as road side rests and are happy to consider applications from any source, so if you think your local beauty spot needs a small car park let your council know about this opportunity.
Having visited Rees Jeffrey Road Fund rest stops in England and Wales, I got the opportunity to seek one out in Scotland. Just north of Glasgow, the car park at Queen’s View between Mingavie and Drymen was funded by my old friend WRJ. This car park enables the locals and visitors to park up and enjoy some fresh air and exercise; 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 car park was busy on a bank holiday weekend and needed a good litter pick to make it a really pleasant place to rest.
Most recently we visited the rest stop at Iron Gate car park, perfect for the wonderful walk up Moel Famau in Flintshire. Mr BOTRA and I have ticked off only a few of the WRJ road side rests but the list travels with us in the glove compartment of the van 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.