Photo: Darren Baker/Shutterstock

Driving on the Left Side of the Road During a Rain Storm Is Not a Travel Experience Anyone Needs

Travel Safety Road Trips
by Morgane Croissant Mar 14, 2024

When I suggested to Dorian, my friend of over two decades, to go for a quick weekend to Oxford, England, with me in early January, he agreed immediately. When I asked how he wanted us to get there, he said: “We’ll drive.” To which I replied: “No, you’ll drive. I can’t drive on the left side of the road.”

Dorian is an experienced and confident driver. Despite having lived his entire life in France, he has crisscrossed the UK in both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive vehicles many times and has learned how to drive on the other side of the road safely. I, on the other hand, despite having lived in Ireland for several years in my twenties, cannot imagine doing so.

Dorian lives in Dunkirk, a city located at the northernmost tip of France right across the Channel from Dover, England. A few days before our trip, I crossed France by train to meet him there, and then, on the morning of January 5, 2024, we drove his car onto one of the dozens of ferries that connect Northern France to Southern England every day. In less than 90 minutes, we were in the UK.

The crossing was smooth and sunshine awaited us in Dover. From there, we hit the motorway (the British equivalent of the freeway) under a clear blue sky. Like any road tripper worth their salt, we made several detours. We stopped to Ightham Mote, a beautiful National Trust property, for a couple of hours, went to have lunch in a traditional pub in nearby Tonbridge, had afternoon tea in the elegant town of Royal Turnbridge Wells, and then got back on the road toward our first destination: the little village of Ham in the county of Wiltshire, where we were to spend the night before heading to Oxford the next day.

The Chaser Inn pub in Tornbridge and afternoon tea in Royal Turnbridge Wells, before the chaos and the fear.

The Chaser Inn pub in Tornbridge (left) and the afternoon tea in Royal Turnbridge Wells (right), before the chaos and the fear. Photo: Morgane Croissant / Dorian Dallongeville

By the time we left The Chaser Inn in Tornbridge, dark clouds had gathered and a light rain had started. After less than 15 minutes of driving, however, what we thought was a shower turned into a first-class rain storm that forced us to have the windshield wipers on full speed.

It is fair to say that the motorways in England are poorly maintained. The litter is out of control (from plastic bags and candy wrappers to shoes and entire tires), the lines are faded, and the asphalt is very damaged, making driving at 70 mph not only uncomfortable, but scary.

It was certainly the case on the notorious M25, the motorway that encircles London, when Dorian was driving his tiny little Mini Cooper with me in the passenger seat. By then, night had fallen and the rain had worsened to the point where we had to drive no faster than 55 mph with our noses to the windshield. The traffic at the end of the day on a Friday on this stretch of road with six lanes in each direction was very heavy, with 18-wheelers zipping by and covering neighboring cars in sheets of water. It would have been one of the scariest drives of my life had it not been for the large puddles that lined the edge of the motorway, making us aquaplane every five minutes or so. As it was, it was the most terrifying experience of my life.

For over two hours, Dorian white-knuckled the steering wheel, trying to keep the little car from swerving under the wheels of the huge trucks that surrounded us. His concentration was intense, trying not to forget that he had to keep driving on the left side of the road amid the chaos. I was on the verge of a panic attack, found it difficult to talk or breathe. I had to ask him to stop at the nearest rest area (known as a service area in the UK) so I could relax a little. When we pulled in the Cobham rest area, it dawned on us that this was not normal weather at all, even for England. The parking lot was flooded and we had to wade in immense puddles to get to the building. After 45 minutes of rest, we took a deep breath and got back on the road, knowing the end of the motorway was near and that the country roads would be less hairy.

For people who have traveled extensively in England, however, we were fairly naive about the state of the country roads, especially in wet weather. Famously narrow, English B roads are also full of pot holes, and lined with fields and ditches that regularly overflow. Just before reaching out the Crown & Anchor, the pub where we planned to spend the night in the village of Ham, we encountered a fast-flowing river where there should have been a road. It lifted the car and nearly dragged us to our death. How Dorian managed to get out of this mess by keeping his cool remains a mystery.

The tiny vilage of Ham, Wiltshire, with the only pub, the Crown and Anchor, in the background

Ham, Wiltshire, with the only pub, the Crown and Anchor, in the background. Photo: Dorian Dallongeville

Upon arrival at the pub, exhausted and anxious about the state of the car which was nearly submerged, we vowed to never do this again. The pub’s TVs showed extreme floods all over the country. We were such idiots for risking our lives.

The next day, after a long sleep and a hearty breakfast, we hit the road again. The rain had ceased, the roads were clear, Dorian was ready to drive. We kept moving.

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