Spaghetti Junction recipe

Published on 20 April 2018

Do you find complex junctions unnerving? Back in 1972, when the M6 opened through Birmingham, one local newspaper thought it was so devilishly complex that their readers would need a pull-out-and-keep guide to help them navigate it.

Junction 6 of the M6 is called Gravelly Hill Interchange, but it's known to almost everyone by its nickname. In planning since the late 1950s, designs were unveiled to a baffled public in 1965, and the Birmingham Evening Post ran a picture on their front page with the headline "Spaghetti Junction". Since that day nobody has really ever called it anything else.

To this day it remains one of the most complex interchanges on the UK's motorway network, and not just because of the sliproads that twist around each other. The whole thing is suspended above the confluence of several waterways and a railway viaduct. It's a cliché to say it worries and intimidates drivers. In 2007 it came second in a national poll of the "scariest" road junctions. (The Hanger Lane Gyratory in West London came first.)

A rival paper may have named it, but the Birmingham Post were not going to be left standing when it opened. They leapt to the assistance of their bemused readers, providing a free pull-out guide to the new junction, printed on A4 card that folded up like a leaflet. You could keep it in the car and refer to it when planning journeys. Its six sides explained how to get from one arm of the junction to another, with maps of the sliproads you'd take and diagrams of each sign.

Side one of the unique routefinder... Click to enlarge
Side one of the unique routefinder... Click to enlarge
...and side two. Click to enlarge
...and side two. Click to enlarge

So, how do you make Spaghetti Junction easier to use? The Birmingham Post tried to do it with maps and diagrams, carefully pointing out where to fork left and where to fork right, and meticulously listing what each sign would tell you.

The fact is, though, that Spaghetti Junction is only really fearsome when you see it from the air - which is where all the photographs are taken. On the ground, it comes at you one decision at a time, and at any particular point you only have to worry about staying straight on or taking a sliproad on the left. It's really quite easy.

In 1972, though, nobody knew that - least of all the Birmingham Post. The motorway boom of the 1960s and 1970s left behind all sorts of peculiar artefacts, created as people adjusted to a new world of non-stop high speed travel. This example, though, might just be one of the most carefully crafted and delightfully unnecessary ones we've ever seen.

The pictures in this post were made available by Peter, one of our readers. Thank you, Peter!


Stourdave 20 April 2018

I’ve driven the top 6 junctions on that list. Elephant and Castle (both pre and post changes) is far scarier than Gravelly Hill. Can’t argue with Hangar Lane at 1 though. It is basically a giant skid pan with a billion lanes where (as I’ve described elsewhere on CBRD) lawless North London drivers furiously exchange inexplicable gaps to get to where they want to go under what seems to be an international statute of secrecy.

Back to the scans - you’ve identified the best bit of this for me. This document almost feels like the primer that could have reassured sceptical victorians that a train over 40mph wouldn’t cause them to spontaneously combust. There is a “Brave New World” feel to it, which the paper’s editor has cleverly exploited to make Spag Jn feel like hell, purely to shift a few copies!

It’s a pretty clear guide, mind!

B4444 26 April 2018

A map of the newly opened junction was published on the cover of the AA 'Drive' magazine, and (just for fun), I remember using it when travelling south leaving the M6, and then re-joining it a bit later on via various slip roads and roundabouts. For some reason the Birmingham Post obviously chose not to illustrate that option!

Terry Trumpets 11 May 2018

In the Netherlands there is a junction called Knooppunt Ridderkerk in the middle of urban Rotterdam, where a very busy east-west motorway meets a very busy north-south motorway at the corner of the Rotterdam RING (which is more like a parallelogram), follows the north-south motorway for a short distance then diverges from it again. Congestion is minimised by means of braided sliproads, separate local/express carriageways, multiple C/D lanes and a number of redundant sliproads that have been kept open in case a diversion is necessary.

It started life as a cloverleaf junction next to a trumpet junction, but in its present form it is so staggeringly complex it makes Spaghetti Junction look amateurish in comparison. However, like Spaghetti Junction, it is very clearly signposted on the ground, so it's easy to navigate, provided you know where you're going and pay attention to the signs.

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Published20 April 2018

Last updated20 April 2018