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Laybys are common features along British Roads, but they have a surprising number not just of shapes and sizes but also of origins. Many new roads have been built with them as part of the design process, others incorporate loops of the old road line as laybys, whilst other laybys have developed more by customary usage.
Laybys from old roads
Perhaps the most common layby type is that created from a piece of the old road line when a road is improved. These can extend from a shallow piece of additional roadside tarmac, barely large enough for a couple of cars, to lengthy off-line loops several hundred metres long and two vehicles wide throughout. In touristy areas, they will often be (or at least have once been) made into a roadside picnic stop, with a Tourist Information board, litter bins, and if space allows benches from which to admire the view. Such laybys are most common along river or lake shores, and in the national Park and scenic areas, but can be found across the country.
On occasion, where the old road was S2, the old carriageway is narrowed to a single lane in places, providing a series of, or single parking zone within the layby. Even more unusual is where the design of the new road makes one end of the old road unsuited to a junction, so forming a dead-end layby, provided with a turning area at the further end. An example of this can be found on the old A74 route at Harthope, south of Beattock Summit, and it is popular with lorry drivers.
Purpose Built Laybys
Where a new road has been built entirely off-line for long distances, laybys have often been added during the design process at regular intervals, providing a safe stopping point for road users. Perhaps the most well-known road to use such laybys is the A9 from Perth to Inverness, which has a series of numbered laybys at fairly regular intervals on both sides of the road.
Purpose built laybys can also be found added to older routes, for a variety of reasons, including those noted above. However, many have been added in recent years to provide small parking areas at points of interest, viewpoints and so on, thus stopping most people from stopping, often dangerously, on the carriageway.
The very nature of purpose built laybys means that someone somewhere must have designed them. Over the years design standards have changed, and as these vary across different types of road it is difficult to date the layby with any accuracy. As they can also be added to roads at a later date, the date of the road and layby don't necessarily match, although it is unlikely that the layby came first!
Early purpose built laybys on quieter roads will generally be a simple strip of tarmac alongside the main carriageway. For busier roads, a divider was added, necessitating a two vehicle width for the layby. The divider takes a variety of forms, with and without kerbs. The simplest divider is a gap in the tarmac, filled with gravel and marked by verge marker posts, whilst large ones are kerbed and planted with bushes, to screen the layby from the busy passing traffic. In newer laybys with dividers it is common for the entrance and exit points to be single lane, with the kerbs stepping out round a series of marked parking bays - almost a layby on a layby.
Ever since the car became a common sight on our roads, people have been stopping on their journeys for a variety of reasons, from breakdowns to picnics and pausing to get a photo of a view. Over the decades, some places became common stops, for whatever reason, with cars steadily eating away at the verge, or in unfenced areas simply creating a roadside parking spot. Whilst in the most popular spots, full size car parks have appeared, often there was little more than a muddy strip along the roadside just wide enough for cars to pull in. Some of these have subsequently been accepted by the authorities, with new purpose built laybys being installed, others have been blockaded with rocks, cones or barriers to prevent their usage, but a great number have survived as muddy pull-ins on the roadside.
Use of Laybys
Most laybys are intended for little more than short parking breaks on journeys, perhaps to stretch your legs, 'spend a penny' or for a picnic. The ability to pull in a breaking down car - particularly when it was common for cars to overheat on longer journeys, has also proven useful. However, laybys today are seeing a variety of new uses.
Many of the larger laybys on busier roads are now home to catering vans, such ventures normally needing licensing from the local authority. Some just park up for a few hours a day, perhaps over breakfast and lunch, targetting hauliers and long distance drivers. While others have much longer opening hours, leaving the vans there 24/7, even when not trading. Such traders have arisen in conjunction with the demise of the traditional Transport cafes and Little Chef style businesses, although which is cause and which is effect is uncertain!
Laybys near busy junctions have often become free parking areas for car sharers. In touristy areas many laybys have become a free overnight stop for people on holiday in caravans or motorhomes, and if there is sufficient land nearby, campers too. This is often discouraged with 'No Overnight Parking' signs, but the legality of many such signs in the Scottish Highlands was recently challenged, leading to their removal. Laybys have also become the longer-term stops for many of the people who reside permanently in caravans.