the jangled motorist were to decide that the motorway was driving him crazy, the only way out would be to get back on to the carriageway, and stay there till the next permissible exit.

The motorway planners don't like the idea of vehicles joining and leaving the motorway, anywhere but the designated access ramps. It would be too untidy (and would threaten the mini-monopolies enjoyed by the companies who run the Services).

But, there is another way out. It's clearly marked with No Entry signs (Except for Authorised Personnel), and it would be very naughty for an unauthorised personnel to use it.

But, if one were to find oneself, inexplicably, at the top of that short ramp, the reality of Watford Gap might be just the balm required.

The first revelation is that a canal runs along the back of Blue Boar's kitchens - the Grand Union Canal, on which gaily painted barges potter through rural England. Next to that is a railway line - the electrified route from London to Birmingham. True, there's also an untidy clump of industrial buildings, including the national distribution centre for Golden Wonder Crisps, and the Blue Boar administrative building (which looks rather less inviting than the services), but there's also the Stag's Head canal-side pub, (with a neat little sign reading "Front door round the back"), a delightful old coaching barn, alongside an immaculately maintained cottage and garden.

This is beginning to look the way England is supposed to be.

We're on the road known as the B4036. Follow this road East, across the insanity of the motorway, and we've left the twentieth century behind. We're in the village of Watford - a neat, quiet hamlet, within keen earshot of the traffic roar, but a million miles away in temperament and values. The village notice-board announces the county Best Kept Village competition, and, at first sight, Watford looks to be in with a chance.

The jewel of the village is the church. Glowing yellow-pink in the sun, rising above the village of Watford, but only just. Solid, stable, rooted in the soil of middle England, but pointing to the heavens, gargoyles illustrating the alternative, below.

The only thing missing is a Manor house. There must have been one. Could it be that it lies down there, beneath Blue Boar's car park?

Watford Gap Services Watford Gap Services Lady Henley's Manor Lady Henley's Manor
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