Spaghetti Junction is a motorway junction masquerading as England's largest car park and is probably Birmingham's most famous landmark. On a road map it can be identified as Junction 6 on the M6 leading to the centre of Birmingham. Officially it is recorded as Gravelly Hill Interchange, but nobody ever uses this title as the local term - Spaghetti Junction - perfectly captures the essence of its appearance and travellers' experiences. The name almost allows people to visualise the way three motorways meet and tangle with a whole host of major and minor roads that lead into and out of Brum (local vernacular for Birmingham). Raised hundreds of feet above the ground on concrete pillars, strips of road twist above, below and around each other rather like an octopus trying to swat a fly.
You will be able to discern that you are approaching Spaghetti Junction by the number of lorries1 sitting nose-to-tail on the inside lane of the motorway. If you want to use the junction to visit a part of Brum, driving etiquette tells us that you fall in line behind them. Any attempt to overtake them and pull in later is futile - lorry drivers would rather feed their grandmothers to the lions than let a car pull in in front of them.
To help drivers and passengers pass the time while they crawl through this huge monstrosity of concrete, the government has decided to erect speed restriction signs. The speeds that flash up are so obviously impossible to achieve that the locals have now concluded that it is to encourage them to play bingo while they wait. The crawling pace means that if you are planning to use this stretch of motorway on a regular basis it is recommended that you buy a car with automatic transmission in order to avoid suffering from 'clutch foot syndrome'.
The slow speed of travel through Gravelly Hill also means that if you are travelling through with a young family you should use the service stations at either just past Junction 3 (northbound), or just past Junction 11 (southbound) to ensure that your family are sufficiently fed, watered and relieved for the next couple of hours. Regular travellers going northbound towards Telford, Shrewsbury and Mid-Wales should be aware that there is less traffic on the M54 (take Junction 10A on the M6). However, there are also no services. So the only advantage the M54 has over the M6 is that you can now travel quickly while you are hungry, thirsty or bursting for the toilet!