Ah, the M25. Bane of every motorist. Giant, doughnut-shaped car park to be avoided at all costs. But if you do find yourself on London's orbital* motorway, here a few things to look out for to help pass the time. We've organised them starting at Junction 1 (Dartford) and working clockwise around the M25.
(It goes without saying, safety comes first — don't be taking your eyes off the road to seek out these gems. In fact, probably best only look out for these if you're a passenger rather than at the wheel.)
Anything favourite M25 landmarks that we've missed? Let us know in the comments.
1. Star of Starhill (J4-5, right-hand side)
You'll need to be on the M25 on a dark evening in the run-up to Christmas to see this one. As the M25 and A21 meet, cast your eyes right up onto the hill — aptly-named Starhill — and you might just see a star shining brightly up in the sky.
Of course, it's not really in the sky. It's a large, star-shaped Christmas light which someone illuminates on the roof of a house or outbuilding on the side of the hill each festive season. We've never narrowed down its exact location but we would like to know which came first — the star, or the name of Starhill.
2. Thorpe Park, J12 (right hand-side)
Eyes right on Junction 12 of the M25, at the specific point where the M3 passes underneath you, to see the tops of some of the rides at Thorpe Park theme park — best done in winter when there are fewer leaves blocking the view. You're most likely to see the top loop of Saw, a horror film-themed ride which was the steepest vertical drop rollercoaster in the world when it opened in 2009.
3. Give Peas A Chance bridge, (J16-17, overhead)
We know, we know, the Give Peas A Chance graffiti has gone, after a decade adorning the railway bridge over the M25. It was ousted in September 2018, replaced by the tag 'Helch' but that's also gone now, replaced in 2020 with a 'Thank You NHS' message.
While we reckon that one deserved to stay for a while, that too has now been replaced by another graffiti tag. In short, after a decade without change, these days you never know what you'll see as you pass under this bridge.
Fun fact: the railway bridge is officially called the Chalfont Viaduct, or the Misbourne Viaduct, but we reckon a lot more people would know the 'Give Peas A Chance' bridge than either of those monikers.
4. Waltham Abbey (J25-26, left-hand side)
At time of writing, due to the demolition of a warehouse, there's a very specific spot on the M25 anti-clockwise, just after you've driven through the Holmesdale Tunnel, and opposite the huge Sainsbury's warehouse, from where you can see the square tower of Waltham Abbey Church. You probably wouldn't know it was Waltham Abbey to look at — its appearance is like that of any other church tower — but if you do catch a glimpse, ponder its position right above the possible location of King Harold's grave.
We suspect this one won't be here for long — as soon as another warehouse or industrial building is erected, the view will likely vanish.
5. Deer underpass (J26-27, underneath)
This one isn't so much something to see, as something to feel smug that you know about, while most drivers pass on by, completely unaware.
On the stretch of M25 shortly before you reach the Bell Common Tunnel (more on which below), you may well see a herd of deer. They could be on either side of the road, either in the open field down to your left, or up on the hill side or in the forest to the right. How so? There's a deer underpass built underneath the motorway at this point, allowing the herd of hoofstock to come and go as they please, away from the threat of traffic above.
6. Copped Hall (J26-27, left-hand side)
This one's actually better viewed if you're driving anti-clockwise, over on the right-hand side, though passengers can crane their necks to look back over their left shoulder as the roadside trees clear (drivers: eyes firmly ahead, please).
The large, manor-style house perched magnificently on the top of the hill is Copped Hall, a house which has existed in some form since the 12th century. The M25 actually cuts through a corner of what was once the landscaped parkland surrounding it, which is the home of the fallow deer and muntjac for whom the underpass mentioned above was built.
Following a large fire in 1917, the building gradually slid into dilapidation, though its shell remained intact, and over the last couple of decades, it's been lovingly restored. These days, it's a private estate, only open to the public for special events.
7. Epping Foresters Cricket Club (J26-27, overhead)
The Bell Common Tunnel isn't the only tunnel on the M25 — but it's the only one with a cricket pitch on top. The Epping Foresters Cricket Club predates the motorway, and with forest on one side and houses on the other, the most sensible option was to bury the new motorway beneath the existing land, including that cricket pitch.
You can't actually see any of the pitch from the M25 below, and you won't get hit by a stray ball; satellite images suggest that the centre of the pitch sits directly above the eight lanes of traffic below.
8. Hill Hall (J27-28, left-hand side)
Shortly after you whizz over the M11 at Junction 27 of the M25, another intriguingly large house appear on top of a hill. That'd be Hill Hall, an Elizabethan manor which is now managed by English Heritage, though parts of it are used as private residences. The rest can be visited via guided tours on certain days of the month.
9. Old MacDonald's Farm (J27-28, left-hand side)
No one, absolutely no one, not a single person, has driven along this part of the M25 without muttering 'ee i ee i oh'. Old MacDonald's Farm is a kids' farm and park where, rather than putting up a fence or hedge to hide from the M25, they've left it fully open to be ogled by passing motorists — a very effective advertising technique, we expect. We've seen alpacas, highland cows and ponies as we've cruised past, alongside what we think was a giant sheep made of Lego. And yes, we've recommended it to friends with toddlers, so that advertising works. Ee i ee i oh, indeed.
10. Elizabeth line crossover (J28-29, overhead)
Immediately after Junction 28, a railway bridge passes over the M25, one with overhead cables. This is the Liverpool Street - Clacton-on-Sea line, which also means it's part of the Elizabeth line route. Harold Wood station is within the M25, but the final two stops, Brentwood and Shenfield, are outside of its boundaries, meaning you could well spot the #PurpleTrain whizzing past overhead.
At its other end, the Elizabeth line crosses the M25 between junctions 15 and 16, between West Drayton and Iver stations, but here the railway passes underneath the road, so you won't see any trains.
11. Solar farm (J29-30, right-hand side)
Better seen on your left-hand side when travelling in a clockwise direction, a small field has been given over entirely to solar panels. It's colloquially referred to as Cranham Golf Course Solar Farm, but as far as we can tell, that's merely a reference to its neighbour, rather than having any functional link to the golf course. Amusingly, sheep can often be spotted grazing the floor below the solar panels — 100 of them, apparently — proof that solar farms can work alongside agriculture (though admittedly, it's not the prettiest countryside view we've seen).
12. South Ockendon Wind Farm (J29-30, left-hand side)
This particular stretch is a hive of renewable energy. Just a couple of minutes (traffic permitting) further on from the solar farm, you'll spot some wind turbines. Despite opposition from local residents, South Ockendon Wind Farm has been built alongside the M25 in recent years. A pair of wind turbines can occasionally be glimpsed from cars on the carriageways, depending on leaf cover at different times of year.
13. Lakeside (J30-31, left-hand side)
Shortly after Junction 30, there's a lot to look at, thanks to the Thurrock retail parks and Lakeside Shopping Centre. The shop signs atop the units change regularly, depending on the varying fortunes of retailers, but a couple of landmarks are permanent.
The glass dome and spire are the central atrium of Lakeside Shopping Centre (the central point by the lifts outside Primark and M&S, for those who know it from the inside). The spire itself is sometimes illuminated in different colours for certain occasions, though more often that not, it's a light blue.
The Tunnel Estate sign is a Brutalist-looking, triangular tower, originally built as a digital, illuminated clock (though that's not worked for many years) as well as a mast. It stands several storeys tall, so is easily seen from the M25 in daylight.
A more recent, and seasonal, addition to the Lakeside skyline is a giant ferris wheel, one of the attractions at the redeveloped entertainment area by the lake. We estimate it's about half a kilometre away from the M25, but it was easily visible from the motorway when it popped up in summer 2021, and it makes an appearance in winter too.
(As an aside, we've often wondered about the land mound which can be seen next to Thurrock Services, at Junction 30. Is it a natural feature, or a manmade, Northala Fields-style hump, made from rubble of a construction site — Lakeside itself, perhaps? If you know, do get in touch.)
14. QEII Bridge sign, (J31-1, left-hand side)
Immediately after you've passed Lakeside, as you approach the foothills of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, which forms part of the Dartford Crossing, look out for a large, unattractive concrete sign reading 'The Queen Elizabeth Bridge 1991'. It does, quite obviously, commemorate the official opening of the bridge by the Queen on 30 October 1991, which got us thinking — is this the largest lettering anywhere to commemorate a royal visit or opening?
Top tip: NEVER mention the cost of the crossing to someone who uses it regularly. A toll was originally introduced to retrospectively fund the construction of the crossing, with the intention of making it free to use once it had paid for itself. This never happened, and charges have in fact increased.
15. Eurostar route (J31-1, both sides)
Just a few seconds further along from the royal signage, a railway line runs beneath the road bridge. You probably wouldn't notice it if there's no train running along it while you pass. If your trip does coincide with a train, it'll merely be a glint in your eye as it speeds past underneath you in the space of a few seconds.
It'll likely be the Eurostar, en-route between St Pancras and Ebbsfleet International (though not stopping there at present) or vice versa, or a Southeastern High Speed train on the same route.
*Bonus fact: the M25 doesn't actually form a complete orbit of London. You can drive all the way around London, but the stretch between Junctions 30 and 2 is technically A road (the A282) rather than M25 motorway, so it's not a complete circle.