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Britain’s most potholed road finally gets filled – by the Mail! Residents delighted after spate of damaged cars, sprained ankles and cracked heads

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There is something rather wonderful about driving a two-tonne roller over freshly spread Tarmac. The way it softens and soothes. The lovely finish. The warm sweet smell of bitumen and the dangerous sense of invincibility as you squash everything in your path.

But perhaps, best of all, is the fact that I’m driving it here in the rather grandly named Whitehall; a 200-yard stretch of bumpy lane on the outskirts of the historic port of Watchet on the Somerset coast.

Whitehall links the town to the village of Washford, the coastal path and the West Somerset Mineral Line — an old railway once used to transport iron ore down to the harbour.

On one side of the lane are the back gates of a stretch of neat little cottages. On the other, a few cosy retirement homes — in turquoise, pink and yellow, with happy names like Sunrays, Sunset Cottage and The Dingle.

All are immaculately tended, with climbing roses, lovingly planted rock gardens and the odd gnome.

But Whitehall itself is a disgrace.

Whitehall is a 200-yard stretch of bumpy lane on the outskirts of the historic port of Watchet on the Somerset coast (Jane Fryer pictured next to a pothole)

Whitehall is a 200-yard stretch of bumpy lane on the outskirts of the historic port of Watchet on the Somerset coast (Jane Fryer pictured next to a pothole)

The lane was recently crowned England's most potholed road. Pictured, Jane Fryer tips a wheelbarrow of asphalt onto the road

The lane was recently crowned England’s most potholed road. Pictured, Jane Fryer tips a wheelbarrow of asphalt onto the road

Or at least it was, until the Daily Mail got here, with the wonderful Daniel McFayden and his team of lads from DanMac Tarmac Contractors to fix it.

Lumpy, bumpy, cracked and crumbling; and riven with so many potholes, 21 at the last count, filled with murky brown water and some up to eight inches deep — this little lane was recently crowned England’s most potholed road. Not that the local council seems to care.

Much more worrying though, is that it was also a very strong contender for England’s most dangerous road.

Because unlike other severely potholed roads, the real problem here isn’t the odd flat tyre, damaged undercarriage, or insurance claim — though surely no one would drive down here out of choice.

No, it is the dozens of accidents being sustained by those walking on this short stretch of badly-lit road.

Not just the odd twisted ankle and grazed knee — though there have been plenty of these. We’re talking concussions, emergency ambulances and at least three hospital stays as residents, visitors and ramblers have fallen victim to the potholes.

One walking group from Williton refer to it as ‘Break Ankle Lane’ on their Facebook group.

A lady from Kent who was visiting Bill and Sheila Wilson in Sunrays fell, hit her head and suffered a bleed on the brain.

Another resident tripped, fell, knocked herself out and was in hospital for three days.

And a few months back, a cyclist hit a pothole hard and went whizzing over the handlebars.

Paul Stevens, at 44 one of Whitehall’s youngsters, is forever dashing out of his home to help people.

‘I found one old boy in a terrible state, covered in blood. He’d hit his head on Edna Scutt’s wall so I called him an ambulance.’

Paul’s wife, Donna, 45, twisted her ankle in broad daylight in one of the deeper holes and was off work for a fortnight.

‘We’ve been doing everything we can to get the council to fix it,’ he says. But, sadly, with no joy.

Because as long as anyone can remember, other than insisting that the issue is ‘complex’ and tricky, the council has done absolutely nothing — no mending, no patching, no lovely new shiny black asphalt.

Instead, when a section of the local coastal path was closed due to a landslide, they diverted even more walkers and cyclists down Whitehall. The local highways department has insisted it was not their responsibility because Whitehall was a footpath.

And then the footpaths department insisted that, because the potholes were over 2.5 metres apart, it was fine just to walk down the middle. Then, a couple of weeks ago, it was apparently scandalously suggested by the council that the residents — most of whom are in their 80s and 90s — must have caused the damage and should fix the potholes themselves. Which did not impress Sheila Wilson very much. ‘Really?! I don’t know very much about filling in roads, so I’m not sure it’s for me,’ she says, still rather surprised by it all as we drink coffee on her green leather three-piece suite.

‘I’ve travelled all over the world, I’ve done a lot. I’ve lived in Hong Kong, I chopped down trees in the war. So I’d have a go and do my best — of course I would — but I’m going to be 102 in June!’

In fact, the whole situation sounded so mad, bad, and totally bananas that, this week, the Daily Mail decided to step in and fix Whitehall once and for all.

With the help of the DanMac team, who drove all the way from Surrey to do it at a ridiculously cut-price rate because, as Daniel puts it, flashing a very shiny gold molar: ‘I’m a bit of a softie when it comes to Tarmac. I love it. I really love it. I live and breathe and dream about it. I could bore you to death about Tarmac.’

Just the thought that contractors might finally be on their way caused a flurry of excitement for the Whitehall residents. ‘Bless your cotton socks!’ messages Bill Wilson, 90, who is married to Sheila, describes himself as ‘her toyboy’ and sends me a link to some uplifting Mozart in celebration.

Later, he tells me about poor Sally, the visiting friend, who tripped and fell in the dark, bashed her head and ended up in Taunton hospital with a bleed on the brain.

‘We saw her before they took her to hospital, and she was like a zombie!’ he says.

‘Thank God!’ says Brian Pankhurst, 79, who lives in Mineral Cottage with his partner Phillip Sealey, 94, and their two Crufts-winning standard Dachshunds. ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you!’ says Merielle Brown, 73.

It was Merielle who took the nasty tumble on Christmas night, 2021, on her way home from her sister’s house — just a couple of hundred yards away.

One minute she was fine, the next she had tripped, hit her head on Edna Scutt’s wall (another one!) and a neighbour found her lying unconscious in a pool of blood in the biggest of all the 21 potholes.

The lane was lumpy, bumpy, cracked and crumbling and riven with so many potholes, 21 at the last count (Jane pictured on a steamroller)

The lane was lumpy, bumpy, cracked and crumbling and riven with so many potholes, 21 at the last count (Jane pictured on a steamroller)

Even then, it took a good three hours for an ambulance to arrive. She had ten staples in her head and spent three days in hospital.

‘All because of a silly pothole!’ she says. ‘It isn’t safe. It isn’t safe at all.’

So when the team finally roar up in two trucks, a van and with a huge truck full of boiling asphalt to follow, there’s quite a reception. Everyone — even Sheila, who fairly leaps off her sofa — pops out to say hello and thank you to Dan who is already examining the road surface and shaking his head.

‘Wow! Some of these holes are mega. Really mega,’ he says.

‘Look, this one here. If you really measure, it’s probably eight inches deep — and there’s so many of them.’

Dan knows his Tarmac. He’s worked for footballers, billionaires, a Dragon from Dragons’ Den, spends a lot of time sorting out other people’s botch jobs and will be working the whole of the Easter weekend.

Once, when he was held up by roadworks on the way home, he got out of his truck and helped the workers lay the Tarmac himself. With a road this bad, he explains, it is pointless just to patch and fill the holes: ‘A waste of time and money.’ So instead, over two days, he and his lads will clear, level, fill, shovel, rake, smooth, spread, tamp and roll an entire 200-yard stretch — as the residents peer out of their windows and marvel.

‘We’d given up hope,’ says Edna Scutt, 72.

Of course, we all know that potholes are a nightmare. Councils are short of money, contractors are working flat out, and our roads are getting worse and worse.

Earlier this month, the Asphalt Industry Alliance revealed that authorities were expected to fix two million potholes across England and Wales this financial year — up 43 per cent from last year.

But according to the longer term residents, this particular battle has been going on for decades.

Edna has lived in Sunset Cottage since 1994 and has lost count of the number of campaigns, petitions and efforts made to get the council to act. ‘Over the years, you give up the will,’ she says.

Lorna Scott, 88, and a former educator, has lived in Whitehall for seven years with her husband Bruce, also 88. She has been in touch with everyone and anyone from the council, with no joy.

When Bill and Sheila moved in seven years ago, they were full of vim and zip to get things sorted.

‘But everyone else said, don’t bother. There’s no point. They’ll never do anything,’ says Bill.

While several residents who could afford it — Robert Thorne, 90, and the Scotts — paid thousands to have small sections fixed outside their homes, it was not an option open to all.

‘My husband died five years ago,’ says Edna. ‘I can only just afford to keep the house up.’

Brian and his partner Philip, relative newbies up at the far end of the lane, bought new energy to the fight. And Robbie Baker, 68 and a retired solicitor, lent a beady legal eye. ‘I’ve been a solicitor for Christ knows how many years and this is not technical or complex,’ she says.

‘We know Watchet is a backwater, that’s why we moved here.

‘It’s quiet and calm and full of community. But we shouldn’t be ignored.’ When I contacted the council last week, they again insisted that it was a ‘footpath’ not a road, said they were still trying to establish who was responsible in the long term and that they would do some repairs, but could not confirm when.’

Round and round and round we go. Which is why, in the end, the Mail took matters into our own hands. In steady drizzle on day one of the job, the team sets to. Dan, 37, chats on about his favourite subject.

‘Did you know there are about 60 different types of Tarmac?’ he says, adding that, nine times out of ten, contractors use the wrong material when filling potholes so, a bit like an organ transplant, it fails. And how, when it arrives straight from the furnace, the asphalt is so hot — 130 to 150C — that it warms the whole area. That 98 per cent of Tarmac is now recycled. And that there is a chap in Mitcham who is so good at making special Tarmac rakes that they are in demand worldwide.

Just as it really starts to rain, we’re ready for the roller — an articulated monster that is a lot harder to drive than it looks. As I discover when I nearly hit Edna’s wall, but, unlike the other poor souls, not with my head.

By day two, things are really cooking. Again, it pours on and off, but everyone is feeling buoyant — particularly when a massive lorry with £2,500-worth of steaming asphalt arrives mid-morning and starts emptying it out from little hatches in the back and the air is filled with a warm, sweet smell.

And now there is something strangely satisfying about watching Dan’s team who are almost balletic as they swoop and sweep with their rakes and brooms in the driving rain, soaked to the skin. Even the tamping and rolling is pleasing.

Nothing beats the feeling of fixing a road — and, most importantly, making it safe for a lovely bunch of people like this. So friendly and warm, despite all the frustrations.

Bill tries to give Dan’s lads a fat wodge of cash for a nice fish and chip lunch.

Others ask if they can contribute: ‘I can’t afford very much, but I’m so grateful,’ says one elderly resident. Several dash back indoors out of the rain to write heartfelt letters of thanks.

When we finally finish, just as our feet are frozen blocks and the sun peeks through to make the Tarmac gleam and shine, Sheila and Bill and Paul & Co are back outside in a flash to inspect our handiwork.

‘Thank you, thank you, thank you. Whatever will the council make of it?’

Goodness, we clean forgot to tell them! So I email them right away to say: ‘Don’t worry, it’s now been done, so you can cross it off your list.’

And, surprise, surprise, no one replies. But this time, no one cares.



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