Seven British roads rich in history and beauty

The Roman Military Road B6318

Away from the not-so-smart motorways and commuter belts, the UK has some excellent main roads and slow lanes, rewarding not only for the scenery and views they uncover, but also for the stories they tell. Here are seven worth exploring.

A tour of Lancashire

Manchester, England.  Four chimneys on top of a building roof.

Manchester, England. Four chimneys on top of a building roof.

The A580 dual carriageway, or East Lancs Road, connects Liverpool with Manchester and was, when completed in 1934, the UK’s first purpose-built inter-urban road or, less prosaically, the first major new road to be built since the time roman. times. Other national highways were built on old roads, and this was true even for the highways that came later.

Seemingly straight as an arrow when you drive it, East Lancs has a few problems, such as at Leigh where it turns north to circle Chat Moss, the famous peat bog that posed a serious challenge to builders from Liverpool and Manchester. Railway.

The appearance of such a major new road arguably marked the shift from train to car, although the visionary builders of the A580 installed a cycle path along its length. Cyclists like the fact that the road is generally flat and passes under Billinge Lump, a measly 587 feet from the highest point in the region, near St Helens, as well as several other former mining and mill towns. on West Lancashire Plain.

border battlefields

Roman military road west of Housesteads Fort, Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland - Getty Images

Roman military road west of Housesteads Fort, Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland – Getty Images

Not to be confused with the nearby Roman-era Military Way, Military Road, a 31-mile section of the B6318 between Heddon-on-the Wall and Greenhead in Northumbria, was built in 1746 under the orders of General Wade, charged with improving logistics between forts and barracks to support the English armies against Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highlanders.

It was part of such a road network which includes today’s West Highland Way and parts of the National Cycle Network. After Culloden, troops were garrisoned throughout Scotland using General Wade’s roads.

The highway spans three counties and crosses a national border. Highlights of Vindolanda’s Hadrian’s Wall and Housesteads, Muckle Moss National Nature Reserve, Aydon Castle, a focal point of border skirmishes in the Middle Ages, and the Twice Brewed Inn in the village of Once Brewed, all are next to him.

The most northerly road in Great Britain

Lerwick, UK - Getty Images/EyeEm

Lerwick, UK – Getty Images/EyeEm

Shetlands, with its dramatic cliffs, beaches, islets and Iron Age brochs, may not seem like the kind of place you’d go for a driving holiday. But the long walk from Sumburgh Airport to the top of Unst, the UK’s northern tip (slightly higher than Oslo), makes for a wonderful Patagonia-style walk through the strangely bare, rolling hills. of the archipelago.

The two car and ferry crossings slow things down and are like decompression chambers: the further you travel, the calmer you feel. The Shetlanders will happily explain that this is because you’re putting more and more distance between yourself and the vipers’ dens of Edinburgh and London (they call their big island the mainland). The A970 is the southern section, passing Lerwick.

From Hillside, turn north-east on the A968, skirting the coast and around the Sullom Voe oil terminal before going through Yell and Unst. You’ll need the B9086 to finish the job, arriving at Hermaness National Nature Reserve to celebrate your high latitude, until the local great skuas (known here as bonxies) start shelling and combing your hair with their hooked talons.

Looking for Eleanor Cruces

Eleanor's Cross at Geddington

Eleanor’s Cross at Geddington

Every day, Londoners walk past the Queen Eleanor Memorial Cross on Charing Cross Station concourse without looking or associating it with the name of the place. The original 12 Eleanor Crosses were erected by a grief-stricken Edward I after his wife Eleanor died in 1290.

His marriage to the daughter of Ferdinand III of Castile in 1254 was politically unpopular but passionate and productive; they had 16 children (although only a few reached adulthood).

Eleanor accompanied Edward on a crusade and is said to have saved his life at the siege of Acre in 1272. She was traveling north with him to fight the Scots in November 1290 when she succumbed to fever and died. Only three of the medieval crosses have survived, at Geddington, Hardingstone and Waltham Cross.

Fragments, replicas, monuments and, in St Albans, a clock tower mark other sites, which are listed here and are well suited for a slow, lingering journey down the M1 and A1 (Great North Road), with romantic/ecclesiastical detours depending the map – ending at Lincoln Cathedral, where Eleanor’s innards were buried.

The Manchester Mini Motorway

Snake Pass, Peak District National Park - Alamy

Snake Pass, Peak District National Park – Alamy

The UK is littered with unfinished highway projects, from the North Cross Route on the outskirts of London to the motorway in Liverpool’s city center. The M67, conceived in 1967, was planned as a transpennine highway to link Manchester and Sheffield, two of the largest conurbations in England.

Contributors to the Pathetic Motorways website debate whether tunnels or bridges would have been allowed to bisect the Peak District, the UK’s first national park and totemic significance to access to activists.

The road was proposed after reports from Beeching led to the closure of the Manchester-Sheffield railway through Woodhead. But the highway was never built, apart from a five-mile section that serves as a bypass for all but the people of Denton and Hyde, for whom it is an asphalt canyon in the center of town.

It’s not the shortest in the UK, though, not even close: the M898 in Renfrewshire is less than a mile. It drives the M67 as an appetizer to the main course of the Snake and Woodhead steps it was meant to replace.

The Cotton Famine Trail

Cyclist on Rooley Moor Road, also known as Cotton Famine Road, between Rochdale and Rossendale - Alamy

Cyclist on Rooley Moor Road, also known as Cotton Famine Road, between Rochdale and Rossendale – Alamy

You can only drive a car along the north and south ends of the old turn off of Rooley Moor Road, which used to be called Catley Lane. In medieval times it was used to deliver wool to Whalley Abbey, the region’s ecclesiastical power base.

Today it connects Rochdale to the Rossendale Valley, with a sizeable section being known as the ‘Cotton Famine Road’. When the American Civil War halted the cotton trade, Lancashire mill workers sent a letter of support to Abraham Lincoln in 1862; he responded personally, acknowledging the hardships the town had had to endure.

Rather than leave the local workers unemployed, the Board of Wardens tasked with administering the Poor Law tasked them with improving a 1.5-mile stretch of road to the moor. About a third of a million pavers were laid; the cream-colored sandstone has led to its being referred to as the Yellow Brick Road. At 1,500 feet it’s a great place to take in the views and is popular with walkers, runners, and cyclists. More information at

the wonders of wales

Blaenau Ffestiniog is a mining town in Gwynedd, Wales - Getty Images

Blaenau Ffestiniog is a mining town in Gwynedd, Wales – Getty Images

Wales has some rough roads, such as the A465 Heads of the Valleys Road and the A40, which runs from Fishguard to High Holborn. But the A470 is a fabulous trunk road through Wales, especially appreciated as Wales has no motorways running from north to south (hardly any motorways). Cardiffs who want to see the north have to travel the 186 miles of this, the longest road in their country, to reach Llandudno.

It tells the industrial and cultural history of Wales en route, passing near or through Tiger Bay, Merthyr Tydfil (iron), the Rhondda Valley (coal) and Blaenau Ffestiniog (slate), the Brecon Beacons National Park, the Green Desert of Wales and mighty Snowdonia.

It even manages to skirt Llanrhychwyn, home to the oldest parish church in Wales. In 2014 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a show called The Welsh M1, hosted by Cerys Matthews, on the A470, still available here.

Which British roads do you find most rewarding to travel on? Tell us in the comment section below.

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