Favourite Drives

First published June 2015.

FAVOURITE DRIVES – by Nigel Raeburn.

One of the nicest by-products of a lifetime of rallying and navigating is a good knowledge of the road network.  Many non-rallying folk who rarely venture off motorways or A roads are missing a treat.  Also those who are not map readers may remain in ignorance of some wonderful roads.  I thought I would jot down a few notes about some of my favourite routes and ask readers to send in details of any of their own favourites which we could put into a future Newsletter.  What qualifies as a favourite?  I think it has to qualify on two counts – firstly driving pleasure (adequate width so oncoming traffic is not a worry, open sight lines, a variety of bends, low traffic volumes, sensible speed limits, the chance to blend bends with smooth racing lines etc) and secondly the scenery and discovering little-known gems such as views, waterfalls etc..  If the route is useful in avoiding busy A roads or towns as well then that is a bonus.

These thoughts were triggered for me just yesterday when I was going to marshal on the Plains Rally and had to travel from Welshpool to near Bala early on a Saturday morning.  The most direct route used the B4391 through the Tanat Valley and then over the hills towards Bala.  Because it’s at ’90 degrees’ from normal travel from home to anywhere in Wales it is not a road I’ve used much previously and it has rarely fitted into rally routes – but it was a joy on a sunny morning from both a driving and scenery point of view.  So I have a new addition to my favourite drives.

I think my all-time favourite is the drive from Penrith to Hexham via Alston which goes over the summit of Hartside at around 2000 feet above sea level.  It’s A road so moderately busy and I think now it has more speed limits than it did some 30 years ago when I was working in Newcastle quite a lot and travelled this route fairly often.  I have memories of journeys over this road in all weathers including the snow closing in – I once gave a lift to a lorry driver who had skidded into a ditch and wanted a lift to get rescue help from Alston.  The views of the Lake District from Hartside are quite something on a clear day.

There is quite a choice of routes from Manchester to Newcastle – I used to enjoy the route from Brough to the Consett area via Middleton-in-Teesdale and Stanhope (famous for the ford test on Le Jog – you can go the long way round and don’t have to use the ford – in fact I think the ford is closed to normal traffic nowadays).

Another favourite is useful if you have to drive to Edinburgh from the Carlisle area but want to avoid the busy main roads.  Take the A7 from Carlisle to Langholm then turn left to take the B roads through Eskdalemuir to Innerleithen and on almost to the outskirts of Edinburgh – you might only see 10 moving vehicles in some 50 miles of B road.  Again, in my working days I went to Edinburgh quite often and always enjoyed this route.  You needed to remain alert though as the roads are not quite wide enough to pass oncoming traffic easily.

Closer to home, the B5056 from north of Ashbourne to south of Bakewell is renowned as a driver’s route.  These types of road with sweeping bends carry an extra hazard these days, especially at weekends, and that is motorcyclists – who understandably enjoy these roads as much as keen drivers.

Some of the well-known roads from road rallies are too narrow to be really enjoyed in daylight – such as Abergwesyn to Tregaron or the Hardknott and Wrynose Passes in the Lakes.  Still worth visiting but needing to be tackled with care as a lot of the time there is limited visibility.

So if you have any favourite route you would like to share – let me know by email to [email protected] and I’ll try to put them into a future Newsletter.

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