As a bit of a naturalised southerner I often find myself coming out with phrases such as, ‘there are some cracking bits of road in Hertfordshire’ or ‘you don’t have to get far away from London to get to some proper driver’s roads’ and of course both of those phrases are true (honestly), but if pushed on the subject of my favourite road I need to go much further north.
After a short jaunt up the A1 and A1M (three hours or on the bike one full tank) I am always cheered by the sight of the signpost for the A68, the start of my route to Alston and beyond. A short run on the dual carriageway and then a nice undulating ‘A’ road heading towards West and Bishop Auckland takes me up to the start of my driving, or better still riding, heaven. A left turn at the roundabout onto the A689 and a run towards Wolsingham, my childhood memories and scenery start coming back to me.
Running parallel to the River Wear the road is excellent and even slowing for the villages dotted along the way is part of the enjoyment. It continues up and over the moors with marker posts to the side of the road - a reminder that it may not be quite so pleasant in the winter. The hills are stunning and the scenery continues to take your breath away.
Twists and turns aplenty with a road surface that at least in my mind is smooth and grippy, through Shittlehope and Stanhope. The hopes then give way to gates as Eastgate and then Westgate appear on the map. The River Wear is still tracing the course of the road until we get to Wearhead where we part company.
The scenery stays with us, and one day I am going to stop at the Weardale Railway or the Killinghope Mining Experience but only on a day when I get bored of the road. I will keep enjoying the ride until I get to Alston where I will pop into the station for a cup of tea and a visit to The Hub to remind me that this area was a thriving community in the past.
Some days the journey will continue to ‘Hartside Pass’ and then on to the Lake District along roads of a similar vein, other days I may head up to Haltwhistle (the centre of Britain) and then after all the bends may use the Roman Road to allow myself some respite from the enjoyment.
A word of warning: if you use the Roman Road, it has one bend in it and after 39 years of trying I still haven’t got that one right. Now back to the start of my thoughts: ‘There are some cracking bits of road in the north’ and I need to get out more to remind myself where they are.
By Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart head of driving and riding standards