From Roader's Digest: The SABRE Wiki
|Length:||91.7 miles (147.6 km)|
|Meets:||A814, A8, A727, A726, A719, M77, A71, A76, A735, A78, A719, A70, A713, A79, A719, A714, A751, A717, A75, A718, A716, unclassified|
|Old route now:||A79|
|Route outline (key)|
A77. It rolls off the tongue with a clarity and a confidence that suggests an importance so often lacking in the roads native to south-west Scotland. This one though does the job as a proper, no-holds barred trunk road from the very hub of Glasgow via Ayrshire's brightest lights to the ferry terminals at the full stop at the end of Scotland – from its very heart to its very extremities. Like many of the most important Scottish A-roads, its importance has been truncated by a motorway companion, but only slightly in this case.
Glasgow - Giffnock
The A77 is probably the only road in the country that doesn't start on dry land. It used to, but it lost a couple of hundred yards because the A814 shifted to Clydeside in the 1960s. By turning off or crossing Clyde Street and beginning a journey on the A77, one is immediately faced with mounting Glasgow Bridge. It is a generous four lanes wide, forming a triumvirate with the Central Station railway approach and George V Bridge, which is used by the route's northbound equivalent. The two directions of the A77 are separated by the imposing railway viaduct, with retailers squeezed under every other archway. A few roads dare to cross beneath the multiple tracks to bisect both A77s, the most notable of which is Norfolk Street carrying the erstwhile A8 (although just about every east-west road in this area has the A8 number). This gives the A77s an opportunity to merge and continue from here as one.
Eglinton was a typical inner-city area of dilapidated industrial remnants, but much is being done here to improve the area around the road; not least of which is the immense M74 flyover that shadows Eglinton Toll. It is a formerly famous junction where Eglinton Street and Pollokshaws Road met at a shallow angle, a “gushet” in Glaswegian parlance. Now a fence has been erected between the two, Maxwell Street has been shut off and what was a 5-way intersection is now no junction at all, which is a shame as Pollokshaws Road is the original line of the A77 (with what has gone before the A727); it crossed the Clyde on the Victoria Bridge to end on the A8 on the right bank. The A77 can continue uninterrupted via Eglinton Toll to Pollokshaws and Pollokshields, Glasgow's south-side tenemented heart, as the undisputed major route. Lush Queen's Park breaks up the sandstone view somewhat, as does the junction with the B768 Minard Road, an important route bisecting south of the city.
The affluence of Queen's Park gives way to Shawlands, and the residents are packed four stories high all around. This is a busy road, much of which has been given over to parking, bus stops and bus lanes offering just one lane each way to through traffic. The B762 meets perpendicular here, another road in the B768 mould. The further the road reaches out, the more affluent an area it serves; as it reaches Giffnock on the very edge of the city boundary, the housing drops in height and increases in price and garden land-take. There's space for the A77 to give birth to a second carriageway, and cruise into a roundabout with the A727 Darnley-East Kilbride road.
Giffnock - Newton Mearns
This is not technically Glasgow any more, as evidenced by the presence of an East Renfrewshire Council building paired with the roundabout, but the residential feel is retained through Rouken Glen and into the sizeable, well-off commuter town of Newton Mearns. The frontage on to the still-dualled A77 offers plenty to aspire for financially, with the only interlude being a large shopping centre in, unusually, the centre of town. The road slides by it and, after another mile or so, out into the greenery proper for the first time.
At the very furthest reach of Glasgow's grip, the great usurper of the 1990s emerges into view; it is the A77's motorway replacement, M77. It is hard to imagine how the last eight miles of urban thoroughfare would have managed without it. An old fork junction used to mark the end of the motorway here, but its 2005 extension to Fenwick necessitated an untidy workaround for the A77, which now crosses the motorway before butting up to it like a slip road trying to muster its way in, failing to do so and instead forced to content itself with a roundabout tie-in at J5 for the ambitiously titled A726 Glasgow Southern Orbital (GSO), a sister project to the motorway extension.
Newton Mearns - Kilmarnock
Having crossed the roundabout, the A77 is a different beast altogether; from here to the northern periphery of Kilmarnock it has been completely neutered by the motorway extension, and rightly so. Once upon a time, the A77 carved its way between the rolling hills as a 60mph limit S4 road – two lanes each way with double white lines demarking the different directions of traffic. Nothing like it exists anywhere else in Scotland, and neither it should; it was a killer. The last ten years of its existence in this form rendered 27 fatalities and a high-profile campaign to have it replaced finally became incontestable for the Scottish executive. Quite apart from the dangerous layout and 120mph closing speeds, it had a lethal pinch-point at Mearnskirk where the road halved in width, and a busy T-junction on a bend with the B764, the GSO’s predecessor.
The road itself is still here, but as it serves little and most traffic speeds by on a much higher standard, much faster M77 it has been narrowed and sterilised into a two-lane country road meandering through not a lot, offering much more to the cyclist than the motorist. It has managed to keep its A77 moniker but, despite twin interchanges with its bigger blue-signed brother, it amounts to not a lot. A junction with the A719 north of Fenwick is its only remaining claim to fame.
On the northern edge of Fenwick a roundabout is reached on the B778. The A77 number disappears here and onward traffic is advised to turn left to reach the motorway at J7 just afterwards. However, the fact that the road ahead is signposted as (B751) is suspicious; in fact this road is the A77 - it is just not signposted as such in this direction as anyone curious enough to continue ahead will find out at the next roundabout. This marks the southern end of the M77, where non-motorway traffic has to turn off at J8. There is no corresponding slip road for the opposite movement, so the only options are to turn right for the B751 to the west of Kilmarnock, or back the way we came.
Kilmarnock - Ayr
What baffled most about the Newton Mearns to Kilmarnock A77 in its prime was how low the standard was compared to the sections each side of it. The adequacy of the Glaswegian A77 and M77 has already been discussed; here now at the end of the M77 is a dual-carriageway, grade-separated bypass of East Ayrshire's biggest town, the aforementioned Kilmarnock. Proper access to the town is via the B7038 Western Road; unsurprisingly this is the pre-bypass route. Meanwhile, the A77 steams past the east of town with nary a stoppage from the manifold road arterials.
A couple of diamond junctions later comes one of Scotland's great meeting points for major roads at Bellsmyre. A huge roundabout sits balanced above the A77, shared by four A-road connections, two of which are A71 and one more the trunk A76, plus the best road into town from the east, the A735. It's also the last junction on the bypass before the merge of the old road with the new to the south and the blast into open countryside once more. The newly conjoined route is thus given the opportunity to arrow, ruler-straight, for the next town in line; it manages about four more miles before someone inconveniently built an international airport in the way.
This is Monkton, shadowing Prestwick Airport and the A77 makes an ungainly left-turn at a roundabout. The roundabout itself is the terminus of the A78 Ayrshire/Inverclyde coastal trunk road, itself in turn the way to the A79 which is the A77's western parallel which also has the good grace to serve the terminal buildings at the airport (it's also the pre-bypass route of the A77, although the road's original route is now lost under the airport runway). Doing such deprives the A77 of considerable traffic weight. The airport and the town from which it takes its name are afforded an eastern bypass by the A77, albeit trisected by two roundabouts allowing the A719 to hop along for the ride. It'll piggy-back for a couple of miles before departing at the elongated (and recently widened) Whitletts Roundabout, bound for Ayr.
Ayr - Girvan
Where Prestwick stopped and Ayr started isn't clear, but the A77, the signposted route to both all the way from the beginning in Glasgow, is leaving them to their own devices and continuing past. It does however shed its second carriageway for good at this point, perhaps owing to the bridging of the River Ayr which would need to be duplicated in order for the dualling to continue. Ever-expanding Ayr has broadened as far inland as the bypass now, and people's back gardens are just about viewable. Eyes straight ahead though, because Holmston Roundabout intrudes bringing with the A70 road eastbound to Cumnock (for the so inclined) and eventually Edinburgh (for the very adventurous).
A second, more acutely shaped roundabout offers the option of the A713, a twin of meandering paths either back into town or into the Dumfries and Galloway hills. The modernity and complexity of the junction design is petering out though; the last major road to trouble Ayr, the A79, has made its own way back to the road which (almost) begat it at Monkton, but the two are linked by only a T-junction and a dedicated turning lane – truth be told, it's almost a U-turn for southbound traffic from this point so not heavily used.
That's it for serious urbanity for a long, long time now; the coast winds away to the driver's right leaving the A77 dividing back roads and woodland while slowing to pass directly through villages instead of around them. Minishant is the first time houses have fronted directly on to the A77 since Newton Mearns. The geography is getting tougher, and the road begins to meander around the hills with the constant curvature curtailing overtaking opportunities. It straightens out only to serve Maybole, which with population of 4,500 and its own railway station has the role of metropolis on the bare plains of very southern Ayrshire.
So remote the road has become so quickly, there are 14 miles and the aforementioned two settlements between consecutive A-road junctions. The last three of those miles are taken directly bound for the coast before Turnberry, site of the famous golf course. Here, the A77 finally puts paid to the A719 with which it has doggedly duelled since before Fenwick, and swings ninety degrees to head southbound again, forced so by the interruption of the Atlantic Ocean. For the first time the A77 carries the feel of a coastal road, even though the water in reality has never been that far away since Prestwick.
Sometimes, a golf course will get between the coast and the road; the next such opportunity will introduce Girvan, the last settlement of note in South Ayrshire. Urbanity returns with a vengeance as the A77 negotiates a right turn at a roundabout, swivelling right then left at consecutive crossroads as it negotiates the river and accompanying holiday parks. Henrietta Street's housed view is interrupted only by Stair Park, where the savvy viewer will be able to take in a view of the ocean and the mystical Ailsa Craig suspended within. The ruler-straight street is finally terminated by a second roundabout, where the seasick can venture inland (and uphill) on the A714, or if not so daunted, carry on to Stranraer which still stands some 30 miles hence.
Girvan - Stranraer
Although not entirely featureless here as it spans the border from Ayrshire into Wigtownshire, the view can be succinctly summed up as hilly to the left, wet to the right as the road hugs the coast as the line of least resistance. This is true for some ten miles until, at Ballantrae, this option is removed and the A77 is forced to ascend inland as the coast becomes rocky and un-navigable. The flyover junctions of East Ayrshire seem a long way away as the narrow road ambles up the hillside, switching back at hairpin bends on two occasions. The brave souls in Smyton can wave the climbers on but for every house on these hills there must be a hundred or more trees in the surrounding woods. The word “rural” does not do it justice.
But this is an major trunk route and meandering will just not do. Kudos then to the Scottish Executive, who have spent considerably improving this undulating procession, particularly important considering how much freight traffic traverses it. South of Smyton the bends have been straightened out and replaced with an offering of well-engineered, straight sections of road with good sightlines allowing safe overtaking. It's about as good as S2 gets anywhere in the country. The new tarmac does give way to the old too soon – it always does – but the coast has rolled back into view allowing an easier passage once more.
The keenest sign yet that there is not far to go is offered by the presence of land beyond the blue expanse; that of the Rhins of Galloway, the hammer-headed peninsula at Scotland's furthest south-western extremity. Were it not for the sighting of land to the west, this section would be indistinguishable from that between Girvan and Ballantrae earlier. Cairnryan here might look nothing more than a pier but it is the hub for travel to Northern Ireland, out via Loch Ryan just twenty miles or so across the water. The sizeable car park is a giveaway.
Farms line the carriageway once more and the last few miles to Stranraer are much easier in a geographical sense. The last way out before the town is the A751, which cuts the corner to the A75 Solway coast road, because there is no reason for the A77 to do the bypassing this time as almost everything is heading straight for the town. Picturesque Stranraer sits right at the head of Loch Ryan and the only serious destination for tens of miles around, with the exception of the port of Cairnryan. The A717 leads off to the harbour and the A77 meets with its A75 companion, the aspiringly titled London Road (in fairness, this is the road you'd take to get there).
Stranraer - Portpatrick
The A75 comes to a halt at this nondescript crossroads south of the town centre but the A77 will go about placing another feather in its cap by continuing across the Rhins on its own, albeit at the price of surrendering its primary- and trunk-road status to the former. It selects a route through the south of Stranraer, with the aid of a few consecutive turns and chevron-clad signs for its keen followers, terminates the A718 from the west of town with a roundabout, and strikes out of town and across the dramatic landscape.
With nowhere else really to visit, it makes quite a muddle of its final coastward plunge. It TOTSOs right to allow the A716 to continue straight on towards the very, very end of Scotland. Instead, the A77 wriggles its way generally westwards until it can do so no more, confronted with rocky outcrops on both sides, no way round, and the village of Portpatrick to welcome it to a vivid finale. Spread out over the hills, little development actually shares the road until the very end when the land finally flattens out allowing the Main Street to dodge between the hotels and bars. It treads its last and gives way to the crescent-shaped esplanade and its multi-coloured frontage. The very ambitious can start their way back on the Southern Upland Way, although the A77 has been quite an adventure all on its own.