|From:||King's Lynn (TF607187)|
|Distance:||59.5 miles (95.8 km)|
|Meets:||A47, A1101, B1359, B1390, B1515, B1168, A151, B1357, A16, B1397, B1181, A52, A1121, B1395, B1394, A153, A15, B1518, B1429, A46|
|Old route now:||A47|
|Route outline (key)|
The A17 is the major route from Northern England to Norfolk. Although horrendously busy during the summer months as the only route from the north to Great Yarmouth, the Broads, and other tourist hotspots in Norfolk. It is mostly pretty fast, notwithstanding that there are very few dualled stretches (I think most of it was intended to be dualled, but cutbacks led to most of the bypasses being single carriageway).
If you want exciting scenery, the A17 is probably not for you - for nearly its entire length it runs across the Lincolnshire fens - an artificial landscape, only fully reclaimed from the sea in the last three centuries, flat, and largely made up of straight lines.
King's Lynn – Sutterton
The A17 originally started on the A47 to the west of Swaffham, but following the diversion of the A47 via King's Lynn, it now starts on that road at King's Lynn. King’s Lynn in particular was always a notorious bottleneck – the need to skirt round the Wash meant that the only two realistic routes from the Midlands and North of England to Norfolk converged just to the west of the bridge over the Great Ouse. No diversion was possible to the north, as this was, and is, the last crossing of the river before the Wash. A journey from Lincoln to Cromer is just over 100 miles – but only about than 60 as the crow – or seagull? – flies. To the south would require a long detour through Downham Market. Thus although traffic levels are relatively light (the A17 is single carriageway for almost its entire length, and even the short dualled sections near some junctions have been reduced to a single lane in each direction thereby reducing overtaking opportunities), the link is vitally important to that traffic.
The A17 does not actually start in King's Lynn but on the bypass to the west of town and is reached from there by means of the A47. The present A47 crossing of the Great Ouse is a little to the south of the original bridge, and follows the line of the old Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway, which closed in 1959.
Immediately after the Great Ouse bridge, there is a TOTSO, the A47 turning off left for Wisbech and ultimately Birmingham, whilst the A17 takes the straight ahead route. Although there is provision in the junction for a future underpass, A17 traffic currently also has to use the roundabout. The A17 continues on the line of the M&GN all the way to Sutton Bridge, bypassing Terrington St Clement and forsaking Norfolk for Lincolnshire, in which it remains for almost all the rest of its route. This area, with its flat landscape, artificial land drainage systems, small villages, and over-large churches indicative of past prosperity, is well described in Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery, "The Nine Tailors", in which campanology plays a crucial part in both the identification of the victim and the bizarre manner of his death.
Sutton Bridge was a railway junction, trains for Peterborough via Wisbech turning south along the River Nene whilst the main line to Spalding and Bourne carried straight on. The line of the railway running parallel to and just to the south of the old A17, can be seen on the aerial photograph here. Indeed, the swing bridge over the River Nene is currently D1, which can be explained by the fact that the bridge took both road and railway across the river. The present A17 now follows neither railway line, instead taking a dogleg along the bank of the Nene for a few hundred yards of dual carriageway, also visible in the aerial photograph, and then turns west again as the bypass of Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton villages, meeting the A1101 from Wisbech en route.
A short stretch of dual carriageway prefaces the single carriageway Holbeach bypass (the original route through the town is now the B1515), and the A17 then meets the A151 which gives access to Spalding, Bourne and the A1 at Colsterworth.
A16 – Sleaford
As the A17 rounds the Wash, it has now turned nearly due northwards as it runs towards Fosdyke and the bridge over the River Welland, before curving round to the west again to meet the A16 near Sutterton. The A16 and A17 used to meet in Sutterton itself, but both have been diverted onto new alignments – the A16 following the former Spalding to Boston section of the Great Northern Railway, whilst the A17, after crossing the A16, takes a bypass to the south and west of Sutterton and Wigtoft. It then returns to its original alignment, heading north again, to Bicker Bar where it meets the A52, nearing the end of its long odyssey from North Staffordshire to the east coast.
At Swineshead the A17 meets the A1121, coming across from Boston along the side of the South Forty Foot Drain before turning west again for Heckington and its distinctive eight-sailed windmill, which are bypassed to the north (the original A17 is now the B1394).
At Kirkby la Thorpe begins the Sleaford bypass, at three miles long the longest dual carriageway section of the A17. Just after the beginning of the bypass we encounter something not seen before on this journey – a contour line!
Sleaford – Newark
The A17 and A15 originally left Sleaford together in a multiplex as far as Holdingham, but as both roads now bypass the town that road is now the B1518. The bypass ends where the multiplex ended, at the junction with the A15. Whilst the A15 heads north to Lincoln and the Humber, the A17 now continues west past the RAF's Officer Training college at Cranwell (Lincolnshire's location and topography have resulted in a long association with the RAF) to Byards Leap, where it crosses the old Roman Ermine Street (High Dyke). The original kink in the A17 here has been eliminated as the High Dyke is no longer the major road.
The A17 bypasses to the south of Leadenham. What happens next is a bit of a surprise to anyone who knows Lincolnshire’s reputation for flatness, as the A17 suddenly descends a 300-foot escarpment. It has been gently climbing the dip slope of the Lincoln Edge ever since that contour at Sleaford, and now its payback time! Impressive though it is, it provides no direct interchange with the A607 Lincoln to Grantham road which passes over the A17 at this point. The only communication between them is by taking the old road into Leadenham.
The Leadenham bypass, which is the modern route of the A17 here, descending down the escarpment is a rather fine piece of road. Considering how flat Lincolnshire is supposed to be, the steepness of the hill at Leadenham on the old road can come as a shock, but of course, Lincolnshire isn't actually completely flat!
Having rejoined its original route after all this excitement, the A17 returns almost to sea level for the rest of the run to Newark, crossing the River Brant at Brant Broughton, and the Witham at Beckingham (honoured with a dual carriageway bypass). These two rivers, although west of the scarp and seemingly in the Vale of Trent, converge at Lincoln where they turn east through a gap in the ridge to reach the Wash at Boston.
Just after Beckingham, the A17 crosses the county boundary into Nottinghamshire. The original route into Newark ran through Coddington, to end on Queens Road at the junction with Northgate (then A46, now the B6166). After construction of the A1 Newark bypass this terminus was officially in the 6-zone. However, when the western and northern bypasses were built, the A17 was diverted to its present terminus at the A1/A46 junction near Winthorpe.
I'll give the last word to the A17's champion, Bob Sykes: "Compared to some major trunk routes with narrow twisty sections, limited overtaking opportunities, continuous flow of 30 limit villages, the A17 is a joy. Just avoid it on summer Saturdays."
In the original (1922) list, the A17 ran almost as far as Swaffham, along what it now the A47. It was curtailed at King's Lynn on 1st April 1933, as a result of rerouting the A47 along this route.
A Leadenham bypass was first proposed in the late 1930s, but was cancelled in 1940 due to the war. Had it been built it would have cost £16000 at the time 1.
The modern A17 Leadenham Bypass was originally planned to pass to the north of the village, and was shown as under construction on that alignment in several atlases and maps during the 1990s 2, many showing the bypass as dual carriageway with access to the A607. In 1985 estimates costed a bypass to the north of the village at £3M (1984 prices) 3. The bypass was eventually built to the south of the village to an S2+1 standard, with no access to the A607.
The entire A17 was detrunked in 2002, and responsibility for the road was transferred to the three counties through which it runs.
- The (A17) King’s Lynn-Sleaford-Newark Trunk Road (Long Sutton-Sutton Bridge Bypass Detrunking) Order 1987
- The A17 Trunk Road (Wigtoft—Sutterton Bypass) and the A16 Trunk Road (Diversion at Blackitt’s Farm) Order 1990
- Great Drives: The A17 from King's Lynn to Newark (23.01.2001)