A5/Stony Stratford - Crick
|From:||Stony Stratford (SP774415)|
|Meets:||A5, A422, A508, A43, A45, A361, A428, A5|
|Route outline (key)|
From a large light-controlled roundabout—where we meet the original A5 coming in from Old Stratford, the A422 and the A508. The A5 now shoots off northwestward in forthright Roman style across the Northamptonshire countryside. Though to tell the truth, it is only for the first few miles of this section that the proverbial Roman straightness remains clearly evident.
Soon we are descending into Towcester, which retains very much the look of a coaching town and mostly 18th-century buildings crowd the road. There were, apparently, 20 inns here before the railway revolution; there seem to be plenty of pubs still and several hostelries make a point of advertising their room prices prominently. The Brackley - Northampton road (A43) once crossed Watling Street in the town centre. A dual-carriageway bypass now takes it around the northwestern side of Towcester.
Imperceptibly to the traveller but clearly enough on the map, there is a slight turn to a more northerly course on leaving Towcester town centre, as the A5 crosses first the River Tove then, at a roundabout, the A43. It is unusual for Roman roads to change their alignments on low ground: the explanation here is that the turn took place within the walls of Lactodorum, the prosperous Romano-British town which stood here for four centuries (an interesting map is to be found... outside Towcester Morrisons!).
So far our journey along the A5 has not afforded any really long-distance views; however, on passing Foster's Booth (about 4 miles out from Towcester), a wide vista suddenly opens out across the broad valley of the Nene to our right. Road, rail and canal all finally come together at Weedon Bec (light-controlled junction with the A45). Thomas Telford's Holyhead Road diverged from Watling Street here, to run by way of Daventry, Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton before rejoining today's A5 at the point where the eponymous town of Telford now stands.
Soon the M1 joins our happy band but it will be a few miles before we actually see it as it is hidden behind the railway embankment to our right. Some 5 miles from Weedon, as we descend a slope just after passing the B5385 turn to Watford, the railway bends, passes beneath us, and zooms off at a 30 degree angle to our left, while at a similar angle to our right we see the canal struggling painfully uphill through the Watford Flight. And just after that, we finally catch sight of the M1, just before it throws off its M45 spur.
On the lefthand side of the A5, and level with the aforementioned motorway junction, is... Watford Gap. No, not the notorious motorway services of that name—they are a mile or two nearer London—but the original inn (now uninhabited and rather tumbledown) which has stood here for hundreds of years. Watford Gap is a "gap" in that here is where the ridge is easiest to cross: on the ground, though, it feels like the highest point in the district!). In pre-turnpike days, the inn stood at the oblique intersection of Watling Street with the old Northampton - Rugby road, which took a more southerly route than today's A428: running south of Althorp Park and by way of Great Brington, Long Buckby, Watford and Kilsby. The A5 now follows that route towards Kilsby, the onward Roman road having been abandoned as a way over the ridge at this point, though the M1 follows hard alongside the old route (now just a track, but still a public right-of-way) for just under a mile.
Dropping down to the edge of Kilsby village we come to a roundabout junction with the end of that great warhorse of A-roads, the A361 ...from Ilfracombe. Now we take over that road's northward direction, gradually descending the ridge (passing over both the main railway line and the Northampton loop) before crossing the A428 at the Halfway House pub and rejoining the original Watling Street alignment a mile and a half after Kilsby (the connection from this point back to the A428 is also numbered A5). The flat land at the bottom of the slope is now occupied by the extensive Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal.