|Location Map ( geo)
|Walney Island (SD178675)
|Ulverston, Barrow in Furness
|34.9 miles (56.2 km)
|A65, M6, A591, A6, A5074, A592, A5092, A5087, A595, A5087
|Route outline (key)
The A590 is the mostly primary road between junction 36 of the M6 and the town of Barrow-in-Furness. It runs north-east to south-west, forming the southern border of the Lake District for part of its route. Originally terminating at a T-junction on the A6, it now officially ends on junction 36 of the M6 following a TOTSO with the A591. Its traditional route, as outlined further down, was made up of a series of local roads which connected together. Many of these have been by-passed or redeveloped.
Route (East to West)
As it is now
Section 1: Crooklands - Newby Bridge
The A590 begins at M6 Junction 36 on the official OS maps. This part of the road was known as Kendal Link (sometimes Levens Link). Some mapping services (Google, Yahoo and others) list the A590 as starting on a roundabout that is D2 and also connects to the end of the A6070 and the TOTSO'ed A65. The A65 then follows its way on towards Kendal following its 1922 original design that is now detrunked. The short section of D2 A590 then crosses the M6 Junction 36. Junction 36's roundabout offers access to either direction of the M6, North and South, and East towards Skipton and the A65. Westwards the A590 is D2 and at J36 the road is split where a filter lane has been painted on the carriageway for traffic coming off of the motorway (although caution is recommended when approaching at speed). Traffic coming from the North or the East then filter into the outside lane. The single lane combines to form a 2-lane dual-carriageway heading in the general direction of Kendal that passes under the West Coast Mainline and over the River Kent; however...
...at three and a quarter miles one needs to TOTSO. Not doing so would continue towards Kendal on the A591. The short slip-road leads down to Brettargh Holt Roundabout beneath the A591. The A590 is the first exit on this roundabout and follows the old alignment of the A6 here - for a bit, at least. Continuing as 2-lane dual-carriageway, it climbs a long hill which gradually levels out as it passes what's left of the current A6 and swings right descending the hill it's just climbed. At the end of this long curve, it meets the original alignment of the A590 which is still accessible to the original A6 (and now carries three of the four A6/A590 movements). The next significant junction is to the right, accessed via the central reservation; this, the A5074 Lyth Valley road winds up to Bowness - a pleasant and quiet alternative to the A591 from Kendal. Shortly after this, the road reduces for a short stretch down to S2 with speed cameras. After a momentary watchful eye on one's speed, dual carriageway recommences for a further 2 miles before speed needs to be reduced for another roundabout, with the B5277. This point marks the start of the Lindale bypass - a notably narrow hill, now completely realigned and dualled 2-lane long climbing slog.
Where the Lindale bypass ends, a new bypass starts. The High and Low Newton bypass opened in 2011 and forms a seamless link with the Lindale bypass, which opened in 1977. A further 2 and a quarter miles of excellent road comes to an end as lanes and carriageways merge once again to standard S2 road. A mile and a quarter of this takes you to Newby Bridge situated at the foot of Windermere. The A592 strikes off to the right via a roundabout to follow the lake to Bowness-on-Windermere (and ultimately over the Kirkstone Pass to Ullswater). We, on the other hand, follow the River Leven as it swings round to the left through a narrow wooded gorge.
Section 2: Newby Bridge - Ulverston
Once round the corner, the road widens once again and reverts to D2 for a relatively short distance, enough to comfortably overtake providing the road isn't too busy. It's back to S2 again on an uncomfortable descending left-hand curve, after which the road once again becomes very straight with islands and junctions. A sweeping curve to the right leads into a very short length of D2 - the last of that for some time - adjacent to the preserved Haverthwaite station. The 1 mile Haverthwaite Diversion was completed in 1976. 2 miles further on, the village of Greenodd formerly offered a right turn via a deceleration lane alongside the central reservation enabling travel up the west Cumbrian coast, initially via the A5092 and latterly the A595. This problematic junction has now been replaced by a severely aligned roundabout following substantial removal of part of the rock face of Legbarrow point on the right. Continuing, a further 5000ft of dual carriageway is all we get before returning to S2. There is a further similar length of dual carriageway a similar distance further on. Soon, one approaches Ulverston with its famous 'bypass' through the centre of the town.
Section 3: Ulverston - Dalton In Furness
Ulverston to Dalton is a stretch of 3 and a half miles of S2 - although the A590 no longer passes through the town, the bypass having been built. The 2 miles of bypass consist of new, wide S2 although there's one section with an additional 'slow lane' on the hill coming out of Barrow. The whole length of the bypass is interrupted by one roundabout - the junction with the A595 Dalton-in-Furness to Carlisle road - although there are further roundabouts at each end.
Section 4: Dalton in Furness - Walney Island
The end of the Dalton bypass is marked by another roundabout where the bypass meets Park Road. It's S2 here now all the way into Barrow on the western edge via the industrial estate. At the time the bypass was instigated, Park Road was also 'improved' by realignment - as indicated by the parallel road purely for the industrial estate on the east side of the main carriageway. Park Road now also seamlessly runs into Walney Road (whereupon it used to be a 90° right at a cross-roads) and this leads into the new heart of Barrow via several sets of lights, a one-way system and various junctions.
Continuing in a physical straight on fashion at the next roundabout (actually a left turn!), the next roundabout offers Abbey Road to the left (the old A590) with a Tesco and other 'out-of-town' stores to the right. However, a little further on and under Michaelson Road Bridge, on the right is Morrisons car park - in which is a line of pedestrian crossings - the historical origin of Barrow (to later become Barrow-in-Furness).
Turning right (by taking the second exit) the A590 continues offering a clear view of Devonshire Dock Hall - which possibly could best be described as a 'submarine hangar'. Curving round to the left, a further roundabout offers a right turn where the A590 crosses Jubilee Bridge (no. 2; Jubilee Bridge No. 1 is on the original road between Dalton and Barrow (Abbey Road) at SD213717) onto the isle of Walney. Once on the island, a left turn takes you straight for a bit before a right hand curve points you in the direction of Ireland. Beyond the T junction at the end of the road is indeed the Irish sea - so a good time to stop!
The historic route
Section 1: Crooklands -Newby Bridge
Before the tangled mess of A591 there is now, the A590 turned quietly to the left at a light-controlled T-junction. A quick wiggle amongst the trees and then a dramatic start. It was long, straight and flat across the floodplain of the Kent, opening out on the left to the sands of Morecambe Bay. We head directly for the dramatic long finger of Whitbarrow stretched out before us. Make the most of the long flat and straight, there ain't much and there ain't any more.
At the end of this stretch we come to a T-junction and a TOTSO (there are a lot of TOTSOs to come on this road as it was in the early 1960s). To the right the A5074 Lyth Valley road winds up to Bowness - a pleasant and quiet alternative to the A591 from Kendal. We go to the left, running along the foot of Whitbarrow. The junction is cut off and dualled now but the next bit, I believe, is pretty well as it was. It's starting to get a bit wiggly now as we hug the boundary between the high ground on our right and the marshes on our left. This is good stuff so far. Then, back in the really old days, we hit the dourly attractive village of Lindale with its slate terrace cottages clustered for comfort against the rain (it always seemed to be raining in these parts), and it's narrow streets. This was the southernmost tip of the A590. A nasty little right totso led straight into a long, straight steep hill up the skirts of Newton Fell. After a while the gradient levels out a little and the road takes on the character it will have for much of its length, twisting tortuously between rocks and lush, precipitious hillsides. There's a procession of Lancashire County Council village signs - no doubt somebody can rustle up a photo or two - we've had one for Lindale, now we have High Newton, which sticks in my mind, and there'll be a good many more before we've finished. A rectangular plate bearing village name surmounted by a kind of pediment with the road number in it.
We approach the northernmost point of the road and it's pretty here: a riverside stretch with woods which are gorgeous in the autumn. An American friend I passed through here with in October 1984 compared it to the Adirondacks, and when I saw the Adirondacks a couple of years later I could see her point. This, one of those Lancashire signs tells us, is Newby Bridge, southernmost tip of Windermere and haunt of coachloads of old dears. The A592 strikes off to the right to follow the lake to Bowness (and ultimately over the Kirkstone Pass to Ullswater). We, on the other hand, follow the River Leven as it swings round to the left through a narrow wooded gorge.
Section 2: Newby Bridge - Ulverston
Now, I said that there used to be something surreal along here and it's coming up now. Another of those signs says we've reached the village of Backbarrow and suddenly we're no longer in a dreamy wood; the road becomes very narrow and twists between high walls and gantries and factory gates like a Victorian industrial hell-hole, something like Dickens's Coketown. Only there's something bizarre about Backbarrow. It's blue! A luridly luminous shade of blue that clings to the factory walls and the little huddled houses and the rockfaces on the hillside and the road surface. This is the home of the Blue Works. They made Dolly Blue in Backbarrow, what my grandparents put in the dolly tub to make the clothes white. Backbarrow was bypassed by the mid-1960s. I don't know when Dolly Blue was last made there but the blue staining started to fade eventually. The new road clings to the hillside high above the village, which is now as picture-postcard pretty as you please, no reason to believe it was industrially grimy within my lifetime!
We're on the north bank of the Leven now. More wiggling and switchbacking, and then we enter Greenodd, a very strange name. There a t-junction and a totso left here - to the right is the A5092 signposted to Broughton-in-Furness and far-off, exotic Whitehaven! This road climbs sharply and comes out onto some gloriously bleak open moorland (Lowick Common and Kirkby Moor) on the way to meet the A595 Cumberland coast road at Grizebeck. There too it will pass the Burlington slate quarry, which is now closed I think but which played a part in the history of my family - in 1858 my great-great-grandfather and his two brothers travelled up from Cornwall to work in it. I have a book, a history of the quarries, which tells me a great deal about them.
Back at Greenodd we totso left at the junction. Ahead is the Lakeside railway, disused but with the tracks in place (shortly to be revived at the end of the 1960s as the preserved Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway) sweeping in from the Leven, now a broad sandy estuary. The A590 swings right and runs right alongside the tracks for a while before climbing through Arrad Foot, still clinging to the boundary between fell and estuary. Soon the Hoad comes into view, with its tower - a replica of the first Eddystone Lighthouse whose designer came from Ulverston, the town we are about to enter.
Ulverston is a lovely little town. As well as being nursemaid to the lighthouse it was also the birthplace of Arthur Stanley Jefferson, known to the world as Stan Laurel. There is - or was in 1988 - a Laurel and Hardy museum in the town, as well as a lively market. Alas, the wonderful Hartley's Ales once brewed there are now defunct. I can't remember much about passing through - I don't recall a drag down a high street. There was a kind of inner relief road that passed close to the station, and now there's a new road carved right through the middle.
Section 3: Ulverston - Dalton In Furness
Over a railway line - this the main line to Lancaster and, eventually, London, and climbing again into open grassy moorland. A village sign says Swarthmoor, the spiritual home of worldwide Quakers - off to the left is Swarthmore [sic] Hall.
Onward and upward to Lindal-in-Furness - not to be confused with the earlier Lindale - a former mining village high on a bleak hill which once had a lovely little Hartleys pub, the Miners Arms. Then a long drop into Dalton-in-Furness. Dalton feels as though it was much more important once, and it was, once the most important town in the district. It's got a big church and a market strung out along a long, winding main street and in 1988 at least the long-closed cinema still had a glorious art-Deco façade. The road swings right and then immediately there's a totso left as the A595 goes straight ahead, up a long hill on its way round the coast to Carlisle. The A590 on the other hand drops downwards, meets the railway line just as it emerges from a short tunnel, and begins a new phase in its life. It's still undulating and winding but it's wide now as it begins its run into Barrow. Whatever else Barrow roads are, they are wide. Wider, I think, than the roads anywhere else I know. We get romantic glimpses of the ruins of Furness Abbey on the left.
Section 4: Dalton in Furness - Walney Island
This is good stuff, but not for long. Well, it was always very nice. There was no Barrow-in-Furness before about 1840 and the town fathers, eager to make a mark even if there was nobody around for miles to see it, devised a ceremonial approach to the town, a great, wide, tree-lined boulevard. It seems to go on for ever. We'll pass the Risedale Maternity Hospital (where I was born), and the dingy old Duke of Edinburgh Hotel by the railway station, which passed for luxury in them days. There are also interminable traffic lights, and dark-blue Barrow Corporation buses on square wooden wheels with (uniquely, I think, colour-coded route indicators rather than route numbers. On weekday peaks - morning, evening and dinner-time, all scheduled bus routes were off as everything converged on the shipyard).
At last we reach Ramsden Square, with a grand Victorian statue of a City Father (Mr Ramsden), and now we're going to go totso crazy. TOTSO-left into Duke Street, passing the blood-red sandstone Town Hall on the right. Totso right into Michaelson Road, across the dock where, in the early 1990s, you could see the last nuclear sub, cynically dubbed 'HMS Redundant' by the shipyard workers about to lose their only livelihood. Then between gaunt red cliff-like industrial buildings and railway lines - there are railway lines everywhere, we are on Barrow Island now which was owned by British Railways in them days - to a huge crossroads where we totso right into Ferry Road - more railways bunched on the right behind a fence and swerving across the road into the works. Then some lights and a totso left to cross the Jubilee Bridge and the Walney Channel. If the weather's right there are small boats on the channel and stunning views - the Scafell range in the distance to the right. Then we're on Walney and the quality of the light screams SEASIDE! at us. At the end of the bridge we totso left. High above us in the early 1960s, bizarrely, was the Walney Cinema. In a short distance we swing into a right fork into Ocean Road. Then it's straight across the island, built up at first, opening out into dunes and marshes on the Irish Sea side, to Biggar Bank and the end of the A590. There was an open-air swimming pool by the beach, and a pebbly beach dropping down to flat sands with rock pools to be explored and safe bathing until late on a summer evening, watched over by the dramatic whale-back of Black Combe.
Although the A590 remains largely the same as that described above, there have been road improvements and bypasses since. The road now begins at the near the M6 on the A65, following the renumbering of the A591 Kendal Link Road in the 1990s between Sizergh and the M6. The A590 continues down a slip road and along the now largely D2 (with one small S2) road to the Lindale bypass, itself built in the 1980s. This connects to the newest section of road, the Newton and Ayside bypass which opened in 2008. Between this bypass and Backbarrow, the road reverts to S2 and remains largely as before, passing through Newby Bridge. Backbarrow is now also bypassed, with the road cutting above the village and the River Leven. The road between Backbarrow and Ulverston varies between relatively narrow S2 and the D2 bypasses of the villages of Greenodd and Arrad Foot. Ulverston's inner relief road is now under 40 and 30 Mph speed limits, and is largely D2.
Between Ulverston and Dalton-in-Furness the road remains largely unchanged, and is arguably at its narrowest passing through the villages of Swarthmoor and Lindal-in-Furness. The line of the road has been straightened out, however. Sharp-eyed travellers will spot, between Swarthmoor and Lindal, the old road crossing the railway line on a skewed bridge to the left, while on leaving Lindal the original line of the road can be seen on the right forming part of a farmer's field. The WS2 Dalton-in-Furness bypass adds the unusual site of lions, giraffes and rhinos roaming the Cumbrian fields of the South Lakes Wild Animal park, and also connects to a new terminus of the A595 and a newly developed WS2 entrance road into Barrow passing the factories and redeveloped land on the town's former steelworks site. Towards Barrow's town centre the road is no longer a Primary Route, and follows a one-way system through the redeveloped docklands. The A590 then follows the very WS2 (widened to transport large loads for the shipyard) road to the Jubilee Bridge onto Walney Island and rejoins its previous route over the island to the sea.
There was a campaign for this accident blackspot to be dealt with for a number of years - with the suggestion of a roundabout being the most popular solution. In June 2012 there was a £2.2M offer of funding from Central Government for pushing this proposal forward. Local MPs Tim Farron (Westmorland and North Lancashire) and John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) where both keen to see improvements made to the A590.
On 22nd February 2014 the roundabout was finally completed, with a misspelled 'Greennodd' roadsign which was quickly replaced. The new roundabout has reduced the number of significant accidents, but not eradicate them, and motorists need to be aware of the sudden drop in speed required to navigate around the roundabout.
The danger road of South Cumbria
The A590 has had numerous improvements made to which have noticeably cut down journey times along its length. To do this, the route has been shortened by the removal and bypassing of bends and also widened - the overall effect, the speeding up of traffic. Consequently, accident blackspots along the route exist - some long-standing ones and some more recent ones. There have been a number of significant (i.e. often fatal) accidents on the D2 section crossing the Lyth Valley. Incidents involving vehicles pulling out of side roads as well as collisions with cyclists.
Nearer Greenodd, a series of seemingly harmless gentle bends are a frequent source of 'nasty' accidents, involving walls and on-coming vehicles. The bends are absolutely fine providing one concentrates but there is little room for error and this is the cause of accidents here.
Driver information Signs
In January and February 2015, the Highways Agency intends to place Driver Information Signs at both ends of the A590. The signs will display relevant strategic and tactical messages and are part of Central Government's Pinch Point Program.
Lindale Hill/Grange Junction
At the top of Lindale Hill bypass and the start of the 'new' High and Low Newton D2 bypass, there is a complicated junction with the B5271. The junction has a grade segregated slip going north/westbound but traffic joining the B5271 has to cross the Dual carriageway, slowing down in the outside lane and crossing the central reservation, into fast moving uphill traffic. Locally it has been suggested that junction be closed to traffic leaving the A590 and use the earlier GSJ but there are currently no plans to carry this out.
Furness Link Motorway
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the eastern historic Lancashire stretch of the A590 was managed by Lancashire County Council, there was a grand plan to link the M6 to the A590. The M6 ran onto the A6 north of Carnforth at Pine Lake before the M6 was extended on towards Kendal and Penrith. The other end of the motorway would have met the A590 at Meathop Roundabout, at the bottom of Lindale Hill Bypass. When the new section of motorway opened, the link road was renumbered A601(M) and the plans about linking the A590 to the M6 where quietly shelved and the A590 was linked to the motorway via the A591 at Junction 36. If the link was built then it currently would pass through 2 areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and The Lake District National Park.
- Post Opening Project Evaluation - A590 High and Low Newton Bypass – Five Years After December 2014 (archive.org)