|Distance:||44.9 miles (72.3 km)|
|Meets:||A590, A6, A5284, B5284, A5074, A592, A5075, A593, B5287, B5322, A5271, A66, B5291, A595|
|Former Number(s):||A6, B5290|
|Old route now:||A590, A5284, A5271|
|Route outline (key)|
The A591 provides an important north-south link through the Lake District, starting initially as the D2 Kendal bypass, before dropping to S2 and heading for Windermere and Ambleside. It then climbs through the pass of Dunmail Rise before dropping down along the banks of Thirlmere and so to Keswick. Here it ceases to be a primary route, but still continues north past Bassenthwaite to Bothel on the A595.
The middle section between Windermere and Keswick is one of Britain's best and most scenic roads, despite the permanent summertime traffic jam on the shores of Windermere – not the worst place to be stuck, to be fair!
The A591 starts at a TOTSO GSJ with the A590 to the east of Levens, south of Kendal. The mainline of the dual carriageway that becomes the A591 starts at Junction 36 of the M6 as the A590. However, that road then turns sharply to the west and heads for Barrow-in-Furness, letting the A591 take the strain past Kendal. It wasn't always like this, however, as for several years before the A590 was upgraded, the A591 actually started on the M6.
As we head north, we are also in a Useless multiplex with the A6 which joins the A590 just to the west of the junction. Apart from a small at-grade junction with an unclassified road, the next junction is another GSJ where the A6 turns off and heads into Kendal. Our road sweeps around to the west of the town, finally reaching a triangular roundabout with the A5284 (the original line of the A591 from Kendal) and the B5284. The road briefly drops to S2 beyond the roundabout before another burst of dual carriageway west of Burneside. However, that is the last short section of dual for many miles.
Kendal – Ambleside
The route has been heavily upgraded with a bypass for Staveley and then a throughpass (with speed cameras) for Ings, but then as we approach Windermere it seems that the money ran out somewhat, not that there is a lot of room to build a new road in this hilly country, and as we enter the town we are firmly back on the original route. The A5074 turns off to the south at a pair of junctions, and then after a little under a mile we reach a mini-roundabout where the A592 crosses.
The town has now been left behind, but this is by no means a rural road as we head north west, slowly dropping down to the shores of Windermere, although it is some time before the lake is actually visible. There is near constant development along the waterside, resulting in a selection of speed limits. Then, as we make the final approach into Ambleside, the A5075 forks off to the left making a short cut to the A593 Coniston Road.
Soon after, we reach the first of a series of one-way links between the A591 and A593, as the two routes dance around each other through the narrow streets of Ambleside. Northbound traffic must follow Wansfell Road, Rothay Road and Compston Road, whilst southbound traffic passes through the Market Place and so onto Lake Road. Keswick Road in the middle provides a one-way west-east link. Once the two halves rejoin at the north end of town, the picturesque Bridge House, one of Ambleside's most photographed sites lies on the left spanning the tiny Stock Ghyll.
Ambleside – Keswick
North of Ambleside, the road remains narrow in places, although some sections have been improved. The Rydal Beck is crossed on Rydal Bridge, just before we reach the small village of Rydal with its tourist destination of Rydal Mount next to Rydal Water. Then, after a short (and twisty) burst through woodland at the lake's western end, we burst out onto the banks of the pretty Grasmere, made famous by Wordsworth and lined by hotels.
The village of Grasmere is off to the left, accessed on the B5287 which loops through and then at the northern end of the village our road starts the long haul up the pass of Dunmail Raise. This is by no means the highest or most exciting of the Lakeland Passes, but it is probably the only one with a dual carriageway at the summit! It doesn't last for long, however, and soon the road starts to drop towards Thirlmere (the most famous of the Lake District's reservoirs), with the smooth slopes of Helvellyn rising up on the right. For a while the road runs along the lake's shore, but then it dips away and curves around the back of Great How, now lower than the water level in the lake on the hill's further side.
At Legburthwaite the B5322 forks right to form a rather slow eastern bypass of Keswick, but our road continues north west, crossing St John's Beck - the outflow from Thirlmere - and climbing once more with the aid of another dualled section. This particular section has a striking difference between the two carriageways, with northbound traffic using a new road while southbound follows the winding old road. The road then winds over more hills before dropping steeply into Keswick. Here there is a TOTSO with the A5271 which takes the road's original route (multiplexed with - and submissive to - the former A594, now A66) through the town. These days, however, we must turn right and head up to the GSJ with the A66 before multiplexing with it westwards to a roundabout where our journey continues.
Keswick – Bothel
The roundabout is located where the new Keswick Bypass (A66) crosses the old alignment of the A591 and is where we meet the other end of the A5271. From here on our route is no longer primary, but a mere 'A' road - and it wasn't even that in 1922. It soon becomes clear why, as while some sections have been widened and realigned the road is generally narrow and twisty as it winds along the contours at the bottom of the steep hills to the east of Bassenthwaite Lake. There aren't any real villages along the road, but plenty of farms and lonely cottages as we continue north west, the village of Bassenthwaite lying off to the right down a series of even narrower lanes.
Beyond the village, the B5291 turns off to the left to cross the foot of the lake and then our road does improve somewhat, but more thanks to the easier contours than anything else. With a wider carriageway and fewer twists and turns the road becomes a series of short straights and sweeping bends as we cover the last few miles to the A595 at Bothel, nearly 45 miles from out start point and every one of them very scenic!
The road originally started on the A6 in the centre of Kendal, but was extended along the bypass and then the M6 link road when the motorway was built, although the A590 has since taken over the southern section of that route. The short section between Levens and the start of the Kendal bypass used to be the main A6 many years ago – there is a sign up there which is headed "A591 (A6)" which must make the A591 very pleased with itself!
In 1922 the A591 ended in Keswick, with the northern extension to Bothel being the B5290; this was upgraded in the 1920s. For this reason, the A591 has never directly gone through Keswick itself; it skirts the eastern outskirts of the town an area called Chestnut Hill then meets the A5271 (Penrith Road). At one time the whole of Penrith Road was numbered the A594 then later the A66; this meant that the A591 multiplexed with this road through the centre of Keswick with a TOTSO junction where it joined Main Street then over the River Greta by the Cumberland Pencil Works nearby which the A591 branched off the A594/A66 to the right and became the road that eventually leads to Carlisle.
When the A66 Keswick bypass was opened c. 1976 everything changed the road through the centre of Keswick was renumbered the A5271. The A591 therefore took over the old A66 eastern entrance to the town, thus making the A591/A5271 a TOTSO junction for the A591. Then the A66 and A591 multiplex along the Keswick bypass to the junction with the northern (Bass Lake) section of the A591 (the Carlisle road). However, for my part, wouldn't it have been simpler just to renumber the road through Keswick as the A591, including the entrance from the A66, or renumber this short stretch of road as A5271?