|Location Map ( geo)|
|Distance:||115 miles (185.1 km)|
|Meets:||A1053, A19, A67, A66(M), A1, A67, A685, A686, A6, M6, A592, A591, A595, A596|
|Former Number(s):||A67, B5288, B5320, A594, A595|
|Old route now:||A1174, A1079, A59, B6265, A1(M), A1|
|Route outline (key)|
The A66 is a major trunk road in northern England, one of the main east-west links in the United Kingdom. The stretch through the Pennines between Appleby and Scotch Corner is one of the most scenic roads in England, but also prone to weather-related closures. The modern A66, from Workington to Teesside, is the result of several extensions, bypasses and significant movement of its terminal points, which are now in one case by 40 and 100 miles from where they were first located. It is the most southerly road to get close to being a complete coast-to-coast route, by virtue of its westward extension into Zone 5, and it is a primary route throughout its length.
We will first look at its original route, via a short musical tribute...
If you want to go to Cumbria
Travel my way, take the road that's best by far
Get your kicks on the A66.
It winds from Teesside to Workington.
More than one hundred miles when its done.
Get your kicks on the A66.
Well, you go past the 'Boro, into County Durham
Where Stockton's fair city looks mighty pretty.
You'll see Darlington, ah; A1(M), Scotch Corner
Bowes, Stainmore and Appleby-Westmorland;
Penrith, M6, Troutbeck, Keswick,
Won't you get hip to this timely tip
When you make that trans-Pennine trip
Get your kicks on A-six-six
(with apologies to Bobby Troupe)
When road numbers were first allocated in the 1920s, the number A66 was given to a route largely following Roman roads across country from Hull, via York and Scotch Corner, to Penrith. In 1924, the A1 was between Boroughbridge and Darlington to run via Scotch Corner instead of its original more easterly route (now largely the A167). This took over a large section of A66 south of Scotch Corner cutting the road in two and for obvious reasons the southern part became the A1079; parts have since become the A59 and B6265 (the TOTSO in Green Hammerton between the A59 and B6265, before it was bypassed, was a legacy of the A66 having once been the main route here). North of Boroughbridge, the original A66 is now the A1 and A1(M) as far as Scotch Corner.
Before the M6 provided a fast way north, most Anglo-Scottish traffic avoided Shap summit on the A6, and so Scotch Corner was the key location where traffic for the west of Scotland left the Great North Road to cut across the Pennines to reach the A6 at Penrith. This section of the A66 looks very fast on the map, but as with many Roman roads it is quite narrow in places. A recent BBC programme dubbed it "Britain's Worst Road" - beating both the M6 and the M25, which was a little unfair. About two-thirds of it is dualled, including the whole of the transpennine section from Bowes to Brough, and it has bypasses for Greta Bridge, Bowes (with a limited access junction with the A67, a road we shall meet again) Brough, (junction for the A685 to Kirkby Steven and the M6 at J38), Appleby-in-Westmorland, Temple Sowerby and Penrith. Much of this route is very remote - at Stainmore Summit, the boundary between Yorkshire and Westmorland, the parallel railway was the highest in England until it closed in the 1960s.
Originally the western end of the A66 was on the A6 to the south of the centre of Penrith and this was what in previous centuries made the town an important stagecoach stop. In fact one of the streets close to, but not on, the former A66 route is called Old London Road. The now former route is now firstly a shortcut from the town centre to the A686 at Carleton Village, secondly a country lane connecting the A686 with a private school along which has a milestone along it saying Penrith 1 mile, Appleby 13 miles and lastly due to some downgrading in the early 1990s, probably to stop joyriders using the road (as it is quite a steep hill down from Carleton), the section that runs underneath the present A66 is now simply a footpath and farm track.
A major upgrade to roads in the Northern Lake District took place in the early 1970s, in particular the route from Penrith to Cockermouth via Keswick, then known as the A594. This was around the time that the parallel railway line was closed. In order to encourage drivers to reach the Keswick area by way of the M6 and the upgraded A594, instead of the A591 via Ambleside, the A594 was renumbered as the A66.
From the M6, the Penrith bypass continues as the new alignment of the A66, now anomalously numbered as it is in Zone 5 (having already crossed the A6) and dual carriageway as far as Penruddock. Notably, the two carriageways are often a short distance apart on this stretch, as the new eastbound carriageway is more heavily engineered than the original westbound one.
Beyond Penruddock, the A66 largely follows the old route of the A594 (which came from Penrith by way of the present B5288), to Troutbeck (A5091 for Ullswater), Keswick and Cockermouth, but largely on new alignment, with bypasses for Threlkeld and Keswick. This section, under the slopes of Bencathra and Skiddaw, is the most spectacular part of the route. Beyond Keswick the A66 follows the River Derwent all the way to the sea, using the old railway line alongside Bassenthwaite Lake (the only body of water in the Lake District that actually has the word "Lake" in its name) and on to Cockermouth, which is also bypassed.
At Cockermouth the A66 parts company with the route of the A594, which continues on its original route to Maryport (a fact which appears to have escaped the attention of whoever numbered the Leicester Inner Ring Road!) and joins the A595, with which it multiplexes (on a new alignment) to Bridgefoot. From there it follows a new route, opened in 2002, bypassing Great Clifton and Stainburn which incorporates a shared centre overtaking lane for much of its length. The route terminates just short of the sea on the A596 in Workington town centre.
Workington is an industrial centre, for many years the home of the Leyland National and Leyland Titan buses, and a steelworks. Sadly all gone now. In 2002 it celebrated 125 years of manufacturing railway lines, although since 1974 the steel "blooms" from which they are rolled have been brought in from Teesside, at the other end of the A66, rather than made in the town.
(Zone 1 again)
In the 1960s, some time after the A66 was truncated at its eastern end, it was extended back into Zone 1, largely following the route of the former A67. It now starts at Grangetown, near Redcar (coincidentally a steel town, like Workington), at a junction with the A1053 Tees Dock Road), and follows a new alignment, dual carriageway and mainly grade separated, along the south bank of the Tees around Middlesbrough to a fully free-flow junction with the A19. It then crosses the Tees to by-pass Stockton, where it meets the A135 (an Essex number: shouldn't it swap with the A176?).
Between Stockton and Darlington the A66 has closely followed the original route of the A67 (now itself rerouted further south), but just short of Darlington the original route goes straight on (as the A1150) whilst the A66 turns south on a single carriageway bypass, collecting the A67 (which runs parallel to the A66 from Stockton on a new route) to run in multiplex to the junction with the A167. (Before the bypass existed, the A66, A67 and A68 all met in the centre of Darlington). The most direct route from Darlington to Bowes is by the A67, but through traffic is directed on the A66, which now crosses back across the Tees...
...and becomes a motorway! In fact the A66(M) is little more than a two-mile glorified slip road, merging into the A1(M) at the limited-access junction 57 with no intermediate junctions. A few miles further on is Scotch Corner, where the A1 multiplex ends, and the A66 turns west again, on its original route.
Tim (with thanks to M4 Man)
- Cumbria's A66 route has snow gates installed 10.12.2012
- A66 upgrade: Preferred route announced 23.05.2020