|Location Map ( geo)|
|Distance:||27 miles (43.5 km)|
|Meets:||A6, M6, A683, A66|
|Route outline (key)|
Up until the early 1990s I think the whole of the A685 was a primary route and also the preferred route from the southbound M6 to Kendal. Now, however, only the section between Tebay and Brough is primary and this was detrunked a few years ago and placed under an HGV ban to force trucks to use the more suitable A66 to access the M6.
Section 1:Kendal - Tebay
The road branches off the A6 just outside Kendal town centre at Longpool. For a short while it runs parallel to the A6 passing the auction mart and Morrisons before turning east and starting the climb up to Grayrigg, crossing over the West Coast Main Line twice.
After Grayrigg we skirt round the side of the fell known as Whinfell Beacon (not to be confused with Whinfell Forest near Penrith, the site of the Center Parcs Oasis holiday village complex), meeting the B6257 which connects to the A684 near Sedbergh. This junction marks the beginning of the Lune Gorge which both the M6 and WCML run through also. It has been described as the most beautiful stretch of countryside that the motorway network passes through.
The hills on the opposite side of the gorge, partly within the Yorkshire Dales, are known as the Howgill Fells; this name was invented by early Ordnance Survey map makers as they realised there was no collective name for the group and they connect the Pennines with the Cumbrian Mountains.
After crossing the Borrow Beck, the M6 and the railway once more, the road reaches the top end of the gorge and the straggling railway village of Tebay, once an important railway junction with lines from Yorkshire and County Durham meeting the WCML here but now better known for its award-winning motorway service areas a mile north of the village. The road formerly went straight on here but now branch left at an almost TOTSO junction and meet the M6 at J38. To keep on the A685 we have to TOTSO here as the road that carries straight on from the roundabout is the B6260 to Orton and Appleby.
Section 2:Tebay - Brough
Between Tebay and Newbiggin-on-Lune the road is built on top of the former tracks of the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway, or the Stainmore line, which at its time was England's highest line. The increased quality of the road is obvious. The road carries on (now primary) along Lunesdale, crossing its original route at Gaisgill and then (after leaving the railway alignment) bypassing the villages of Newbiggin and Ravenstonedale, till we start the climb up Ash Fell which marks the boundary between the Lune and Eden valleys. At the foot of Ash Fell on the eastern side we meet the A683 (former B6258) from Sedbergh then pass under the Settle-Carlisle railway at Kirkby Stephen station which curiously is over a mile from Kirkby itself (little wonder it used to be Kirkby Stephen West). The South Durham railway also had a station at Kirkby; this was actually in the town and is now on a short heritage railway.
Kirkby Stephen like many similar places in the Pennines is never sure if its a town or a village though I think the parish council does now call itself a town council. It also must be one of the few places that actually campaigned against having a bypass built. The bypass ,if it had been built, would have run from the A683 junction near the station to the B6259 junction at the north end of the town and would have no doubt been part of the A685 - but the local tradespeople were against this, even though one house near the Market Place had had its windows and walls broken down by passing vehicles at least 4 times during the 1980s and 1990s. Instead of a bypass, therefore, an HGV ban was placed between Brough and Tebay thus resulting in the road being detrunked. The road is therefore a quick, high-quality road with little traffic, except through Kirkby itself where there is a 3-way set of traffic lights at one point.
After Kirkby the road bypasses Winton then goes through Brough Sowerby and Church Brough where it meets the A66. Brough village itself (formerly Market Brough or Brough-under-Stainmore) is on the other side of the A66 and must be one of the smallest primary route destinations in Britain. The A685 goes under the A66 and mutates into the B6276 - the slip roads up to the A66 are easy to miss. The proposed route of the Kirkby Stephen bypass was on at least one road atlas of the mid-1990s shown as a projected or under construction route. I would like to also point out that the reason I have called Kirkby Stephen just as simply Kirkby is that is because that is how the place is known locally despite there being two other Kirkbys in Westmorland, or 3 if you include Kendal whose ancient name was indeed Kirkby Kendal.
As we approach Newbiggin-On-Lune and Ravenstonedale, the A685 remains a rather fast stretch of road, but takes on a few soft bends. The A683 joins up with the A685 at a fairly acute angle. Up to Kirkby Stephen, the A685 is a very pleasant 'non-stop', 'straight-through' road. Anyway, not long after the junction with the A683, without warning, the road heads off towards the north slightly for a steep hill . Heading back towards the M6, there is only the one lane. The scenery towards the top of the hill looking southwards is really nice too. As we approach the top of the hill, I will almost guarantee you will have had to change down at least once, if not twice!)
After you have reached the top, the crawler lane is dropped and from there on, to Kirkby Stephen, you'll slowly be dropping down into this very pleasant village. The A685 tends to have more traffic around this section. The road from the top of the hill appears to narrow and starts to get twisty with some tight bends to navigate. Some of the tight bends are clearly warned in advance. The worst one being is when you are nearing the borders of the village and the road goes down a steep dip and then there is little time to slow right down to around 20mph to turn the sharp (what feels like) an almost 90 degree bend to the left to go over a bridge. The immediate area around here is quite wooded. Welcome to Kirkby Stephen! You'll go through a local estate with some very old terraced housing. Beware of parked cars, there are often banks of them around here alongside the road, almost always on the northbound side! You'll come up to a set of traffic lights as the road goes down to one lane to squeeze past a few buildings before widening back to normal size. You are now in the main part of the village. Kirkby Stephen is a lovely village (quite large too) and does have a decent chip shop too and a stream with seating not far off the A685 itself. There is often a small open-air market too. As you continue through the village you'll hit a few mini-roundabouts. In fact, the islands are so tricky to navigate that the actual centre of the roundabout is simply painted onto the tarmac and almost everyone simply goes over it.The A685 now leaves Kirkby Stephen onto it's final stretch to Brough and the junction with the A66. The A685 leading out of Kirkby Stephen, again, like at the M6, is very straight. This particular short stretch seems to have had little maintenance on it for at least the last decade to my knowledge. The surface does become coarse compared to the rest of the road and the signage looks very old, faded and tired, but being out in the country again partly makes up for it! This section is rather twister than the first half of the road. A few miles down the road you'll come across a rather bizarre village called Brough Sowerby.Shortly after we come across something else which I find a bit bizarre. The A685 suddenly becomes a dual carriageway for what seems to be less than a mile long. Why it's a dual carriageway there or for that length I'll never know! We now drop down into Brough, losing the dual carriageway and the A66 can be clearly seen right in front of you - Brough is basically the other end of the A66! To the left just before the junction is a small castle ruin. It's here, at the A66, where the A685 comes to an end.
Original Author(s): Carl Ryding