A6 (Northern Ireland)
|Location Map ( geo)|
|Distance:||69.8 miles (112.3 km)|
|Meets:||A2, A11, A12, A52, A55, M2, A8(M), A57, A26, A522, A57, M22, A54, A31, A29, A514, A2|
|Former Number(s):||B74, B18, B183|
|Old route now:||B74|
|Route outline (key)|
The A6 is the main road from Belfast, Northern Ireland's capital, to Derry, its second city. The first section to Randalstown is shadowed by the M2 and M22, which ends just before the boundary with County Londonderry. From here, the road is predominantly rural single-carriageway as far as Derry.
Belfast - Randalstown
The A6 begins on the north side of Donegall Square, right in front of the City Hall in the centre of Belfast. It runs north along Donegall Place - albeit with the traffic limited to southbound flow only - before proceeding along Royal Avenue. At the crossroads between the offices of the Belfast Telegraph newspaper and Ulster University's Belfast Campus, it bears left onto Clifton Street, and leaves the city centre. It crosses the A12 Westlink ring road, but is not signed until it reaches Carlisle Circus, a roundabout with the A52 on Crumlin Road. From here, the signed route heads, appropriately enough, along Antrim Street, named after the town to which its first section runs.
Here the road is a broad carriageway with two lanes in each direction, although one in the direction of the city centre is partly a bus lane. The road take a while to escape from the city, passing through suburbs that roughly reflect the chronology of urban expansion, being initially Victorian, then Edwardian, then inter-war, and then post-war. There are no landmarks of any particular note, before the A6 climbs the steep hill towards Glengormley and crosses over the M2, the modern route that has superceded it. The road is a conventional single carriageway with one lane in each direction, by the time it arrives in Glengormley. It curves back to meet the motorway at junction 4, which is also where the A8(M), leading almost immediately to the A8 (Northern Ireland), heads off for Larne.
There is a brief section of dual carriageway after the A6 has cleared the motorway junction, and it passes the City of Belfast Golf Course before heading out into the countryside. Heading for Antrim, the A6 is straight as it runs across the flat, open farmland. At Templepatrick it encounters the A57, which links Belfast International Airport to the west with the port of Larne to the east. The A6 then passes the Templepatrick Golf and Country Club, in a brief multiplex with the A57 before running alongside Six Mile Water towards Lough Neagh. The A26 arrives at a T-junction from the left, and shares another multiplex with the A6 around the southern and western sides of Antrim town centre. The original road through the town is now the A522. The A6 splits briefly into an urban dual carriageway before separating from the A26, which continues north towards Ballymena and Coleraine.
The A6 heads out of Antrim along Randalstown Road, running close to the shore of Lough Neagh, although trees prevent the water from being visible. As the shore curves away, the A6 runs straight along Castle Road to meet the M22 at junction 2, before crossing over into Randalstown. It enters the town along a wide single carriageway, before passing under an elaborate pedestrian bridge which is the modern-day function of a former railway bridge, and over the River Maine. The road twists through the characterful town centre before turning left at a mini-roundabout. It then passes out through a semi-industrial area of the town, returning to the countryside to meet the M22 from Belfast. This is the point at which the A6 takes over the trunk road from Belfast to Derry.
Randalstown - Derry
The A6 runs out of Randalstown to meet the M22 (Northern Ireland) at a rather awkward TOTSO junction, where the motorway runs straight onto the carriageway that the A6 now adopts. For the next few miles, the A6 is now a high-quality dual-carriageway, with partial hard shoulders and a long parking area, that affords an impressive view of Lough Neagh on its approach to the Drumderg Roundabout. This brand new section was opened in 2019, and has dramatically improved the quality of the road. It ties into its former route at the beginning of the older bypass for the village of Toomebridge, which was already dual-carriageway. The bypass crosses the River Bann, which flows out of the mighty Lough Neagh at this point. The bridge, which is a very modern structure, looks impressive when illuminated at night. The original road through the village is now the B18, which also runs onwards in a roughly parallel course to the A6 towards Magherafelt.
Once the dual-carriageway ends, there is a brief straight section of single carriageway with a leftward kink at half distance, which leads the A6 on to meet the A31; this stretch is also in the process of being dualled offline. The current road crosses over the Moyola River at Castledawson, before meeting the A31 at a large roundabout. A left turn here sees the A31 depart southwards in Magherafelt, and thereafter to meet the A29 just north of Cookstown. A dual carriageway bypass of Magherafelt is currently under construction to connect with the A6 and existing A31 at this roundabout. A right turn here will take you onto the A54 through Castledawson. This road then turns to run alongside the Bann up to Coleraine, and is a fantastic drive.
Staying on the A6, we now turn onto the Glenshane road, which leave the roundabout with a long overtaking lane heading in our direction. Gradually, the vegetation at the sides of the road reduces to the occasional clumps of pine trees and gorse bushes with their bright yellow flowers, in an otherwise increasingly sparse landscape. After a turning for which a filter lane is necessary, the overtaking lane reverts to the other side, providing a long opportunity for Belfast-bound traffic to make progress. After passing to the north of the Ballynahone Bog, the A6 encounters the A29, a long and mostly important route running the whole length of the province from north to south. The meeting point of these two strategic routes is negotiated via a short link road, which means that neither road need cede priority. There is then a lengthy stretch of hatched areas and filter lanes serving unclassified side roads and local businesses, before we begin to climb.
The Glenshane Pass is a magnificent stretch of road. It is wide. It is mostly straight, although there are some long, sweeping curves. There are overtaking lanes serving the uphill traffic on both sides, which also permit downhill overtaking if the middle lane is free. There are some expansive views of the open, largely unspoiled countryside, and several parking areas from which to pull over and enjoy them. On a clear day, it is possible to see right across Lough Neagh in the direction from which we have come. Near the summit, there is also the Ponderosa bar and restaurant, which claims to be the highest pub in Ireland. The Glenshane Pass is also renowned as a haven for that not-entirely-rare species: the PSNI camera van.
The A6 descends from the Glenshane Pass by entering the valley through which the River Roe passes, the river running to the left of the road. We then reach the small town of Dungiven. This is a surprisingly buy place, and the only place on the main route between Belfast and Derry where a 30mph speed limit is in force. Halfway through the town, the B68 sets off to the north, taking over the A6's pursuit of the River Roe towards Limavady. Dungiven is an Irish nationalist town, as evidenced by the various murals celebrating Guinness stout, Gaelic games, and the hunger-strikers who hailed from this village and who martyred themselves for the cause of a re-united Ireland during the Troubles by starving themselves to death in prison.
The A6 passes over the River Roe upon exiting the town, and sets a course for Derry. Most of this section of the road is wide, with gently curves and gentle undulations; as a result, it is very fast. It runs alongside the B74, along which the A6 once ran, but which passes through the villages of Feeny, Straidarran, and Claudy; the modern A6 is much the quicker route.
After being re-joined by the B74 at Killaloo, the A6 passes down a long hill with an overtaking lane in the opposite direction, before passing through a dip and climbing again, this time with an overtaking lane in our favour. The road then runs high along the eastern bank of the River Faughan before descending again, this time into Drumahoe. It crosses over the Faughan while passing to the south-west of the town centre, on a stretch where there is a 40mph speed limit in force. The A6 then climbs up a long straight hill, with yet another overtaking lane, into Derry.
We reach the city limits next to the sprawling hospital. A set of traffic lights provides access to the hospital, and the road then reaches its large roundabout with the Crescent Link Road. A left turn will take you into the suburbs of the Waterside, historically the Protestant side of the city. A right turn will take you around the periphery of the city along the A514 ring road, connecting the to the A2 (Northern Ireland) coast road leading to Limavady and Coleraine, and onto the A515 Foyle Bridge; this will take you right around the other side of the city, and eventually over the border into County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.
Traffic bound for the city centre will stick with the A6 as it begins its long descent, on the single carriageway Dungiven Road, which has two lanes in each direction. There is a traffic signal camera at the firs set of lights, and quite frequently a PSNI camera van as the hill disinclines many motorists from observing the 30mph speed limit. After the second set of traffic lights, the original route of the A6 departs on the left, running down into the Waterside's central business district, while the current route of the road takes a more northerly course, meeting the A2 arriving from Coleraine near the Ebrington Barracks, an eighteenth-century military facilty recently converted into an arts and entertainment complex to celebrate Derry's 2013 nomination as the UK's first City of Culture. From here, the A2 continues down to and across the Foyle, to the predominantly Catholic heart of Derry, on the Cityside.
Although the A6 technically still reaches Donegall Square in the heart of Belfast, it is now signposted only from Carlisle Circus. The route is relatively unchanged from its original alignment between Belfast and Antrim, where the bypass to the south and west of the town have caused it to deviate from its original course through the town centre (now the A522). It is also unchanged through Randalstown.
The recent opening of the dualled section between Randalstown and Toomebridge has diverted the A6 completely from its original carriageway, which until 2019 was the poorest-quality stretch of the route between Belfast and Derry. It was not as wide as any of the other sections of the road, did not have the hard-shoulders common to many of those sections, and provided scant opportunity for overtaking on account of its twisty nature; it was also highly congested during peak periods. Much of it was tree-lined, and there were many turnings into unclassified side roads. At one point, the route even passed close to a primary school. This section was therefore prioritised for imminent improvement in the 2010s, and the replacement dual-carriageway was constructed off-line to the south, the original line being renumbered as B183.
The A6 retains its original course across the Glenshane Pass and through Dungiven. However, a long section between Dungiven and Killaloo (just west of Claudy) was straightened in the 1960s, when the A6 route swapped numbers with the shorter B74. There are some existing realignments at Drumahoe, and on the descent into Derry's Waterside. The road from the bottom of the Glenshane Pass just east of Dungiven is now scheduled for offline dualling, which will include a bypass for Dungiven, all the way to Drumahoe.
- Work to start on Belfast-Londonderry A6 road (02.05.2017)
- Londonderry-Dungiven road: Work due to start on A6 (21.02.2018)
- A6 project: Resident says road work is damaging family life (09.07.2018)
- A6 dual carriageway: First phase of road opens (04.08.2019)
- The Trunk Road T8 (Randalstown to Toome) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011 - Proposed improvements to the M22 and A6 between Randalstown and Toome.