|Location Map ( geo)
|75.5 miles (121.5 km)
|A8, A71, A721, A743, A73, M74, A76, A77, A713, A79, A719
|Route outline (key)
The A70. Such an important number suggests grandeur, immediately conjuring up images of a cross-country route linking important settlements and inviting lots of traffic along its considerable length. When allocated in 1922, our A70 performed this feat with aplomb, striking west out of the capital toward the historic county town of Lanark and its many markets, linking the collieries of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire together, and joining all of the above to the Atlantic shipbuilding hub of Ayr. The trouble is, as the decades have passed, and everything around it has evolved beyond recognition, the A70 has failed to follow suit. It has remained steadfastly unchanged while its importance dwindled away and today its adjacent cousins – the M8, A71, A702 and others – have deprived it of all renown. Although its Edinburgh-based signs steadfastly point the way to Lanark and those in south central Scotland reciprocate, there is little "Scottish" long-distance traffic traversing this varied route. Its main use these days for long-distance traffic from South Ayrshire to England: the route from Ayr to Gretna via A70-M74/A74(M) is easier than A70/A76/A75.
Edinburgh – Balerno
The A70 first appears on the capital's streets at the Haymarket, not quite a mile west of the Castle. This one junction feeds five roads, a major mainline railway station, and soon perhaps a tram connection too. Dalry Road, the southern arm, begins the journey through tenemented suburbia but soon encounters a bizarre interruption; an unsuspecting overbridge resembling an ordinary railway flyover which has been re-employed to carry the unclassified West Approach Road, an inner city bypass of sorts. Shortly after follows a second five-way junction from which the A71 is spun off, heading first for Gorgie and then for Kilmarnock. The A71 is dualled through much of the city and carries much more traffic weight from here to the City Bypass than the A70. You could argue that we have already used the most important part of the A70, even though in distance terms there is still over 99% of the journey ahead of us.
There's a climb at this point – the first of many – to get up to the level of Slateford Road and start the journey out of the city in earnest. The railway line to Glasgow (via Shotts), one of Edinburgh's manifold arterials, joins it for the journey through Slateford and Chesser, just in time to cue strange flyover number two as the Union Canal is routed overhead on a handsome arched bridge dating to the 1930s. A wide four-lane suburban route carries traffic nearly to the outskirts at a 40mph limit, right up to the Gillespie Crossroads, where traffic wanting the City Bypass must depart and borrow the B701 via Wester Hailes. The A70 isn't afforded a junction with the modern Bypass, unlike every other A-road that crosses its path. Back en route, Edinburgh proper is left behind and there are commuter settlements at Juniper Green, Currie and Balerno which the A70 skirts in an arrow-straight fashion. Each of the three is built up to the north of the main road only with few exceptions; the Water of Leith is now shadowing the road to its immediate south. This entire section is titled Lanark Road (or Lanark Road West), right up to the point where it doglegs sharply left on the outskirts of Balerno to avoid some stately property.
Balerno - Carstairs
Thus ends the urban section, and it will be almost twenty miles to the next settlement of any size. There is however an (almost) disused airfield at Whitemoss – RAF Kirknewton in World War II parlance. As if wishing to fly itself, the A70 now begins to scale the Pentland hills in earnest. A route lined by rolling farmland and trees belies the fact that the gradient is increasing and shortly after it passes the Harperrig and Cobbinshaw reservoirs, the road has quietly made it over the 1,000 feet mark as it crosses from the Lothians into Lanarkshire. This part of South Lanarkshire lies on a plateau of sorts so while there is distance to travel there is not far to fall before the road butts end-on to the A721 and the A70 needs to Give Way and make a right turn in Carnwath.
There are three miles between Carnwath and Carstairs shared with the A721 (with the A70 number dominant), which was until the early part of the 21st century part of the now-defunct primary route between Glasgow and Peebles. The A70 negotiates its way back off this line in in Carstairs, which depending on your occupation or persuasion is home to either a major West Coast Main Line junction station, or Carstairs State Hospital, an institution for mental patients and violent criminals. In truth, neither is actually in the town; the inventively named Carstairs Junction, a mile to the east, houses both. Fallacies notwithstanding, the A70 leaves all this behind for Ravenstruther at which point Lanark, its signposted destination since the beginning, is almost in view. But here, three miles short of Lanark town centre, the A70 decides against continuing its journey there and lets the A743 take the slack. The forward destination of its route becomes Ayr, which is still some 45 meandering miles away. At least it will actually reach that one.
Carstairs - Cumnock
To continue the A70's journey south-west, a crossing of the Clyde is required. Hyndford Bridge is the only one around for miles, and as such is shared by the A70 and an A72-A73 multiplex. Incredible then that it is just a single track bridge that carries three of Scotland's most important roads – important in numerical terms, at least. Of the three, it's the A73 that is afforded the luxury of appearing on the signs before the split comes again and the hills swing back into view on the run to Rigside. Soon after follows Uddington, immediately west of which the keenest glance yet of this road's fall from grace is offered; that of its meeting with the Glasgow-Carlisle trunk route. In 1922, there were two simple T-junctions with the A74 and some shared tarmac, for which the A70 was the priority signed route. Come the 1980s, the dual carriageway A74 ploughed through and offered only central reservation gaps for the A70 to negotiate. Today, the A70 must stop for a roundabout, a mini-roundabout and two doses of B7078 while the M74 ploughs through as an uninterrupted motorway of four lanes to the north and six to the south. Even with all of that the A70 only has access to the southbound motorway; to go north requires the B7078 to J11. Building Millbank Interchange required a short rerouting of the A70, at least offering a section of this road which has come off its historic line – calling it an upgrade though would be something of a fallacy.
The grounds of Douglas Castle border the motorway and are a sight to behold, dwarfing many times over its parent settlement. Passing such doubles as an opportunity to pick up the title Ayr Road. Crossing the Douglas Water (a Clyde tributary) begins another climb and the beginning of an up-close and personal relationship with the many open-cast mines of Ayrshire, the largest of which being Glenbuck. The long-abandoned tracks of the Caledonian Railway's Douglasdale railway brought their black gold within reach. Besides the interruption of the twin settlements of Muirkirk and Smallburn, this section is vastly remote. Some twenty miles are covered through the valleys of the Ayr River amongst the otherwise mountainous terrain before another sizeable settlement is reached, Cumnock.
Cumnock - Ayr
The cramped town centre of Cumnock houses the A70, and once also housed the A76. The latter though is now a trunk route and is afforded a bypass, while the former must make its way through the town centre, crossing the old A76 route at a traffic-light-controlled junction; before the bypass you would take a left after Greenmill Primary School and then the one way system B7083 then right onto Ayr Street B7046 to the police station. Then it's a short drive past Cumnock Academy uphill to meet the A76 at a neatly landscaped roundabout on the western outskirts, which instigates another section of this route which once carried primary status; the link between A76 and A77 which is bounded by patchwork fields once more. The first stop on this section is Ochiltree, swung into from the south only for an almost immediate and parallel departure. It would have been an easier and shorter route to bypass the town completely rather than curve in and borrow a few yards of its high street. Back on the colliery trend, there is still work going on at Killoch, and the next settlement clearly owes its existence to this once vast industry – it's called Coalburn. The town of Coylton roughly marks a break from the industrial activity, which is left to the east now in favour of some vastly different land use, the holiday parks of South Ayrshire.
With the final destination now in full view across the next roundabout, there's time enough for a dose of déjà vu at the A77 – just as in Cumnock, the north-south route is now a trunk road bypass and the A70 hasn't budged an inch. It butts back up to the River Ayr and enters Ayr itself from the east; Holmston Road flanks a sizeable cemetery for almost its entire length before arrowing straight for the railway station, and a left turn which commences a multiplex with the A79; the A70 number is even dominant. This last blast boasts a plethora of road features and is perhaps the most transformed section in the road's history – arguably, it's everything the A70 isn't. There's a dual-carriageway railway bridge, two roundabouts and even a one-way gyratory circling a multiplex cinema (this is where the A79 leaves again). It's doubling as the southern arm of the town centre ring road here – a feature which is heavily signposted despite being cobbled together from bits of A-roads with no obvious concentric link, so much so that the road numbers are subsumed by the moniker on all signage. And then there is only the last few hundred yards of Miller Road, to the bitter end at traffic lights on the A719. There's one block of houses and the Low Green between us, the Esplanade, and the open water.
If you've been counting, there have been junctions with every 2-digit 7-zone road save for the A75 and A78. And yet, when it comes to performing a coherent function on the road network, it probably loses out to them all in the modern world.