|Distance:||71.6 miles (115.2 km)|
|Meets:||A780, A75, B7020, B7076, A74(M), A708, B719, B712, B7016, A72, B7059, A703, A6094, B6372, A766, B7026, B7003, A703, A768, A720, B701, A772, A7, A700|
|Former Number(s):||A708, A74, A752, A6094, A7|
|Old route now:||A703|
|Route outline (key)|
Section 1: Dumfries – Moffat
The first 20 miles of the road form the primary route link between Dumfries and the A74(M) for northbound Glasgow/Edinburgh traffic and is generally speaking a high quality single carriageway, although there are notable exceptions. One of the interesting things about this road is that despite the multitude of modifications that have taken place to it over the last 30 years it still retains a lot of its older features like milestones and attractive stone bridges (although some have been left on old alignments). The road passes largely through attractive rural countryside with no intermediate settlements of any significance. It rises and falls gently along its entire route and the wide vista is crowned with a view of the Southern Uplands. (If that isn't enough for you to drive it I don't know what is :) )
At one time the road began at the now-defunct roundabout with the then-A75 at the head of Dumfries High Street opposite Greyfriars Church. It now begins at a traffic-light junction a few hundred yards to the north where the A780 turns off down Loreburn Street opposite the Dumfries Academy. Edinburgh Road as it is called is one of the most attractive routes out of Dumfries, passing a lot of substantial (and expensive) town-houses. The A701 which is not primary at this point passes over the Dumfries/Glasgow railway. The bridge is preceded by a tight right-hand bend and followed by a mini roundabout at Moffat Road. This intersection is notorious for being the site of many near collisions as the roundabout has very limited visibility and even when waiting at the lines it is hard to be certain that your way is clear. After negotiating this obstacle we pass Marchfields, which is composed of an attractive old house surrounded by banal developments, and continue to a roundabout on the A75 Dumfries bypass. This roundabout is a large but simple affair and it is at this point we become primary. The omens are not good though when we plunge straight into the ugly sprawl that is the villages (suburbs?) of Heathhall and Locharbriggs, which are all a 30 mph zone despite the road generally having a minimum number of road-front properties and most of the development being industrial. There are some interesting sights though like the Gates Rubber Factory plant (former Arroll Johnstone Car plant: the first concrete framed building in Britain) and the Curries Lorry Depot. Curries are one of the biggest hauliers in Scotland. This stretch of the road is also littered with traffic calming features like bollards, slaloms, hatching down the middle and traffic islands. There is also a plethora of traffic lights (3) and a roundabout. It makes for a slow exit from the town and it lasts for over 1.5 miles.
Eventually, however, the limit goes and we can begin to enjoy our drive north. Unfortunately the first few miles are very narrow and twisty (for a primary A road). However once we get past the tight left-handed bend at Amisfield, and past the sign still pointing to the defunct A74, the road opens up considerably and we can finally get past all those heavy vehicles we have been following. The road has been improved here considerably with many loops cut out and wide verges constructed. If we look carefully we can make out the former cuttings and bridges of the old Dumfries–Lockerbie railway. After another mile or so (5 miles from Dumfries) we regain the old alignment through some bends, but this is just temporary as we suddenly veer onto a new alignment. The road here is very wide and open, and it is likely it was intended as a dual carriageway – many maps still show this section to be dualled. However, I suspect it was cancelled due to the impending A74(M) construction and the possible upgrading of the A709. Beside the new road the council still maintain the attractive old Water of Ae bridge which is now left on a large lay-by primarily used by local farmers to store hay.
We pass through the hamlet of Parkgate and the entrance to the Barony Agricultural College (this area is really rural) and then pass uncomfortably close to the buildings of Wester Parkgate before we continue north. I can't believe there haven't been accidents, especially with the concealed road entrance on the right. This area has also been the point where the Scotland–Ireland gas pipelines are routed through. It explains the narrow band of newly replanted hedges. The next few miles are on the original road alignment but the road, although quite narrow, has good visibility and there is some pleasant scenery. However, this section does have the tendency to have long straights followed by a short twisty part, which can sometimes suggest the original intention for the road before other priorities left it unfinished. The tight bend at the end of this straight has been widened considerably and opened up which makes the road look very distorted. However, the successive sequence of bends still pose a problem for drivers especially with the small access road from the right. The character of the landscape has changed considerably now – you realise how far you have climbed (150 m). The open fields have given way to a landscape with a lot more coniferous plantations, although interspersed with older broad-leaf forests.
We are now more than half way to Moffat and this is marked by the traffic lights at St Ann's Bridge. The bridge is very decorative but is narrow and totally unsuitable for a modern A Class road. In addition the bridge has a strange curve on it which means that while crossing you are heading south even though the direction you are moving is north. This has meant that many drivers have misjudged the alignment completely and ended up embedded in the parapets. The constantly re-pointed walls are a testament to this. On the positive note it is one of Dumfries and Galloway's few traffic lights where the radar detector actually seems to work.
The following four miles are quite featureless as we pass through modern plantation forests, some of which have been felled which has improved the views immensely. It is interesting to note that these forests were considered as a possible location for a holiday village (Center Parcs), and indeed planning permission was requested but nothing happened. As soon as we leave the forests we find ourselves able to look down over the valley of the River Annan in which the most obvious features are the British Gas pumping station and the A74(M) motorway. At this point you also get the first clear look at the Southern Upland hills which now crowd around us to the north, and are often shrouded in mist and rain. The junction on the right with the B7020 to Lochmaben, and this section of the road generally, have been opened up greatly by the council to provide better access to the gas pumping station. It is interesting to note that this is the first classified road to meet the A701 since the A75 Dumfries bypass, 15 miles ago. This illustrates the remoteness of the area. We now descend into the valley and see the first signs acknowledging the presence of the motorway.
We make a tight right turn towards the motorway and it is possible to see the old road to Beattock continue straight on. This road is now an unclassified southern entrance to the village where it meets the old (pre-bypass) alignment of the A74 in the centre, where there are still a fingerpost and a pre-Worboys sign at the junction. The new alignment of the A701 soon passes the junction with the B7076 for Lockerbie on the right, then uses the southbound carriageway of the ex-A74 (Beattock's first bypass) - indicated by the kerbing that appears. The northbound carriageway has become a cycle route. Prior to the upgrading of the A74 to a motorway there used to be a simple grade-separated junction with the A701 utilising an underpass. This explains the steep slope we have climbed to get to the height of the A74's embankment. If you are familiar with the old A74, then this section of the road, although it has been singled, is still very recognisable. About a hundred yards to the right Beattock's second bypass the A74(M) passes us. A further mile along we curve to the left to meet Junction 15 of the motorway at a 5-limb roundabout. To our left is the Telford Inn (still operating behind an abandoned bridge of the old A74) and the now-unclassified road back to Beattock, then comes the B7076 northbound, then the A74(M) on and off slips, and finally the A701 continues towards Moffat under the motorway, although it will lose its primary status at the second roundabout of Junction 15, where the southbound slips are accessed.
East of the A74(M), the A701 still has over 50 miles to go before reaching Edinburgh. This is generally a quieter and more attractive route to the city than the signposted A702 further north; the relative narrowness and twistiness discourages heavy vehicles, though there is no specific restriction. The only place of any size for most of the distance is Moffat, which we come to in about a mile, after a bridge over the River Annan.
Moffat is a spa and holiday town, notable for the grave of John Loudon Macadam of road-surfacing fame in the old cemetery, and a High Street that is so wide it consists of two S2s running together with ample room for transverse bus parking between. Here the A708 for Selkirk is to the right, then shortly we come to a roundabout where an unclassified road continues ahead on the level of the Annan to follow it for most of the way to the source, while the A701 bears left, re-crosses the river on its way out of the town and starts a long winding climb into the hills.
Section 2: Moffat – Edinburgh
The last junction with a classified road for a long way is reached in a couple of miles, when the B719 for Greenhillstairs and the B7076 (ex-A74) north of Moffat is a fork to the left. Shortly after the junction we cross a stream, known for the connection with a gruesome murder in 1935, when Dr Buck Ruxton of Lancaster killed his wife and nursemaid, then cut up their bodies and placed parts of them under this bridge and the rest at other spots in the area.
The road then climbs along the flank of a hillside with the upper waters of the south-flowing Annan to the right, which is followed for several miles until its source in the natural amphitheatre of the Devil's Beef Tub. Here we cross a shoulder which is a watershed; for the rest of the journey the water flow is ultimately eastward. Soon there is the border between the historic counties of Dumfriesshire and Peeblesshire immediately east of their border with Lanarkshire, then the source of the River Tweed is signed on the right. Initially an imperceptible stream in the moorland, the Tweed soon emerges as a recognisable river, which we follow for a long way. As well as the wide river valley, the other conspicuous thing is the vast area of forestry plantations.
The only settlement in many miles is the tiny village of Tweedsmuir, where there is an unclassified road to the right for the Talla Reservoir, this being extended when the more recent Megget Reservoir was built, and now providing a spectacularly hilly route to the A708 as it passes by St Mary's Loch. As the A701 continues generally northeastwards a level embankment can be seen at intervals, marking a long-closed railway used for the Talla construction. A bit north of Tweedsmuir is the Crook Inn, dating from 1604 and supposedly Scotland's oldest licensed coaching hostelry, and in which the railway proprietor had a financial interest. Events at the Crook on Friday nights during that period, after the wages had been paid out, can be imagined. It was said that the workers were paid their wages on a Friday and, by Monday, most of the money had come back to the railway company. Due to the oddity of the postcode zones, the inn has an ML (Motherwell) prefix.
With the A701 following the Tweed, the effect is to lose height, but this is disguised by many gentle ups and downs. A few miles beyond Tweedsmuir, the river is lost as it bears right towards Peebles deep in the uplands to the east, but the character of the road changes little, as it still tends to go between the hills rather than over them. Shortly after leaving the river the B712 is to the right, cutting the corner to join the A72 west of Peebles, then the village of Broughton is reached, with the B7016 to the left for Biggar.
A few more miles brings a junction with the A72 angling in on the left from Biggar, our road having priority. The roads multiplex for 3 miles, the A72 number being dominant. The A721 for Carnwath arrives on the left shortly before the end. At the village of Blyth Bridge, the A72 leaves us as it makes a TOTSO to the right for Peebles. The A701 continues northeastwards, passing through the strangely-named village of Mountain Cross (the hills here are nothing like mountains, nor is there an obvious cross or crossing) before coming to Romannobridge, where the B7059 cuts back to the right to the A72 for Peebles. There are extensive ancient cultivation terraces on the hill to the right, best seen by the light of the setting sun.
The B7059 multiplexes with our road for a mile, then leaves to the left for West Linton. There is now a long level stretch for several miles until we come to Leadburn at the Midlothian boundary. Here we TOTSO to the left to head north, the A6094 continuing the northeasterly line straight ahead and the A703 south for Peebles being sharp right. There are plans to remodel this junction, as the present layout gives very poor sighting to the left when making the Give Way crossing from the A6094 to the A701. The A703 multiplexes with the A701 for several miles on the way north, until they diverge to go to different parts of Edinburgh.
It is now 3 miles to Penicuik, which we approach by falling into the valley of the River North Esk. The B6372 for Gorebridge is to the right just before we cross the river, then after a brief multiplex it leaves again to the left for the A766 west of the town centre. Penicuik's main industry used to be paper manufacture, the first mill opening in 1709, but this has now ended and the town is basically a dormitory for Edinburgh, whose city centre is only 9 miles away. The old town centre has suffered from the opening of a large retail park between here and the city, the loss of trade made worse by a large supermarket on the right less than half a mile away, just after the A766 leaves on the left to cut across to the A702 southwest of the town. After passing a large barracks on the way out of Penicuik, we are joined by the B7026 as it angles in on the right from Auchendinny at a rare bit of D2.
There is notional green belt between Penicuik and Edinburgh, but not of much scenic value. The coal mining which used to proliferate here has left its mark on the terrain, and a lot of land is taken up by shopping sheds. There are also a lot of junctions between here and the city bypass, most with roundabouts. First is the B7003 on the right for Rosewell, then the A703 (which has been multiplexing since Leadburn) on the left for the A702 at the Hillend Ski Centre just outside the city bypass, then the B7006 on the right for Roslin, home of the 15th century Rosslyn Chapel.
The A768 for Loanhead is next on the right at traffic lights, then more roundabouts giving access to the Straiton Retail Park, again on the right. Then the boundary with the city of Edinburgh (historically part of Midlothian) is reached, just short of a GSJ with the A720 city bypass, the first of whose roundabouts gives access also to the B702 angling back on the right for Loanhead. A short uphill stretch of D2 completes the green belt, then we are in a built-up area for the rest of the route.
There is a light-controlled crossing of the B701, the road taken by those cutting across the south of Edinburgh before the city bypass was built, then we are in typical suburbs of villas and bungalows shading into tenements, marking the city's growth outwards over time. A notable junction is with the A772 to the right at traffic lights. This used to be the A7 and marked the end of the A701, as the more important number took over our route into the city. The modern A7, however, replaces the A68 north of Sheriffhall Roundabout on the city bypass and joins us further north, so the A701 continues for another mile or so and ends at a light-controlled crossroads. We are on Newington Road (A701): right is East Preston Street (A7 for Dalkeith), straight ahead is South Clerk Street (A7 for the east end of Princes Street), left is West Preston Street (A700 for the west end of Princes Street).
Originally the A701 started on the A7 (now A772) south of Edinburgh and ran along its current route as far as Leadburn, where it continued south to meet the A72 in Peebles. In 1935 this stretch was renumbered A703 and the A701 was rerouted cross-country via Moffat to reach Dumfries.