|Distance:||67.6 miles (108.8 km)|
|Meets:||A70, B701, A720, B7030, B7015, B7031, A899, B8046, B5008, B792, A704, A706, B715, B717, A73, A722, A721, B754, B7011, A72, B7019, M74, B7078, A723, B7086, A726, B743, B745, A719, B7037, B744, B7073, A76, A77, A735, B7038, B7064, B730, B7080, A78, A737|
|Old route now:||B7081|
|Route outline (key)|
The A71 is an historic route: it was the major agricultural artery connecting Edinburgh and Ayrshire. It still is, in a sense, though its failing days are numbered. With the completion of the M77 southward from Glasgow to Kilmarnock, and the connecting northern M74 extension it makes more sense for traffic from Edinburgh to opt for the M8-M73-M74-M77 route to Ayrshire than the backwaterish A71. As it stands, the route is still a crucial one, though it has suffered from patchy maintenance and several unimproved stretches, especially through its South Lanarkshire section where it has been eclipsed by other routes.
Edinburgh – Irvine
The A71 begins at the A70 through Gorgie-Dalry in the southern suburbs of central Edinburgh. Like most of inner Edinburgh, it is a crazily busy road during rush hour, the queues lengthened by innumerable roundabouts and a bus lane. Much of it is dual carriageway, however a bad situation is made worse in areas like Chesser, where the road is simply not wide enough.
The A71 begins at a five-way junction sometimes called Snack Corner, next to Dalry Cemetery. Initially it heads along Gorgie Road. At Balgreen Road it is joined by traffic from the West Approach Road. From there it briefly travels alongside the Water of Leith. There is a busy T-junction with Chesser Avenue which provides access to the A70 to the south. It then finally crosses the Water of Leith just before the end of Gorgie Road. It is briefly known as Stenhouse Road as it passes Saughton Jail, then becomes dual carriageway and heads out as Calder Road. It multiplexes with the B701 between Sighthill Roundabout and Bankhead Roundabout, passing large buildings belonging to Napier University and Edinburgh College.
At Bankhead Roundabout the B701 heads south into Wester Hailes while the A71 continues west. It passes Burton's biscuit factory on the north and just to the west of that there is a LILO giving eastbound traffic access to Cultins Road. Just beyond, it crosses the Union Canal but you'll hardly notice. To the north, you can see the old, smaller bridge used by the road before it was upgraded to dual carriageway. Your mind will be on other things as you come to Calder Junction where the route passes over the A720 City Bypass at a busy controlled roundabout, and in an instant the traffic evaporates.
The old line of the road lay slightly to the north, running through Hermiston. Today, the A71 remains wide dual carriageway as it approaches another large roundabout serving Hermiston Park and Ride, which is about a 40 minute bus ride from Princes Street. At the same junction, Riccarton Mains Road provides access to the main campus of Heriot Watt University.
There is a short section of dual carriageway west of the park and ride roundabout, but it soon narrows to single lanes, serving as an access road for the West Lothian commuter settlements of Linburn, Wilkieston, Pumpherston and East Calder. Formerly it passed through East Calder and Mid Calder, but these have now been bypassed to the south. The road then straightens and improves as it enters Livingston and one has more of a sense of its primary status, despite the inevitable, multiple New Town roundabouts (six in the space of about two miles) one of which meets Livingston's main artery, the A899. The stretch through Livingston features a wide strip of grass to the south of the carriageway, suggesting that this section may have been planned to be dualled at one time.
The road quietens again after Livingston, passing through a real bottleneck at West Calder (narrow high street, traffic lights) and Breich, beyond which at the junction with the A706 is the always-unusual presence of rural traffic lights.
As it heads into North Lanarkshire the landscape briefly becomes more barren and the road straighter (though no wider). Just before the village of Allanton the road becomes dual carriageway (albeit for just under a mile). It's an odd stretch of road: the eastbound carriageway was simply added to the main route, and is modern, flat and straight. The westbound carriageway, however, is the old road, full of dips and bends. At the village of Allanton all cabling (electrical, telephone, the lot) is still carried overhead, giving it a rather postwar rural feel.
Beyond the (gloriously named) village of Bonkle, at Newmains, the route briefly multiplexes with the A73, an odd manifestation of which is to see Peebles signposted (on a southwest-bound route). The road forks after about half a mile, and the A71 splits off, heading through the villages of Overtown and (surprisingly) Waterloo.
The route is now skirting the edge of the west-central Scotland conurbation (Wishaw is close by) and it suddenly becomes busier at Garrion Bridge where it needs to cross the Clyde which is a small river at this point. An old bridge controlled by traffic lights caused a bottleneck until relatively recently. However it has been partnered by a new bridge in an elegant roundabout solution, maintaining the character of the area and removing the traffic lights. This layout won well-deserved awards, for both engineering and landscaping. The A72 joins here, as does traffic bound for the M74.
At a further roundabout beyond Garrion Bridge, the A72 heads north towards Hamilton, which is also signposted M74(N). Southbound M74 traffic remain on the A71, leaving the route a mile or so later at an underpass where the M74 thunders over at J8. Curiously, there is space here for northbound access from the east, but it was never built.
Even more curiously, a bypass built round the village of Stonehouse a mile later, doesn't actually bypass it! Following the line of a disused railway, the bypass gives up the ghost about half a mile short of the end of the village and heads straight into it. The remaining part of the rail route avoids the village and dovetails with the road further on. This, and the fact that the un-bypassed part of the road includes a school, suggests that it is a work-in-progress—though there is no evidence of it.
The old railway is very much in evidence outside the market town of Strathaven a mile or so later: the piers of a railway bridge remain on either side of the road, looking like Roman ruins. Traffic for East Kilbride, southeast Glasgow and Paisley leaves here via an awkward junction through some unsuitable narrow streets to the A726, shockingly poorly signposted. This coupled with the fact that the A71 gets very narrow here makes Strathaven a candidate for another bypass using the ready-made rail route.
Only after Strathaven, entering East Ayrshire, does the route improve, though non-primary signs predominate. By now the A71 is finally clear of the Greater Glasgow conurbation, apparent by the lack of major junctions. For around 15 miles the road is the only game in town, unless the driver is tempted by single-track farm roads. The route then passes through the former mining communities of Darvel and Newmilns and is little more than a local access road, but not for long: the outskirts of Kilmarnock are close by. A major roundabout, joining the A76, A77 and A735, signal the start of the A71 as a dual carriageway, passing straight through (or should that be over) the southern half of Kilmarnock. Some of the signs state non-primary, but this is in fact the A71's best stretch of road along its entire length. It should be: this is a new alignment and the old A71 is now the B7081.
The original A71 headed into Irvine, but as it passes into North Ayrshire the modern route crosses the A78 south of the town centre at the Warrix Interchange. Here it returns once more to single lanes, before ending rather lamely at the junction with the A737, a stone's throw from the Sainsbury's supermarket.
The route through West Edinburgh and West Lothian has seen a considerable amount of realignment and bypassing, as mentioned in the route description. This includes the bypassing of Hermiston on a more southerly line: the old line of Calder Road is still visible from the bridge over the Union Canal just north of the existing A71, through Hermiston itself, then merging back to the old line just east of Hermiston House Road.
The next section of the old road ran through more uneven ground, leaving less scope for realignment, and the old narrow bridge over Gogar Burn near Keirhill Pond is still used. Once west of the river, the land flattens out again. From a little west of Wilkieston the A71 formerly ran through the centres of Camps, East Calder, and Mid Calder. Thanks to a bypass, this slower route is now part of the B7015. Beyond Mid Calder, the old road turned sharply south, joining what is more like the current line of the A71 as it heads through southern Livingston and into West Calder. The next section of the route, through West Calder, is little changed.