|Location Map ( geo)|
|Distance:||52.2 miles (84 km)|
|Meets:||A724, B755, B7071, A723, B7078, M74, A71, B7056, B7086, B7018, A73, A702, A701, A721, B7059, B712, B7062, A703, B7088, B709, A707, B710, A7|
|Old route now:||A73, A702|
|Route outline (key)|
The A72 is a great drivers’ road, and offers some of the most pleasant views to be found in the Scottish Lowlands as it ploughs its path through the valleys of the Clyde, Tweed, and more besides. It’s not fast, direct, heavily used, a complete route, as long as it needs to be, or engineered to a high standard. But don’t let those count against it.
The A72 runs between Hamilton, the biggest town in South Lanarkshire and one of the larger hubs of the Glasgow commuter belt, and Galashiels, just close enough to Edinburgh to feel its influence while sitting at the gateway into the border country. Hamilton and Galashiels directly contrast the road that links them; they’re regional centres which are bustling, linked up, and not so photogenic.
The A72 just about gets into the Southern Uplands, yet still travels a significant distance west-to-east across the country; no major road crosses the east-west watershed further south in Scotland and to some extent this excuses its hills and tight bends. It’s clearly an ancient route, and makes use of a series of river crossings in or around ancient bridge sites, some of which still stand.
Its primary purpose was to get Glaswegians into the Borders for their holidays in Peebles or Melrose, and bring everyone in and out of the markets and bustling mills in places like Lanark or Biggar. Those draws are gone now thanks to post-war deindustrialisation and globalisation. Galashiels remains a primary route destination but the road itself surrendered its primary status in 1996 and the green signs are almost all gone now. In fact the western half was never primary, that status being taken instead by the A721 which makes a better job of getting straight from urban Lanarkshire to the east.
Another preconception to rid ourselves of is that the A72’s lofty designation affords it any sort of importance on the road network. It starts by turning off a 3-digit A route, and is lost under other numbers in short junction multiplexes on a handful of occasions. It’s completely torn asunder in the middle by the A73, surrendering something like nine miles in the process.
Hamilton to the M74
The western end of the A72 is particularly inauspicious, beginning as it does somewhere in the vicinity of Hamilton West train station, where it turns off the A724. Exactly where is unclear; the signs suggest that it is begat by two one-way A724 spurs along Almada Street and Clydesdale Street, but common sense says it must start directly off Burnbank Road. Its first mile is promising, a mostly dual-carriageway tour forming something of an inner-ring road for the central shopping park, which to its credit is tree-lined and has been nicely cleaned up from what must have been a concrete carbuncle to begin with. And then it gives way to, and is lost under, the A723 Strathaven to Motherwell road. Oh dear.
Eventually a single carriageway A72 fights its way out south-eastwards and over a bit of history. The name Carlisle Road is the giveaway – this is the historic A74 route south, albeit one that has been bypassed by motorway for nearly half a century. Out of Hamilton the A72 becomes a leafy route, particularly desirable in and about the Chatelherault country park; the wonderfully Francophone name seeming quite out-of-place in South Lanarkshire.
The road shadows the rail line down to Larkhall, only recently re-established, before it turns off the old A74 route eastwards at Merryton and junctions the M74, without the option to continue south, complete with a little bit of dual carriageway to ease the right turners onto the northbound motorway. Merryton represents the traditional start of the A72; the last few miles were a gift from the old A74 and other roads that were renumbered with the coming of the motorway. If only it could have borrowed the A724 too and made it to Glasgow proper.
Beyond Junction 7 the A72 Lanark Road is a different beast, edging right up to the River Clyde and following its contours more closely. A new section has shoehorned its way in at Garrion Bridge, where the old hamlet has been bypassed and the A72 tied into the A71 with a roundabout, all part of the modernisation of the upcoming junction. The A71 was once carried eastwards from here on the handsome and ancient Garrion Bridge, which is only wide enough for a single track. The solution to this bottleneck was a second bridge to create a gyratory spanning the river twice; A72 traffic is left going the long way round before it can re-emerge on the southward run. In crossing the bridges it technically enters North Lanarkshire - but under a multiplex, so it doesn't count technically speaking.
The route from here on down is slow and meandering, and while a 40 limit may sound imposing it’s not easy to exceed in any case owing to the tight and blind curves that obscure the ahead view. However this is a road worth slowing down for; there are some majestic locations like the 17th century church at Dalserf, the Maudslie Bridge gatehouse and the beautiful Tudor-esque hotel in Rosebank, the garden centre capital of Scotland.
The road has a very hemmed-in feel, with the Clyde popping in and out of view to the east, the hills rising quite quickly to the west, and the road slinking through the quite narrow valley amongst the hedges and fences. All the time it’s gently curving from south to east, with the limit bouncing up and down but the going getting tougher, especially on the near hairpin bend at Stonebyres. On the outskirts of Lanark at Kirkfieldbank it seems to lose its sense of direction entirely and wanders aimlessly, lobbing up and down over mounds before bridging the Clyde again on the brick single-arch Kirkfieldbank Brae bridge, which would look majestic in its own right if it wasn’t flanked by the beautiful Clydesholm Bridge, its 17th century stone predecessor.
Lanark, Biggar and the lost section
Another set of chicanes through the drumlins neighbouring the river – if it wasn’t clear this is an ancient route that hasn’t seen any significant realignment, it really should be now – before Lanark arrives, the old market and county town at the heart of the southern lowlands. But just like that it’s goodbye to the A72 as it gives way to the A73 Glasgow Road sweeping in from the west; the A73 gobbled this (and the old A720) up in the 1930s to get south to Abington for the A74, resulting in almost nine miles of A72 being lobbed off including the historic Hyndford Bridge, another single track Clyde crossing.
Finally at St John's Kirk by Symington we get our road back and get bridged by the West Coast main line railway under a bridge far too short and narrow for its purpose. At least the land is flatter here as the Clyde flood plain stretches out, time enough for a fifth and final crossing (although only two have counted for the A72) on Wolfclyde Bridge. Biggar itself is just around the corner, but it’s the same old story for the A72 which cedes control of its destiny to the A702 trunk road from Edinburgh and doesn’t grace the High Street any more.
It separates back off to the north near Skirling, finally rising out of the Clyde valley and into the Borders where it briefly straightens and widens up – at least until the next give-way line to the A701. However this is where something amazing happens – the A72 takes precedence over another route! Despite not having priority at the junction it remains the signed route number right up to Kirkdean – where it meets the A721, the road that really should be the A72 – on a plateau of sorts, the watershed between the west and the east of the country.
Into the Borders
To continue on the A72 requires a sharp right turn at an absolute stinker of a junction south of Blyth Bridge, with astonishingly steep feeder roads and a totally unnecessary hairpin bend – if any traffic at all used this it would have been remodelled decades ago. The descent eastwards from here is thankfully much more pleasant, with good views down the hill and rolling farmland as far as the eye can see. The next river companion for the A72, the Lyne Water, slides quickly into view.
There’s a real remoteness about this section of the road – save for the farmsteads, not a lot comes and goes. The biggest visual cue of progress is the gentle widening of the river, which it crosses on a gentle curve near Hallyne offering another view of a glorious stone bridge that has passed its serviceable life as a main route – this one doesn’t even connect to the road anymore. Soon the Lyne gives way to the Tweed, and the A72 rises above it precariously perched on the hillside to the north – there’s not as wide or consistent a flood plain to help navigation here.
Signs for ancient Neidpath Castle are the first mark of the return of civilisation – and in style, with the civilisation in question consisting of the jewel in the A72’s crown, picture-postcard Peebles. The road is sent over another Tweed tributary, the Eddleston Water, and trundles right up the bustling High Street, still proving something of a tourist draw to this day. The Tweed straightens up and as does the road, sending off the A703 back north to Edinburgh, and carries on eastwards at the base of the Glentress forest, a haven for campers and mountain bikers alike.
It suddenly becomes a quick road again as it widens out near Cardrona, what was 20 years ago a single plush hotel and is now a burgeoning developement big enough to trouble the census takers. Save for the nasty right-hander where the steep valley puts just an old stone wall between the road and a plunge, there’s a pleasant run down to Innerleithen in the heart of the Vale of Leithen, demanding another visually graceful river crossing – a nice reprieve from all the weaving in and out of parked traffic. The next town, Walkerburn, follows quickly and seems perched improbably on the valley’s sidewalls with alarmingly steep roads dropping away to the south.
Five or so miles further past Walkerburn, there used to be a tricky river crossing where the A72 turned off north and beginning the A707. Thankfully this has been curtailed with a roundabout at Caddonfoot and a climbing lane to let the road ease its way up out of the Tweed’s grasp and towards its final destination. Save for the interruption of Clovenfords and its central roundabout, the run up to the banks of the next and final river comes and goes without much incident.
Up to Galashiels
The river in question is the Gala Water, and thus the final destination of Galashiels is just about in view. After wrapping round to the east the houses start to line the road on one side, with the view of the river curtailed by heavy forestation to the north as the A72 makes its way into town as King Street. Eventually it finds itself as a typical urban arterial road working its way downhill and near ruler-straight. It seems to continue for an age before the stone houses give way to sixties corrugated iron and an inner-city shopping and industrial estate quite out of keeping with the rest of the journey.
As King Street makes its way into central Galashiels it narrows, so much so that it becomes one way at the Bridge Inn and the A72 is shunted to the north. Fittingly there is one final bridge for the Gala Water, before it climbs up and stops at a recently built mini-roundabout to tie in with the works for the new Galashiels railway station. From here, it’s A7 both ways.