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Sheffield to Fort William

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So lets go away for a few days she said ! What started out as a few days in a nice pub with rooms ended up being another long but fun road trip

Introduction

I live in Sheffield, so a trip to Loch Lomond and back isn't something you do in a day, well not unless you suffer from some form of sleep disorder ! So we decided to look at taking in the delights of a North Yorkshire pub, heading up to stay in a beach house overlooking Loch Lomond and then returning via Cumbria.

Day One - Sheffield to Swaledale

Heading off after a hearty breakfast on Friday 16th October, we headed up via the nearby A57 to join the M1 and then the M18, before peeling off to hit a massive jam on the A1(M) just to the west of Doncaster, we considered taking a back route to avoid the jam, but each time the next junction came up, the traffic started to move at a fair old pace, so we ended up wasting a good 20 minutes on the bottleneck that is the Doncaster Bypass.

Casting an eye to the left at the massive junction that is Holmefield, we continue up the bumpy section of the A1(M) towards Hook Moor, where the A1(M) and the M1 rejoin each other after parting company in northern London. We pass through the recently widened Wetherby bypass, now a full D3M motorway class route and continue up to a tiny soon to disappear junction just north of jct 49 that links to the A168, onto a unclassified road called Shambles Lane.

Rejoining the A61 feels very odd, I always consider this to be a Sheffield road, so seeing signs for it in the middle of nowhere just doesn't feel quite right. We head west through the lovely little town of Ripon, where we pick up the B6265, heading for the Yorkshire Dales. The sun is glorious, as it usually is in October, we push on through Hebden, Grassington, Threashfield and onwards to Kettlewell via the B6160.

The B6160 is a deceptive route, on the maps it looks like a key route through the tourist areas, on the ground, the reality is quite different, much of it is just about wide enough to squeeze two cars past each other. Crossing over the pass towards Newbiggin, we divert over onto some unclassified routes through Aysgarth, Carperby, Redmire and then over to Feetham via Wipperdale Bank and the B6270. Thankfully, the red flags on the range were just coming down after what looked like a private shoot.

We stayed friday night at The Punch Bowl, a lovely pub in a valley, with Black Sheep Ale, great food and a lovely room for a reasonable price.

Day Two - Swaledale to Loch Lomond via Galloway

We wake to a light drizzle and after a great breakfast, we charge off west along the B6270 towards Kirkby Stephen and then pick up the A685 to Brough where we pick up the slowly evolving A66. Over the last two decades, I've seen the A66 slowly evolve from a busy nightmare of a snake full of HGV's to a pretty good quality dual carriageway, although there are still many sections in the west left to upgrade. The Temple Sowerby bypass being the most recent section of new road and a welcome overtaking opportunity.

Hitting the M6 at Penrith reintroduces me to the little man syndrome, I signal with ample space, but little man behind me feels I've caused him a few nanoseconds of delay and insists on letting me know with a flurry of hand signals and abuse. I consider getting out and having words, but just get on with my trip. Welcome to Cumbria ! ;¬) The M6 north of Penrith doesn't get anymore interesting, the more times I drive it, the short lived new section of D3M that replaces the Cumberland Gap seems short and a hell of a lot of money for such a short improvement, vital never-the-less.

A massive blue sign with a white cross signals my arrival in Scotland and reminds me that I'm looking to get off the motorway and soon after the Gretna exit, I pick up the A75 to Dumfries, which whilst is a well engineered road, its quite a boring road and often difficult to make pace due to the slow curves that were a feature of early design standards.

Cutting through Dumfries, we pick up the coastal A710 road, at first I wonder if I've made a mistake, the sun is in my eyes, it looks dull as you leave the built up area, then suddenly the road comes alive and throws you around, great fun ! We charge through New Abbey, Overton, Kirkbean with a great view over the Solway Firth. Stopping for a break at the pretty beach at Douglas Hall.

After a bite to eat, we turn inland picking up the A711, then the A745 to Castle Douglas, a dull looking town, full of nothing in particular. The A713 screams at us, passing under the A75, we charge north along a decent quality and quiet road, passing Loch Ken on the right and heading for A712 at New Galloway, for "The Queens Highway".

It has to be said that when we drove The Queens Highway in June, the road provided a really great drive, passing along in the opposite direction was just as much fun - It's a road that really is worth a detour, especially if you have a car with a bit of "poke" to exploit the bends, hills and straights. The A714 to Girvan seems a bit of an anticlimax afterwards, until a few miles from Girvan, you see a large, tall island out at sea, suddenly appear from behind a hill. A real photo opportunity along a pretty dull road - or perhaps it is just dull after the {{A712]] ?

The A77 is a real let down after the freedom of the back roads, it's dogged by traffic, safety cameras and villages that seem to go on forever at 30mph. The road fails to get any better once the dual carriageway begins around Ayr and then it gets worse, a 50mph speed limit on a wide dual carriageway ! Just how bad was the accident record to justify this ? Moving swiftly onto Kilmarnock, the speed limits get back to normal along a reasonable dual carriageway, which leads onto the M77. I've never quite got my head around the M77, why upgrade a D2 to a D2M ?

The M77 seems fine until reaching the outskirts of Glasgow, we see a 50mph speed limit, which appears largely ignored, things take a turn for the worse further towards Glasgow, with a further restriction to 40mph ! Thankfully, we head off at Jct 1, picking up the M8 via the B768 and the A8 at Jct 24. The M8 is quite busy, the silly speed limits seem largely ignored, especially the 40mph limit near the Airport.

We hiss as we turn onto the M898, all you lucky Scot's not having to pay bridge tolls. Perhaps the reintroduction might have stopped the guy who had just jumped as we passed over the Erskine Bridge, several emergency services staff stood looking into the water below as two helicopters scanned from above. A later browse of the local news reveals that the bridge is notorious for jumpers, most never survive the 38m (126ft) drop into the Clyde.

The A82 through Dumbarton never fails to amaze me, it is fast, busy and seems to have avoided the call of lower speed limits and safety cameras. It is weird that this road through the urban area is 40mph, the very same speed limit on the M8 and M77. Can this last for much longer ?

After a couple of badly designed signal controlled roundabouts, we charge onto the dual carriageway section of the A82, heading north, past Alexandria, the mad alien inspired roundabout sculpture, then onto the high quality single carriageway past, Arden and Luss, before arriving at the The Inn at Inverbeg

We had previously stayed at the Lodge by Loch Lomond and I knew the Inn from years ago and from eating there in June, so we booked the Beach House, with a great view of the Loch - Oddly, we had been told that the room we had didn't have a view, I suspect we were upgraded or someone else got our room ! :¬)

That night we indulged in a selection of starters, including deep fried black pudding and mini mars bars, with a Thai Curry main and a selection on not so great ales, before retreating to our Loch-side room !

Day Three - Inverbeg to Fort William and back via Oban

After a very poor show on breakfast, we braved the drizzle and headed out towards the western coast via the A82 to Crianlarich. The A82 is a TOTSO at Tarbet, probably because the A82 is such a bad route between Tarbet and Crianlarich. Local campaigns for upgrades to the road can be seen everywhere.

Crianlarich is quite an insignificant little place, considering that it is a primary destination, it is perhaps not quite as insignificant as Scotch Corner, but never-the-less, appears to be an important crossing of the A82 and A85 and destined to gain a bypass to the west in the next few years. Things start getting exciting as we pass the village of Tyndrum, the A82 parts company with the A85 and climbs into a higher mountain pass towards the Bridge of Orchy and across a distinctive arch bridge before climbing higher onto the bleak Rannoch Moor, which I can imagine is a very beautiful place in the sun.

As we start to head down into Glen Coe, the sun starts to make an appearance, the valley is packed full of walkers drenched to the bone, but intent on exploring the area. The Ballachulish Bridge over the mouth of Loch Leven is very imposing and although constructed in 1975, appears to be from a much older age with the girder style construction. The construction of the bridge here removed the need to use the busy ferry or even travel around Loch Leven via what is now the B863

The A82 to Fort William looks quite reasonable on most maps, but in reality is quite a hard drive, it is busy, there are lots of bends limiting the forward visibility and frequent sections of double white lines. Without the guts to overtake in some tricky places, you are in for a long slow drive behind a slow vehicle, which more often than not, is likely to be a tourist ! The view to the left is quite spectacular though, with brief views of the Loch and the mountains beyond. The sun catches the mountains most of the day, so they look sharp, pretty and inviting.

Fort William has never been a favourite place for me, a brief stop for a walk around the town, a bit of shopping and a tray of chips didn't do much to change my opinion. Missing out the over engineered dual carriageway bypass, we turn tail and head back down the A82 towards Oban

After recrossing the Ballachulish Bridge, the A828 is yet another copy of the A82 to Fort William, with reasonable sections mixed in with bends, traffic and places that restrict any overtaking opportunities. After passing over the Creagan Bridge then the signal controlled and narrow Connel Bridge, we join the A85, another slow highland road.

We enter Oban from the north, sadly, due to the time, much of the place is closed for the day. I had been here in June and visited the Whisky Distillery, well worth a visit, especially after a heavy session the night before and with three other blokes who didn't like whisky, so I ended up with all their samples ! Yay !

We head back to Loch Lomond via the A85, the slow tourists are holding the local HGV's up, so I consider slipping off to the A819, but so do two other cars, a Fiesta and a Lexus, the Fiesta pulls in almost straight away and lets the two faster cars charge through, I pip my horn briefly to say thank you. The 2.5L Lexus sets a pace just at the right speed for me to follow, what an amazing drive we have, bend after bend after bend of clear blacktop. We catch a old Morris Traveller up, he is dispatched in seconds by both of us, as we reach Glen Aray, we catch a convoy of several cars, I see my opportunity along a mile long stretch and upset the Lexus by passing several vehicles, I run out of time to pass the leader, but past the next bend, I drop two cogs and zoom past the VW Beatle.

We enter Inveraray from the north and pick up the A83, sadly, the traffic is heavy and the pace slows... We return to Inverbeg via Tarbet and have supper about 8pm, a plain rump steak, with some great chips and peppercorn sauce, washed down with a nice Highland brew. Better than last nights ale !

Day Four - Inverbeg to Ambleside

It's time to head back south, the boring bit now is backtracking to Penrith, but rather than the long winded way we came up, I pick the fast direct route of A82, A898, M898, M8, under the new bridge that will eventually form a link to the M74, then dip into the mad house that is central Glasgow Urban Motorway.

I've been along here a few times in my life, yet I still go through with my mouth wide open and thinking what illegal substance were the engineers on when thinking this baby up ! It's incredible, with the road dipping under buildings, over bridges, lanes appearing and disappearing, slips coming in from the right, bridges that appear to be designed to allow further widening... If you have never driven the M8, go get off your bum and go do it now !

The flyover from the M8 onto the M73 is almost as impressive, towering over the M73 mainline, the roundabout and the A8 mainline, you almost want to raise both your hands in the air like you would on a roller coaster ! The left slip onto the M74 is a real anticlimax, with the realisation that the dull central band is ahead, perking up slightly for the hilly section past Abington, but knowing the dull A74(M) through to the border is ahead after that and its a very long way !

Finally, we reach Penrith again, getting of the M6 at Jct 40, I scan around for little man, he's not around to gesticulate at me today, so we take a unnatural (for me at least) right turn and pick up the short section of the A66 before heading onto the back road to Windermere, the A592. The A592 for those who haven't driven it, suggests nothing at first, then drizzles you with some lovely views of Ullswater - Little known fact, that there is only one lake in the Lake District, the rest are all 'meres, waters or reservoirs !

The A592 then turns into the devil, racing through Patterdale, Bridgeend and Hartsop onto the Kirkstone Pass, named after a stone at the summit. Although isn't as serious a climb as some other passes in the Lakes, it comes as quite a shock for the unprepared, especially if the clouds are low. The summit is the highest road pass in the Lakes at 454m (1489 ft) and in places, the gradient is 25% (1 in 4).

The southern decent doesn't seem quite as steep and soon becomes shrouded in trees as it heads towards Windermere, where we stop for a late lunch. Heading out from Windermere, we follow the busy A591 towards Ambleside, Windermere is to our left, with some breathtaking views to the hills beyond. Slipping off onto the A593 and over a hump back bridge, before rounding a few bends and turning off onto the B5286 to collect some pickles from the Hawkshead Relish Company and then back tracking to our bed for the night at the The Drunken Duck Inn, where we have a fantastic bedroom view towards Skelwith Bridge and enjoy a lovely meal that night. We were served with a tomato and red pepper muse bouche, then I had beetroot and horseradish Risotto starter, with a lamb main, including red cabbage, fondant potato and a jus all washed down with an ale brewed at the pub called Barngates Tag Lag. I can thoroughly recommend this pub, the rooms might be considered expensive, but you do get (almost) michelin star food and service, with a meal for two with drinks, costing about £60.

Day Five - Ambleside to Sheffield

Having completed Hardknot, Wrynose, Honister and Whinlatter passes fairly recently we decided to make smoke after an excellent breakfast and head for home via Harrogate, however on realising that there was a Lakeland shop in Windermere my wife directed us there instead ! On leaving Windermere, we followed the A591 south, I was quite suprised to see a NSL on a dual carriageway without a central barrier, how very 1960's ! We crossed the M6 at Jct 36 and continmued along on the A65 towards Kirkby Lonsdale, another nothing of a primary destination.

The A65 winds through some pretty countryside, skirting to the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, crowning the low pass near Settle and then following the A65 down Ribblesdale Valley towards Skipton where we pick up the A629 and what would have been the M650 Airedale Motorway. The dual carriageway that superseded the motorway plans is quite reasonable except for a missing section of improvement in Keighley, at a point where a retail park shouts at the A650 like a spoilt brat, screaming for more capacity !

Beyond the dual carriageway section of the A650 at Saltaire, the route through Bradford is torturous, badly signed and busy. We compound this by missing the turn to the A6037 and end up going through Maningham and skirting to the west of the central area to pick up the A641, A6177 and finally the M606, at the end of which I take advantage of for the first time, the +2 slip onto the M62.

The M62 needs no write up, but at the time of our trip, the motorway was being prepared for a substantial maintenance scheme to replace the central barriers with a concrete step barrier, this in turn being a precursor for the planned managed motorway works to install gantries, lane control and hard shoulder running. The M62 is very busy, even just after lunchtime when we pass, thankfully, the M1 isn't far and will lead us to our journeys end at Sheffield.

Statistics

In all we covered just over 900 miles in five days, the driving was fun, the places we stayed at were nice, the food and drink was great.


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