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Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2010/28 posted by hidden europe on

Only the British can really understand the appeal of the perfect B road. It is a road that may have pretensions, hoping one day to be upgraded to A class status. And then there are B roads that have come down in the world. Take for example the B1043 south of Peterborough through the village of Stilton (which really does have a connection with cheese).

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Dear fellow travellers

Only the British can really understand the appeal of the perfect B road. In Germany, it just does not work. In German road nomenclature B stands for Bundesstrasse or Federal Highway, and so a B road is second only to an Autobahn. BMWs and Mercedes speed along the Bundesstrassen and, let's face it, they are hardly the sort of road you would choose for a quiet country drive.

Turn to Britain and a B road is often something special. It is a road that may have pretensions, hoping one day to be upgraded to A class status. And then there are B roads that have come down in the world. Take the B1043 south of Peterborough through the village of Stilton (which really does have a connection with cheese). The B1043 was once very grand, having previously been numbered the A1 - the main road from London to Edinburgh. But the creation of new motorways has rendered the old highway redundant. Not longer do great streams of lorries thunder through Stilton and in its retirement the former A1 is now the very sedate B1043.

But the finest B roads are those that are neither on the up nor on the down. They know their station as humble secondary highways. They have for decades appealed to the discerning motorist who wants to get away from the crowds and who is in no great hurry to reach her or his destination.

Take the drive from Newcastle to Edinburgh. There are three reasonably direct routes using A roads, and each is very pretty in its own way. Most travellers prefer the 195-km-long A1 route which runs along the Northumberland coast. But they might do better to opt for the A697 which skirts the eastern Cheviots and shaves 15 km off the distance. Or the even shorter A68 route that affords a wonderful encounter with the forests of Redesdale and then crosses into Scotland at Carter Bar where on summer days a lone piper often waits to greet returning Scotsmen (and Sassenachs venturing over the border). The Carter Bar route is about 170 km long.

However, our favourite route from Newcastle to Edinburgh is very different. The B6318 starts on the western fringes of Newcastle and then runs west along Hadrian's Wall before cutting through the Border Forest Park to Liddesdale. This is pretty terrain - and at its very best at this time of year. Stay loyal to the B6318 and it will bring you to Langholm. And this is a B road that indeed tests your loyalty for it is the longest B road in the United Kingdom.

By happy chance, Britain's second longest B road starts in Langholm and runs north towards Edinburgh. The B709 is a gem, climbing up a lonely valley to Eskdalemuir - which gets into the news for all the wrong reasons. Usually it is because it is the coldest or snowiest place in Britain but just a few weeks ago Eskdalemuir was dubbed by a Scottish newspaper as the gloomiest place in Britain. What an insult to a beautiful village that nestles gently in hills that now already have a first dusting of winter snow.

The full journey from Newcastle to Edinburgh via Britain's two longest B roads is 233 km. Yes, twenty per cent longer than the A1 route favoured by most motorists. But B roads are the route to recovering our sanity. And the B6318 and B709 are two of the very best. Long may they survive.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.