hidden europe 45

The road to Ishim

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The E22 Holyhead to Ishim road crossing the Afsluitdijk in Holland (photo © Chrwincan5dm2 / dreamstime.com).


The Edinburgh Castle is a pub in the Welsh town of Holyhead (Caergybi in Welsh). The roundabout just outside that pub looks unremarkable. But it marks the very start of the road to Ishim, a route of over 5000 kilometres that spans seven countries.

We would like to think that there was much rejoicing in the town of Holyhead (Caergybi in Welsh) as the news filtered through from the United Nations HQ in New York. It had long been rumoured that the Welsh town might catch the attention of the UN — and sure enough it did. The big news was that Holyhead was going to secure a direct link to Siberia.

The E22 road had long traced a thread from North Wales to Russia, passing through several other countries along the way: England, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Latvia. E roads are the super-highways which link the extremities of Europe — occasionally even extending over the Ural Mountains into Asia.

For many years the easternmost reach of the E22 was Nizhny Novgorod — but that all changed when an obscure UN Committee agreed that the E22 designation should extend east from Nizhny Novgorod to Ishim in Siberia. The route thus now runs to over 5,000 kilometres, relying along the way upon three longish hops on ferries — one over the North Sea and two Baltic crossings.

Holyhead and Ishim are both no more than modestly sized towns. But in 2002, they found themselves improbably thrown together by road planners. In the following years, the local authorities in North Wales responded magnificently to the prospect of vast flows of traffic from Siberia. A consultation document on the possibility of improving the Pont Britannia (which crosses the Menai Strait to link the island of Anglesey with mainland Wales) played the Ishim card in its opening paragraph. “Traffic flow is forecast to increase,” the planners advised, implying that Ishim might be to blame.

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