Riding the UK’s ‘Route 66’
Put a trans-Pennine trip on the A66 between Redcar and Workington on your must-ride list
Most bikers are familiar with Route 66 – the historic ‘Mother Road’ between Chicago and LA, which, though now largely abandoned, remains the most romantic road trip of all. But far fewer are aware of Blighty’s own version – the historic A66 coast-to-coast route spanning the north of England at Scotch Corner. And while, admittedly, the Brit can’t match its US cousin’s initial allure – Redcar to Workington hasn’t quite the same ring as Illinois to California – and its 116 miles are nowhere near as significant as the American’s 2400, there are still plenty of reasons for putting it on your biking bucket list. First, though, don’t be under any illusions. The A66, being mostly dual carriageway and suffering from heavy traffic is no great biking road in the ‘twisties and thrills’ sense. Instead, think of it as a journey of discovery, a rite of passage or, simply a ride that has to be done. Depending where you live, you can do it in a day. Either direction qualifies but, to mimic the US version plus the fact I arrived from that side of the country, I did East to West. The A66 was first named in the 1920s but actually dates back to Roman times as the main trans-Pennine route between Scotch Corner and Penrith. More recently it was extended to Middlesbrough in the east and Workington in the west. Strictly speaking, the eastern end of today’s A66 ends in Grangetown, a fairly anonymous spur off the A1053, but for coast-to-coast completeness I started a mile or two further east on Redcar seafront. A full English at a seaview cafe such as Zetlands is the perfect start. From there you meander out of Middlesbrough before two miles of motorway shared with the A1 to Scotch Corner, so named for being the gateway to Scotland and marked first by an inn then, from 1939, The Scotch Corner Hotel. Both were bypassed by the modern A1 in 1971 with a new services later built nearby. But, heading west, you still pass the old hotel before blasting into the countryside down the first of many dual carriageway sections atop the old Roman road.
It soon narrows to single carriageway. It’s a recurring theme of the ‘66’ and, with often solid central white lines and heavy traffic, passing can be tricky. The many exits from farm shops and the like are another reason why the A66 has a reputation as one of the most dangerous roads in Britain – so keep your perception skills high and watch out!
After bypassing Brough there’s more single carriageway before, after 66 miles (yes, really!) you get to Appleby-in-Westmoreland. It’s worth popping in: the old market town famous for its traveller takeover horse fair in early June has a
‘Think of the ride as a rite of passage that has to be done’
wide and pleasant main street with pubs and cafés and its station is part of the Settle-Carlisle line so you may see some steam. Resuming the journey, you pass Whinfell Forest Center Parcs and the Llama Karma café/petting zoo before approaching Penrith and its junction with the M6. You could turn off here but, again, for completeness we continue west, again on dual carriageway, into the gloriously green northern
Lake District towards Keswick. Like all the main towns on the A66, Keswick is now by-passed, but if you’ve time it’s well worth popping in to explore a bit. Sadly the old Cars of the Stars museum is long gone, having closed in 2011, but there’s a pencil museum instead if you’re feeling quirky and its pretty town centre is dotted with eateries and bistros. Or you could pop into the brilliant Filling Station Café for your second breakfast of the day, this time a ‘full Cumbrian’. Then, finally, there’s the fast blast skirting Bassenthwaite Lake towards Cockermouth (no sniggering at the back there please) before journey’s end in Workington which, to be honest, has little to commend it except being able to buy a two-bed house for £50K. No matter, there’s still a great sense of accomplishment. Park overlooking the Irish Sea and give yourself a pat on the back: you’ve done the British coast-to-coast. Who needs to fly to America, in these restricted Covid-19 times, anyway?