What use is a car, and its snazzy personalised number plate, if you can’t take it out for a spin along some of Britain’s country roads? The sensation of speed, coupled with awe-inspiring scenery is one of the things that we think makes life worth living. So, we’ve decided to start sharing some of our favourite drives from across England, Scotland and Wales.
Roman’ on the edge of the world – Hardknott Pass, Cumbria, England
No, we didn’t make a spelling mistake – the Hardknott Pass road follows quite closely an ancient Roman highway used to carry troops to nearby forts. In fact, once you’re done on the pass, take the opportunity to head pack and check out the remains of Hardknott Roman Fort, just off the road.
There’s a lot of talk about this being the most challenging road in Britain to drive. This is not true. However, it is very steep and the road frequently curls back on itself in hairpin turns, so you will need your wits about you.
The rewards however, are immense. You will frequently come across staggering, raw and primal views of the Cumbrian landscape. At times it is hard to believe you are still in the 21st century. Luckily, there are plenty of places to stop and pull out the camera.
The best time of the year to try Hardknott Pass is in autumn. You’ll mostly have the road to itself and the unique quality of the light will blow you away.
Highland Fling – Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland
Glencoe is the quintessential highland glen, featuring snow-capped towering peaks either side of a steep valley. Full of history and myth, it is a draw for miles around.
We love Glencoe for the awe-inspiring scenery – craggy, majestic and timeless. The road along the valley is, for the most part, fairly free of tight turns and corners, so you can concentrate on what’s unfolding ahead of you.
When you’re done, be sure to stop in Glencoe village to learn more about the fascinating history of the area. The food, sourced from local ingredients, at the Clachaig or Glencoe Inns is also exceptional.
In summer, the road can be quite busy, so once again we advise that autumn and early spring are the best times to try the road. Go early enough in spring and you might experience Glencoe with a magical blanket of snow, giving the scene something of an otherworldly appearance. However, do be sure and check on conditions beforehand.
Wales of a time – Abergwesyn Valley, Powys, Wales
Want something to really test your mettle? This twenty mile stretch of between the village of Abergwesyn and the town of Tredegar in Powys is famed for its twists, turns and steep gradients, and is definitely not for the faint hearted. While the scenery might not be as epic as the others on this list, you’ll be too busy channeling your inner rally car driver.
However, if you do decide to pull over, you’ll be treated with some spectacular views, and quite a selection too – rocky peaks, forested hills, trickling brooks and more.
There are sections on the road where you can open up the throttle, but be sure to take care on some of those curves, and watch for stray livestock – this area has been farmed and grazed for millennia, as the ruins and remnants from the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages on Abergwesyn Common attest.
Finish your drive at Tredegar and be sure to try lunch at one of the great pubs, such as The Cambrian – you will have earned it!
Cheezy & Breezy – Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England
This one is really special. The drive through Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge is unlike anything else you’ll find in the country. Gigantic, craggy outcrops loom over as you navigate twists and turns over what is about a fourteen mile stretch of the B3135, before ending up in a pleasant jaunt through rolling hills.
Cheddar Gorge was formed millions of years ago, as floodwater permeated limestone and, over time, carved through it, reaching down 137 metres at points. Caves were formed and it is in one of these, Gough’s Cave, that some of the oldest human remains in the country have been found.
Starting in Cheddar, make sure to buy some of the region’s pride, cheddar cheese at the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. They’re the ones making the stuff in town and you can rest assured it’s made the same way that local folks have been doing it for centuries.
Oh, there’s also plenty of good places for lunch in Cheddar too, but look out for walkers – they’re everywhere!
On The Border Line – Northumberland, England / Borders, Scotland
The Border Country between England and Scotland is wild, woolly and steeped in bloody history. Over hundreds of years, it has been some of the most contested land in the British Isles.
You don’t need to worry about any of that nonsense, though, just enjoy one of our favourite stretches of road between Morpeth in Northumberland and Oxton, 25 miles south of Edinburgh.
While you won’t get the jagged peaks and wild crags of many of the other drives on this list, what you will get is ‘big sky country’. While there are villages to stop in, and points where you’ll have to slow down, you really can feel free to hit the accelerator on stretches and feel the wind rush through your hair.
If you’re looking for a place to stop for lunch, we recommend Wooler, an attractive little town with plenty of picturesque stone-clad houses, and quite a few pubs. Also worth a detour is Chillingham Castle, supposedly one of the most haunted castles in England.