Top 10 country roads for driving
Some roads offer so much more than a route from A to B – they lead you through scenery to soothe the soul or excite the senses, new vistas appearing around each bend or over each crest.
2) B1053 Braintree to Saffron Walden
Essex suffers from a cruel stereotype of white heels and orange tans. This B-road takes you through the old Essex, of timber-frames and pastel-coloured cottages, village greens, apple orchards and ancient barns.
The journey starts in Braintree, a historic town with lively market that gained its wealth from wool and textiles. There are ancient houses in every street, and a striking courtyard in the partly medieval Swan Hotel.
The B1053 is a small, unhurried road running through fields and pretty villages. One highlight is Finchingfield. It would be hard to find a better view to put on a box of chocolates or a jigsaw. Whitewashed houses tumble down the slope to a large pond populated by white geese and it has a proper windmill – not a wind turbine. At the top of the hill, the solid Grade I listed St John the Baptist church dates mostly from the 12th and 24th century.
There’s a village tea room, so why not stop for a wander?
If you have time, you could take a detour, turning at Great Sampford on to the B1051 to Thaxted. Here Tudor houses are jumbled around the stately 1400 Guildhall and the splendid 14th-century church has an impressive tower and 180-foot spire. Composer Gustav Holst worked on part of The Planets in the red-brick Clarence House, built in 1715.
From Great Sampford to Saffron Walden the B1053 runs through open, tranquil fields edged with ancient hedges. Around Safforn Walden, the crop used to be the saffron crocus, which gave the town its name and fortune for 400 years until the 1700s. A pattern of medieval streets and merchant houses reflect this old wealth, and a tangle of 15th and 16th century timber-framed buildings are decorated with elaborate plaster-work known as 'pargeting'.
Close by is the elegant 17th-century stately home of Audley End House with its restored parterre and walled kitchen garden, well worth a visit.
3) A68 from Newcastle to Edinburgh
There are two scenic routes between Newcastle and Edinburgh: the A1 is quicker and gives stunning views of the North Sea and Bass Rock. More breathtaking still, is the A68.
You head out of the historic city of Newcastle on the A696, picking up the A68 slicing diagonally across the very edge of the Northumberland National Park, Kielder Forest to the left, the untamed Cheviot hills looming ahead to the north.
The A68 high up at Carter Bar on the edge of the Cheviots is a perfect spot to stop and stare at the sunset. The Border Country lies before you as the sun dips over the land. The sky turns orange and the hills darken to silhouettes. As the road is rarely busy here, you can simply pull over and watch from your car.
Assuming you’ve driven the route in daytime, the views along this next section are stunning. The light changes here, taking on an ethereal blue tinge, the further north you journey. Heavy clouds often hang overhead, but a dark mood suits this landscape, as does the winter snow.
The few towns have a rich history for example, Jeburgh, home of Mary Queen of Scots,. It’s well worth a short detour to Scott’s View near St Boswells, where you can view the long-legged Leaderfoot viaduct crossing the River Tweed in the valley below.
This once carried the East Coast main line between Carlisle and Edinburgh and is a marvel of Victorian engineering. You can also linger on a bench at Scott’s view, reputed to be one of Sir Walter Scott’s favourite views of Border Country.
Brown signs will temp you to more stops at forests and ancient homes such as the Thirlstane Castle stately home.
Past the border into Scotland, the Lammermuir Hills rise to the east of the road, the Moorfoot hills to the west. The town of Pathhead boasts a fine bridge over the Tyne by Thomas Telford, and finally Edinburgh awaits your arrival.
4) A93 - From Blairgowrie to Braemar
The A93 is an epic road between Perth and Aberdeen, but our favourite stretch through the Cairngorms National Park will stir your soul. Heather-covered peaks rise all around you, their colours and shade changing with the clouds. In winter, they are regularly covered with crisp white snow, beloved of skiers at Glenshee.
5) A832 Wester Ross
This wonderful road proves that the travelling can be more than the destination. It makes almost a complete loop around Wester Ross beginning and ending on the A835, a short distance from Inverness. On its rambling way, it gives a tour of some of the most glorious scenery in Scotland.
The route starts as you turn off the larger A835 just north of Garve and pass the edge of Loch Garve and Loch Achanalt. Keeping right at Achnasheen, you pass Loch a Choisg and follow Glen Docherty to Kinlochewe. The entrance to the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve is just past the town. Scotland's first and grandest, reserve was established 1951. It includes a precious 5,000-hectare (12,350-acre) mountain fastness of Caledon pinewoods, barren moors, and lochs, and has breathtaking views over Loch Mare and Torrid on. Local wildlife includes pine martens and the rare and elusive wildcat.
The views from the road are sublime as you drive along the edge of Loch Mare, and then the western coast at Airlock, looking over the Inner Sound.
From here, A832 dives inland across to Poole we, where otters can be spotted hunting on the shore of Loch Ewe. A long stop is recommended to take in the loch and its view of moody mountains and the incredible Inver ewe Garden. This 50-acre garden, created in 1862, is an oasis of exotic plants, bursting with vibrant color, thanks to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream flowing along the west Scottish coastline. Rhododendrons from the Himalayas, eucalypts from Tasmania, solaria from New Zealand and other species from such far-flung places as Chile and South Africa, all flourish here, in a display that changes with the seasons.
North of Poole we, the landscape is a harshly beautiful moorland of rock and flowering gorse until you reach the coast again, first of Loch Ewe, then Gruinard Bay.
The views of foaming sea, rocky headlands and inviting sandy beaches make it hard to make progress, because you’ll want to stop, stare and breath in the salt air every few minutes. If you climb down to the shore, you’ll find rocks like giant eggs of peppermint green and pastel pink.
Next comes the shore of Little Loch Broom before you head back inland, still skirting Western Ross.
The finale, just before you rejoin the A835, is a stop at the glorious Falls of Meshach viewed from a suspension bridge over the Corrieshalloch Gorge.
This breathtaking loop takes you around the stubby thumb of Skye, sticking up as though hitching a lift across to the Western Isles. You start among bright colour-washed houses around the harbor of Skye’s capital, Portree. Take a moment to imagine Bonnie Prince Charlie saying a sad farewell to Flora MacDonald and to his homeland at the Royal Hotel in 1746, before he set of for France.
Follow the A855, passing close to the shores of Loch Fada and Loch Leathan and stop to marvel at the Old Man of Storr rock stack and towering sea cliffs. The next marvel is the dramatic Lealt falls, just a short walk up a track.
The road is now teetering long the eastern edge of Skye, and you can look over the water to the tiny island of Rona and the mountains of Wester Ross on the mainland.
Strange ancient rocks tower inland, the high Quiraing; as you reach Staffin Bay, and you’ll pass the hamlet of Flodigarry, where Flora MacDonald eventually settled.
At the tip of the ‘thumb’, the Duntulm Castle is perched on a headland above of a sheer cliff and is well worth a stop.
The glorious views on a clear day are now of the Western Isles. You’ll pass through Uig, offering ferries to the Outer Hebrides and the road name changes to A87.
You are delivered all too soon back in Portree, but keep going on the A87 and you’ll reach The Sligachan hotel, at the head of Glen Sligachan between the jagged mountains of the Black Cuillin and the more rounded Red. It has a micro brewery and a climbing museum, so beckons for a stop or a stay.
7) A493 Dolgellau to Llanegryn
This road runs through majestic Snowdonia, forest, bogs, the Mawddach Estuary and western coast of Wales.
Built of grey dolerite and slate, Dollgellau glowers almost black in the rain and glistens in the sun. Its maze of streets, historic buildings and old mills along the River Arran tell the story of its past as a wool town. The A493 heads south out of the town into an RSPB-managed heath and a wood that’s carpeted with bluebells in spring.
Steam enthusiasts can stop to take a ride on the delightful Fairbourne and Barmouth narrow gauge steam railway, which runs out along a narrow finger of land from February to October.
As you reach the coast at Fiog, Cardigan Bay stretches out before you. Dolphins and porpoises are often seen playing in the bay, and if you stop at Llwyngwril or Llangelynnin, you may spot seals hauled out on the rocks.
The road and mainline railway run together along this stretch, through fields criss-crossed by dry stone walls, pale grey with lichen.
To return to Dollgellau, you can take to A4487 through Castell y Bere, past the ruins of the 13th-century castle.
8) A5 Shrewsbury to Bangor
This glorious road from western England to the far north-western corner of Wales, clambers through brooding mountains, offers stupendous views and an exhilarating drive. Sometimes giant grey rocks crouch beside the road, and others look ready to fall from the slopes, dry stone walls protect the road in some stretch to try to protect cars from furious nature
As you set off from Shewsbury towards Oswestry on the A5, place names soon begin to lose vowels and add extra ‘l’s; road signs in dual languages remind you that you’ve crossed the border.
As you approach Llangollen, it’s worth a short detour on the B5434 to see the incredible Pontcysyllte aquaduct, a World Heritage site, and a favourite for narrowboat enthusiasts.
Further on, the mountains of Snowdonia loom up from the horizon until the road is snaking and climbing into the peaks. You’ll pass through Betwys-y-Coed, a Victorian village at the confluence of the Conwy and Llugwy rivers, on the edge of the Gwydyr Forest Park. A stop here is recommended to view the foaming Swallow Falls and historic cast-iron Waterloo Bridge.
Once the road leaves the forest, brooding Glyderau mountains rise on all sides, and you’ll sweep close to the beautiful Llyn Ogwen lake, which acts as a perfect mirror of the landscape. This stretch of road is arguably even more stunning in winter when snow caps the mountains and dusts their slopes.
All too soon, signs of human habitation appear once again, the A5 crosses the A55 between Holyhead and Conwy, and leads into Bangor.
9) A4069 Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen to Llangadog Brecon Beacons
Sometimes small really is beautiful. This road, 15 minutes north of Swansea is just 20 miles long, but the section that clambers up and over the Black Mountain is probably one of the most memorable stretches you will ever drive.
You enter the Brecon Beacons National park at Brynamman, where there’s a lovely stone bridge over a gushing steam. The road is already climbing, and keeps going to a height of 493m at Foel Fawr. It twists, dips and climbs, revealing ever-new vistas, then descends in a number of sharp bends to reach the Afon Clydach river.
From here, you follow the lush green river valley, surrounded by fields and rolling hills to Llangadog. Red kites wheeling overhead are almost guaranteed.
The Coastal Causeway does just what it says. It hugs the northern coast, affording views across the sea, while you pass rugged and windswept cliffs, spectacular scenery and fabulous unspoilt beaches.
It’s a coastline sprinkled with historic castles, churches and forts. Many are now romantic ruins with long tales to tell of a tumultuous past.
This is definitely a journey not to be hurried. Every twist and turn in the road reveals new sights as it runs over bridges and under arches, past bays and beaches and strange rock formations.
Your journey begins in the historic walled city of Derry (Londonderry). Setting off on the A2 towards Limavady, you catch a glimpse of the waters of Lough Foyle before heading inland for a short stretch. When the turquoise sea reveals itself, you’re afforded views of the glorious Benone Strand, one of Ireland’s longest beaches. Three miles east of Portrush, the romantic ruins of the 14th-century Dunluce Castle perch on an outcrop of craggy rocks.
Two miles east of Bushmills, plan a long stop for the Giants Causeway, epic formations of hexagonal basalt columns washed by the waves, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At Ballcastle, you look across to Rathlin Island, before heading inland again to Cushendall. You can stop here to explore the spectacular glen walks, waterfalls and mountain viewpoints of the Glenariff Forest.
Now the road is running along the coast with mountains rising on one side, white sandy beaches on the other, and it through pretty fishing villages and ports to bustling Belfast. Then it’s back to reality, as the yellow-brick road of the A2 becomes the M5.