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The Best Driving Roads in the North Pennines

DRIVING ROUTES

The Best Driving Roads in the North Pennines

BMW M2 and M140i on the B6278, North Pennines AONB


Designated a UNESCO Global Geopark, the North Pennines ANOB is steeped in mining history thanks to its rich deposits of coal, barytes, iron, lead, witherite and zinc. This article, however, is mining the area for a manmade commodity far more valuable to petrolheads; bitumen.


Propped up by the Alston Block - an injection of magma during the Carboniferous period - the entire North Pennines feel more like one enormous mass rather than a series of individual mountains, a hulking but gently sloping behemoth scarred by glaciers and punctuated by tiny, but effective rivers and tributaries. Imagine trying to scale the shell of a gigantic Galapagos Tortoise and you'll get the idea. Each summit - if you can call them that - presents a merciless expanse, where the vegetation is sparse in the extreme, the dominant dark purple and green heather barely tall enough to brush your kneecaps.


It is perhaps not the hills themselves that are beautiful as much as the vantage point they provide - to the West is Cumbria's "Garden of Eden". To the East lies the Tyne Valley. Point your compass south and you'll gaze over Yorkshire's Stainmore Gap.


It's a landscape that is far more appealing from the driver's seat because such austerity provides a view of the road ahead that offers site lines as far as your retinas permit. In these socially conscious times, such vision maximises safety and reduces tension, enabling you to nibble that apex a little more aggressively or stay on the throttle that satisfying moment longer, safe in the knowledge you aren't ruining somebody else's day. It gives a sense of freedom to the drive that is truly liberating. Even the free-roaming woolly livestock stick out like a sore thumb.


It also helps that the roads are also great to drive - both driver and machine will be tested along this route. The tarmac is varied and twisting and a combination of cambers, gradients and surfaces is present that will exercise your dampers but never rupture your spine.



Rush magazine North Pennines driving route


RUSH NORTH PENNINES DRIVING ROADS / ROUTE

 

Start - Shell Garage, Penrith, CA11 8HU

Est, travel time - 2hrs 45 mins

Length - 104 miles

Perfect car for the route - Mitsubishi Evo VIII/IX FQ320

Finish - Shell Garage, Kirkby Stephen CA17 4DU


 

A686, HARTSIDE PASS

Our route, as ever, begins with the option of brimming the tank with super unleaded, this time at the Shell Penrith, located on the outskirts of town and a mere stone's throw away from junction 40 of the M6. It's also right on the doorstep of the A686, one of only two A-roads we'll be needing today, which is perhaps better known as the Hartside Pass.


You'll need to remain patient initially as the climb in earnest does not start until Melmerby, at which point the corners come thick and fast. The road surface is very smooth but during the first part of the snaking climb be wary of multiple blind, tightening bends. Just as the forearms cry enough the road will widen and open up, crossing the moorland as you rush towards the summit at 1,904 ft. The final, wide-open hairpin before the Hartside Cafe offers a good opportunity for some low-speed, harmless fun when clear.


A local landmark, the Hartside Cafe sadly burned down in 2018 and has remained derelict ever since. However, it's a worthy stopping point as there's a fantastic vista as far as the Solway Firth on offer should you prove able to negotiate the pothole-ridden car park.


B6277, ALSTON TO LANGDON BECK

The fast and open rhythm of the A686 continues to Alston, Britain's highest market town. As tempting as it is to carry on, we're going to divert south, taking the equally fast and sweeping B6277 to Langdon Beck. Resisting the temptation to stay put again, turn left onto the unclassified B-road towards St. Johns Chapel over the top of Harthope Moss. Do not fear the lack of designation - this isn't a single-track, off-the-grid Land Rover Defender special - it's, open, varied and challenging...essentially everything you'd want from an isolated moorland drive. The only things you'll have keeping you company up here are snow depth poles, birds of prey and if you're unlucky, a notorious Helm Wind; the only gust deemed worthy of a name in the entire British Isles.



BMW M2 and M140i on the B6278, North Pennines AONB


B6295 COWSHILL TO ALLENHEADS

If this was anywhere else, the A689 that follows would be an engaging road in its own right. But up here, it serves to provide a welcome interlude. The show begins again as we turn north onto the B6295, just past Cowshill, which climbs again for a few miles to the hamlet of Allenheads. Take the right at the crossroads onto another unnamed B-road (signposted Rookhope), which is another absolute cracker, beginning with a wonderful hairpin complex through some fir trees. After a brief plateau, there is a thrilling descent toward Groverake Mine, where the road ties itself in knots negotiating the now re-claimed slag heaps.


The road levels off as you reach Rookhope Arch, another curious-looking relic from the lead mining days. At first glance, it appears to be the remnants of a stone bridge, but a quick Google reveals it to be the last standing support of a two-mile-long horizontal chimney that carried poisonous gasses away from the town and released them high up on the moor. It certainly makes one feel less guilty about burning a few litres of fossil fuel in the pursuit of pleasure.


B6278 BLANCHLAND, EDMUNDBYERS AND STANHOPE

When you see the arch, you'll have an executive decision to make based on your mood. For the sake of variety, we like to take the shortcut left at the arch. This is a single-track road to Blanchland, and whilst you won't find any particular driving thrills or hazards on offer other than negotiating the occasional sheep, the best views of the day make for a worthy detour.


The alternative - Blanchland "Mini loop"

If you want to keep the momentum up, from the arch head straight on, which carries you back onto the A689. Follow it to Stanhope, turn north out of town (B6278). Before long you'll reach a fork in the road - take the left (signposted Blanchland), known as "Meadows Edge" road, as loosely highlighted red on the map. Despite being single-track, the road is still suitable for spirited driving due to the excellent tarmac and numerous passing places, even in something low-slung.


Whichever route you take to get there, Blanchland is a very pretty little hamlet and could provide a nice pausing point for a stroll if you feel the need to stretch your legs.


There are no question marks about the best road out of town - the B6306 to Edmundbyers. This is a more familiar style of B-road; a tighter, swoopier rope of tarmac that loosely follows the outline of Derwent Water from arm's length. Heck, there are even trees on occasion.


You may have noticed a theme developing here where any road beginning with the combination B62 is a sure thing. I'm happy to report the B6278 is no exception; more desolate moorland follows, meaning another round of fast sweepers intersected by the occasional tighter, second-gear sequences. All are well-sighted, permitting you to make full use of the road.



BMW M2 and M140i on the B6278, North Pennines AONB

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B6278 STANHOPE TO MIDDLETON-IN-TEESDALE

When you reach Stanhope you'll cross paths with the A689 again. But don't worry, we'll only be using the road as a link for a mere 350 yards as we pick up the B6278 south once more. Once clear of town, this magical road will truly hit its stride, the sequence of bends on the approach to Holliwood Common Quarry being particularly memorable.


After the quarry, the B6278 starts to get properly spicy, becoming open and very fast, with limitless vistas. Whenever it does tighten up you'll be hard on the brakes and pinching yourself at the prospect of taking it on.


Should you wish to test your eyesight, you can enjoy the B6278 all the way to Barnard Castle. However, we prefer another little Rush detour onto yet another unclassified, snaking B-road. You won't miss it, because the tantalising ribbon of asphalt will have already caught your eye, but just in case, it's signposted Alston High Force / Middleton-in-Teesdale.


B6276 - MIDDLETON IN TEESDALE TO BROUGH

Given the abundant number of roads starting with B62 which cross-cross Middleton-in-Teesdale, surely the town has to be a contender for one of the best places to reside in the UK if you're a car enthusiast. It is nigh on impossible to find a bad driving road leading out of this bustling market town, and if you don't live in Greater Manchester like us, and thus aren't subject to using the M6, Middleton is an ideal launchpad for staying in or exploring the North Pennines.


Our favourite road to take is the B6276, partly because it takes us back towards the direction of the M6, but mainly because it's another firecracker of a B-road, jiggling and wiggling its way across the moorland, occasionally dipping down into a narrow vale to test your mettle. It's a fantastic climax to the drive, and before you know it, you'll have reached Brough and the A66, which gives plenty of options for those of you who live elsewhere to get home. Handily there is also another Shell Garage supplying super-unleaded at which to re-fill the fuel tank close by at Kirkby Stephen (CA17 4DU), plus a Spar store with a toilet in which to empty a different kind of tank...


ALTERNATIVE ROUTES & OTHER GREAT ROADS IN THE AREA

As always, with such a rich roll-call of great roads to choose from, inevitably some miss the cut. If truth be told, my personal preference for driving the North Pennines begins in the Yorkshire Dales, because I remove the Hartside Pass leg, allowing me to turn off the M6 earlier at Sedbergh (J37). This means I get to enjoy the magnificent A684 and A683 north out of town.


Doing this essentially turns the loop on its head, or anticlockwise if you prefer, as the A683 carries you to the Shell station at Kirkby Stephen. From there get to Middleton-in-Teesdale, and the world is your oyster. You could simply head northeast nonstop to Edmundbyers, slingshot around Blanchland and retrace your footsteps.


Or you could head further afield, taking the B6277 North West to Alston and go in search of 'Black Hill' road, just off the A689, which was a drivetrain-busting hill climb in a previous life. Its near 2,000 ft summit marks the border between the counties of Northumberland and Cumbria, and should you wish to stop and admire the view, there is a handy small car park at the top. From there you can navigate to Allenheads and back onto our suggested loop.


Whichever direction you decide to explore the North Pennines in, providing your road begins with a B62XX, you're already onto a winner.


 

MORE RUSH DRIVING ROUTES

Forest of Bowland

Yorkshire Dales

North Wales

Peak District


 

Written by

Craig Toone

Published

7 February 2021

Last Updated

07/02/21

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