Five of Britain’s best roads

by Nik Berg
5 July 2022 5 min read
Five of Britain’s best roads
Photo: Rosser1954, Wikimedia Commons

Nik Berg spent his formative years on Auto Express and Top Gear magazines, testing cars all over the world. These experiences led him to found, a website dedicated to the romance of the road trip with more than 150 different routes to inspire you. He also took on seven of Britain’s greatest roads, on a father-and-son roadtrip in his Caterham Seven, which you can read about here. We asked him to single out five of his favourites in the UK.

A summer’s day, barely a cloud in the sky or another car on the road ahead as you wend your way through the British countryside. Up and down through the gears you go, the rasp of exhaust rising above the birdsong. It’s a romantic image and one that’s all too easy to forget in the day-to-day grind of commuter traffic.

However, with a little bit of planning such a dreamy drive is still perfectly possible. You just need to pick the time and place.

When it comes to the former, nothing beats an early start. Get up with the lark and you can still find empty roads all over the UK and your Instagram game will be raised thanks to the light of what photographers call The Golden Hour, while the sun is still low in the sky casting a warm glow over the land.

As for the place, well, we all have our favourite routes. Roads that put ride and handling to the test or present vistas that take your breath away. If you’re lucky, they’ll do both – as these five examples from across the country demonstrate. One of them even gives a taster of Wales Weekender, Hagerty’s first driving tour. If you’ve driven any of these routes, let us know and share your tips for more terrific drives in the comments.

Wales: Black Mountain Pass

Black Mountain Pass is one of Britain's best roads

There’s a tight uphill left-hander on the A4069 Black Mountain Pass that still bears the tyre marks of a certain Chris Harris. Before reaching the heady heights of Top Gear TV fame he was a road tester on Autocar magazine, then a YouTuber and this bend was always a favourite for his trademark skids. Not that we’d condone such behaviour, but with the road now carrying a 40mph speed limit, you can focus on enjoying the truly beautiful views afforded on this 12-mile drive from Upper Brynamman to Llangadog on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. A slower pace will also help you avoid the sheep who amble out into the road as if someone has just pulled the wool over their eyes. Easily accessible from the M4 at Swansea it’s a perfect introduction to a whole host of wonderful Welsh roads, which is why it’s on the agenda for Hagerty’s first Driving Tour – the Wales Weekender.

South West: Atlantic Highway

Britains best roads, A39 Atlantic Highway
The moorland of Exmoor. Photo: Kicior99, dominik(R), Wikimedia Commons

The word “highway” is a major misnomer. At no point does the A39 from Porlock to Barnstable become wide enough to deserve the title. And that’s a good thing. In fact everything about this gloriously varied route is good – except the holiday traffic. So heed that earlier advice and make this a dawn drive to really enjoy it. It begins with Porlock Hill, one of the steepest roads in the UK where just a handful of hairpins lifts you up through dense forest and onto the open moorland of Exmoor. Now the road unfolds ahead, gently undulating, and meandering towards the Atlantic coast of Devon. The descent to Lynton is simply stunning as the curvy road clings to the cliffs and it’s easy to be distracted as you look across the ocean to south Wales, perhaps catching a glimpse of a dolphin or two. For a longer drive you can carry onwards and complete the newly-minted South West 660 route taking in the best of Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset.

Scotland: Bealach na Bà

A panoramic view of the Applecross Pass. Photo: Stefan Krause, Wikimedia Commons

Some call it Britain’s Stelvio Pass and, like the Swiss-Italian legend, the Applecross Pass (Bealach na Bà) is a tortuous ascent. It is, however, even narrower in parts than its European counterpart. Steeper too. If you’re in a car that’s a little light on power you might find yourself grabbing first gear to get through the most aggressive inclines. The reward is found when you reach the 2,054-foot top of the pass and look back over the road below and Loch Coire nan Arr. It has to be one of the most photogenic spots in all the British Isles. There’s a caveat here, as part of the massively popular North Coast 500 route the other big challenge can be other people, jamming up the road in camper vans and filling the car park as they stop to shoot their snaps. Early morning mist can mask not only the views, but most of the corners, so the ideal time to ascend the Applecross Pass is actually around sunset.

North East: Buttertubs Pass

Buttertubs Pass, Yorkshire Dales
A breathtaking drive awaits at Buttertubs Pass. Photo: Yorkshire Dales National Park

You can take much of what Jeremy Clarkson says with a pinch of salt but when he describes the Buttertubs Pass in North Yorkshire as one of his “all-time favourite roads” he’s being truthful. In an episode of Clarkson’s Car Years the tall guy off the telly was reunited with his Ford Escort Cosworth and took it to Buttertubs for a blast. From Hawes to Thwaite it takes you, first through a rather nadgery climb up onto the Dales and then through a rollercoaster ride of crests and corners. It’s not wide and, frankly, it’s not very safe.  “All that stands between me and a fiery death is a little green hosepipe,” says Clarkson of the Buttertub’s flimsy-looking barriers. Of course, while you’re in God’s Own Country there’s so much more to explore from the marvellous moors to the craggy coast, so take Buttertubs as a mere taster.

North West: Honister Pass

Cyclists and drivers alike are drawn to the Honister Pass. Photo: Rosser1954, Wikimedia Commons

If there’s a part of Britain more densely-packed with great driving roads than the Lake District then we’d like to hear about it. The unique topography of Cumbria gifts mountain passes, valley roads and coastal cruises to drivers, although that same landscape does have a tendency to create rather unpredictable weather – so get ready to raise that soft top at a moment’s notice. It’s hard to pick from the plentiful passes, but with its proximity to Keswick, the heart of the Lakes, we’ll plump for Honister. Starting in the tiny hamlet of Seatoller, the B5289 takes a steep climb through forest and fern until you pop out above the treeline onto the pass proper. The road remains narrow, but the visibility (weather-permitting) is excellent, allowing you to see several corners ahead. And it’s a good job too as the local sheep definitely believe they have right of way (they do). It’s just a four-mile drive in total, including a rapid descent into Gatesgarth, but a brilliant warm-up for the Kirkstone, Wrynose, Hardknott and Whinlatter passes that are all within easy reach.

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  • Clive Davies says:

    Near Shaftesbury in Dorset is Zig Zag Hill, officially the twistiest stretch of road in England, being a quick succession of half a dozen hair pin bends starting from the village of Cann Common. The road then travels up over the heights of Cranborne Chase ending at the village of Sixpenny Handley.
    Notoriously it was featured on Top Gear with Clarkson declaring it an excellent road for “sporting drivers!” This earned a rebuke from the Chief Constable declaring anyone caught driving “inappropriately” would face dangerous driving prosecution and Top Gear had to issue an apology saying it did not encourage or condone reckless driving. That was a good few years ago and Police presence is now only routine, even so first timers on the Zig Zags should take care, they can easily catch out the unwary

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