Following the A1 North To The Wall

I have always been interested in road numbering in England. I once had an idea for a project which involved driving along some of the of the pre motorway routes, for example the Great North Road and the Fosse Way.

Kim has never really shared my enthusiasm for the project I have to say.

Recently we went north and I thought this an opportunity to drive a section of the Great North Road rather than use the modern A1 Motorway.

I digress here but a lot of people say that the A1 North is the best thing to come out of London and I have to say that altogether I agree with that.

We have a London centric country because of Roman transport policy . There is a saying that all roads lead to Rome and that may well be true but in England, thanks to the Romans all roads do actually lead to London.

They had six principal roads from London, Ermine Street that went North to York and then on to Hadrian’s Wall at Corbridge, Watling Street which went in one direction South-East to Dover and in the other North West to Chester, Slane Street that went to the South coast, Portway which went to Exeter in the South-West and then an unnamed road which ran to Carlisle also in the North.

I mention this because two thousand years later roads in England follow almost exactly the Roman routes. There are six single digit main roads in England. The A1 runs north more or less along the route of Ermine Street (although slightly to the west of it to avoid the Humber Estuary), the A2 goes to Dover along the southern section of Watling Street, the A3 follows the route of Slane Steet to Portsmouth, the A4 is the old Portway that goes to Exeter. The A5 is the northern section of Watling Street that runs to Chester and the modern A6 follows the Roman route from London to Carlisle.

Some people ask, what did the Romans ever do for us? Well, amongst other things they gave us our modern road network system.

This may have been what a Roman motorway service area might have looked like…

We started out early and drove east (which as it happens is the only way of Grimsby) using the modern motorway system, the M180, the M18 and the M62 but instead of joining the A1(M) we left at a junction to follow the Great North Road which doesn’t exactly follow a Roman Road but was constructed in the seventeenth century to join London with Edinburgh in Scotland and was one of the great coaching roads of Georgian England.

We drove monotonously (I am obliged to confess) through Knottingly, Ferrybridge, Fairburn, Micklefield and Aberford which were all bottleneck villages without any real appeal and we watched the traffic whiz by on the adjacent motorway as we encountered several hold ups and slow progress Kim’s limited enthusiasm for my project began to rapidly evaporate.

I persuaded her to stick with it until we reached the town of Wetherby where following my chosen route really did become a chore. We stopped for a while by the River Wharfe where I trod in some canine poo left there by some inconsiderate dog owner and then we carried on but this time using Kim’s preferred route the A1(M). The old Great North Road ran alongside for most of the route so I was obliged to agree that driving it was rather pointless.

However pointless, it seems that if I am to complete my project that I will probably have to do it alone.

We continued now along the A1(M) and left at junction 56 on to the B6275 which really does follow the route of a genuine Roman Road, Dene Street which went from York to Corbridge and to Hadrian’s famous Wall. There is even a Roman Bridge over the River Tees at the village of Piercebridge.

Leaving the Roman Road at Bishop Auckland we continued now to the city of Durham and then we continued to our chosen overnight accommodation at the Barrasford Arms in the village of of the same name close to the river Tyne.

Let me explain why…

I am a great fan of the 1970s TV sitcom “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads” and the Barrasford Arms featured in one of the episodes so for no better reason than that I wanted to stop there.

If I was compiling a top three of favourite TV sitcoms then “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads” would definitely be in there along with…

“Dad’s Army”

and “Father Ted”

No one at the Barrasford Arms knew anything about the Likely Lads or seemed interested in what happened to them; well, it was almost fifty years ago and most of the staff were under thirty and from Eastern Europe.

It hasn’t changed a great deal over the years, Bob and Terry would still recognise it…


46 responses to “Following the A1 North To The Wall

  1. An interesting travel and love the narration and your thoughts.
    Thank you my friend
    Great journey indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We share the propensity and affinity for the “road less traveled” . . . which got me into a lot of trouble and lost me all my “good husband point” when we drove the Lake City Alpine Loop.
    After that, Melisa insisted on absolute authority over which road we opt to travel on. Nothing but paved, from then on.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It sounds like a fun project to me. I join the A1 at Knaresborough when going north but occasionally because it’s much quieter I take the A19

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Roads change so much that when I tried to trace the course of the old A453 on OS maps, I couldn’t find it. Now it must have the A42 on top of it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One of your battier projects, but quite a fun one. Why not? Nevertheless lad, you drove through Micklefield (near Aberford) Best not get that wrong 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Richard Adams

    Father Ted photo brought back some great memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good article, of course all roads lead to Rome!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ha! Hope you didn’t find your dad staying with his secretary at the Barrasford Arms.
    I like this idea.The Fosse Way is a great countryside drive.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Certainly a fascinating project – best undertaken alone 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great to stop and read an unusual project

    Liked by 1 person

  11. We watched Dan Jones walk some of the Roman roads on TV a couple of years ago and it was very interesting. I think this would have been fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I remember Fred Housego (remember him?) doing a TV documentary following the A2 from London to Dover and visiting remnants of Watling Street and Roman remains along the way. I eagerly awaited further episodes but as far as I know none ever materialised. Maybe you and I were the only viewers!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. TV shows I have no memory of, I’ll admit, Andrew. My loss for sure. Following ancient roads is always fun, recognizing of course that our definition of ‘ancient’ is somewhat different. Route 66 qualifies here. 🙂 -Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I prefer the road less travelled….

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I’d love to do something like this. Slow travel can be fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. As someone who lives a stone’s throw (or a 2-minute walk) from Watling Street I need to recommend this book to you, though if you’re going to do this in numerical order it’s clearly going to take you a while to get to the A5/Watling Street!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the link.
      I think I might start with the Fosse Way if only because when I finish I will be close to home.

      I lived quite close to Watling Street when I lived in Rugby.


      • I don’t know if you watched “The Last Kingdom” but there was a wonderful line in it where one character demanded of the other what he was doing “on the wrong side of Watling Street”. This triggered some hysteria and a lot of debate in out house, because Lynne’s family are from the Forest of Dean whereas mine are definitely from Yorkshire and a lot further East… so we’re still wrangling over which side is actually the wrong side. The Fosse Way sounds logical given your location.


      • I didn’t see that. I have read that the Fosse Way supplied a defensive wall that represented the western extreme of the Roman Army in Britain. The Forest of Dene would have been on the other side. My sister lives in the Forest of Dene,


  17. I adore the Likely Lads but would never have remembered the name of the hotel. We saw Rodney Bewes in a one man show at the Fringe a few years ago – well, more than a few since he’s been dead for a while. Someone referred to him as Mr Ferris and he very gently corrected them. A shame his career never took off the way James Bolam’s did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have watched that episode several times. Apparently Bewes and Bolam fell out but Bolam denies that now,

      Liked by 1 person

      • Does he? I read quite an extensive description of the falling out from Bewes before he died, and he seemed very sad about it.


      • Bewes did seem sad I agree. Bolam said that they simply worked together and were never big friends. He said that lots of people work together without being friends and when they leave their job they simply move on. I can relate to that, I have had lots of jobs but barely ever remained friends with my ex colleagues. Maybe, they were so convincing as the Likely Lads that we all thought their screen friendship was for real.


      • That’s true, but I got the impression it was more than that from Bewes point of view. We’ll never know!


      • Quite so. Sometimes people I regard as ‘blogging pals’ just move on without explanation.


      • I just googled it, and I’m not going to click on the link because it’s the Daily Mail so who knows if it’s true anyway, but Bolam allegedly vetoed Likely Lads reruns which probably hit Bewes harder financially as the less successful partner.


      • I read that too. He only allowed reruns after another cast member (not Bewes) asked him because they too needed the cash. Bolam does not come out of the story in a positive way but I try to remain objective. Maybe Bewes was simply not as talented?

        If I was on Mastermind the “Likely Lads” would be my specialist subject.

        Liked by 1 person

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