Britain’s best motorways to embrace the dying art of driving for pleasure

The Military Road connecting Chale to Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight is one of Britain’s many memorable drives – Getty

The Military Road on the Isle of Wight is one of the most beautiful routes in the British Isles, but new photos show its future is under threat.

A drone image shows the road is now just meters from the cliff’s edge, raising fears it may one day have to be diverted.

With cliffs tumbling towards the sea on one side and green farmland on the other that form the Isle of Wight AONB, the 11-mile road is often heralded as one of the most scenic in the country.

It was built in 1860 as part of a defense network, linking barracks with forts, and was privately owned for seventy years before being given to the Isle of Wight Council for public use. At the time it was just a narrow path, but now it forms the main road that runs along the south coast of the island.

For now, local authorities say the road can safely remain open. If you drive from east to west, you will experience the most beautiful views; the best part comes towards the end, when the road straightens out and offers a sweeping perspective of the white cliffs of Freshwater Bay.

However, if you’d prefer a slightly less precarious ride, here are nine other ideas, from a ride through the South Downs to an epic stretch of Scotland’s North Coast 500.

Just like planning a route, this issue is of course open to discussion. Is there an A-road that you think should be celebrated? Or are there things you wish you never encountered? Comment at the bottom of this article to share your favorite (or least favorite) A-roads in the country.

A272: Time travel through the South Downs

Begins: Winchester, Hampshire

Ends: Heathfield, East Sussex

Length: 86 miles

If you’re looking for steep climbs, tight bends or sheer cliffs, the A272 is not for you. This is an A-road for thoughtful drivers, passing through the sleepy villages and evergreen valleys of the South Downs, along well-maintained roads that – if you take them at the right time – you’ll have all to yourself.

The A272 hasn’t succumbed to the same dual carriageway as many others, meaning you’ll encounter a driving style that has changed very little since the classic open-top cars rolled around a century or so ago. It has something of a cult status: the Dutchman Pieter Boogart has devoted an entire book to the road, called ‘A272 – An ode to a road’.

Eat/stay here: Stop at The Horse Guards Inn, just off the A272 in the village of Tillington. The 350-year-old pub is bursting with homely character, from the fudge at the bar to the three rooms with exposed beams, and as much wobbliness as you’d expect from a building of this era. Doubles from £110. Plan a trip to the South Downs with our guide.

A57: The Snake Pass to the High Peaks

Begins: Glossop, Derbyshire

Ends: Ladybower Reservoir, Derbyshire

Length: 12 miles

This stretch of the A57, winding across the Pennines, was once the main way to travel from Manchester to Sheffield, but motorists are now routed north along the Woodhead Pass. The exciting Snake Pass remains the favorite route among recreational motorists and motorcyclists, rising from Glossop to 510 meters with blind bends and expansive views. The Ladybower Reservoir awaits at the end.

Drive carefully: Although Snake Pass is often among the most scenic in the country, it is also a hotspot for harsh weather and serious accidents.

Eat/stay here: A few miles from the Snake Pass is the stone-built Samuel Fox Country Inn, which is also close to tourist favorites Castleton, Tideswell and Eyam. It is more of a restaurant with rooms, there are four double rooms where you will find a welcome basket of chocolates and fresh fruit; the two rooms at the front have beautiful views over Bradwell Edge. Doubles from £140.

The Snake PassThe Snake Pass

Blind bends and sweeping vistas: Snake Pass – Getty

A591: Four lakes in less than an hour

Begins: Keswick, Cumbria

Ends: Kendal, Cumbria

Length: 27 miles

The main artery through the Lake District National Park is without doubt one of the most beautiful in the country. It skirts the eastern border of Thirlmere, skirting Grasmere and Rydal Water before offering tantalizing views through the flickering trees of Windermere’s northern waters.

It is also officially the best A-road for the driving experience. In a 2015 study, F1 circuit designer Hermann Tilke and physicist Dr Mark Hadley found that the road had the best straight-to-corner balance (14:3) of any road in the country. Now you know it.

Eat/stay here: Located just off the A591, the Samling offers stunning views and immaculate rooms. But you’re mainly here for the food. If you’re traveling for an occasion, opt for the tasting menu in the glass-walled main restaurant (£115, seven courses). Doubles from £490. Plan the perfect Lake District holiday with our guide.

A537: The Kat and Fiddle Road

Begins: Macclesfield, Cheshire

Ends: Buxton, Derbyshire

Length: 12.5 miles

The A537, also called the Cat and Fiddle Road after the perched pub at the summit (now a distillery, whiskey shop and bar), is an adrenaline-fuelled drive connecting the silk-producing town of Macclesfield with the spa town of Buxton. On a sunny day, motorcyclists zoom up this long, steep climb with its many hairpin bends.

You may also be joined by some trappers; it was used as part of the 2016 Tour of Britain and formed the highest climb of the race. However you travel, make sure you take it easy. It is often voted one of the most dangerous in Britain.

Eat/stay here: Calm the nerves at No.6 The Square in Buxton, a popular tea room serving divine cakes, with four upstairs bedrooms (doubles from £90).

The A894 crosses 'perhaps the most photogenic bridge in the country' at KyleskuThe A894 crosses 'perhaps the most photogenic bridge in the country' at Kylesku

The A894 crosses ‘arguably the most photogenic bridge in the country’ at Kylesku – Getty

A894: The most epic stretch of the North Coast 500

Begins: Skiag Bridge, Sutherland (Scotland)

Ends: Laxford Bridge, Sutherland (Scotland)

Length: 23 miles

The North Coast 500 – a loop around the northernmost reaches of the Scottish Highlands – has become a popular road trip in Britain over the past decade. And perhaps the most memorable stretch of the route is the A894, which spans the forgotten moonscape of Assynt and crosses possibly the country’s most photogenic bridge at Kylesku. This is a road to enjoy, with detours to Eas a’Chual Aluinn waterfall (Britain’s highest) and stunning walks in the Quinag Mountains.

Eat/stay here: Located on a small peninsula, Bijou Kylesku Hotel dates back to the 17th century and has stylish rooms and a kitchen serving a menu of local seafood. All with views over Loch Glendhu. Doubles from £110. Plan the perfect Scotland holiday with our expert itinerary.

A82: A Highland road suitable for Bond

Begins: Glasgow, West Central Scotland

Ends: Inverness, Scottish Highlands

Length: 167 miles


Breathtaking views: the A82 – Getty

Once you’ve escaped the concrete sprawl of Glasgow, it’s not long before the A82 is breathtaking. The road skirts the borders of Scotland’s two largest lochs (Ness and Lomond) and cuts through the Glencoe Valley – so picturesque that it is home to James Bond locations. Skyfall film chose it for a driving scene, near the peaks of Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag.

Eat/stay here: Book a stay at the Loch Ness Lodge, an impeccable bed and breakfast right on the coast, serving the best breakfast in Scotland and with loch views from every room. Doubles from £234.

A39: Sea view on the Atlantic highway

Begins: Bath, Somerset

Ends: Fraddon, Cornwall

Length: 190 miles

While the A39 starts in Bath and passes Wells and Glastonbury, the Atlantic Highway proper starts in Barnstaple and runs all the way along the coast to Fraddon, near Newquay. Expect bays and beaches on the right and rolling farmland on the left, with the occasional detour inland. This is a wonderful way to experience the quieter parts of the Devon and Cornish coast, which are often overlooked by the tourist crowds. Tintagel Castle, St Nectan’s Glen and Bude Sea Pool are among the highlights along the way.

Eat/stay here: Bude Beach, directly above Summerleaze Beach, is a lovely spot, especially if you like surfing or dipping your toes in the sea. Expect New England aesthetics combined with beach-chic vibes, with a covered patio at its heart. Doubles from £112. Plan the perfect Cornish holiday with our guide.

A4069: Hairpin bends on the Top Gear Road

Begins: Llandovery, Carmarthenshire (Wales)

Ends: Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, Carmarthenshire (Wales)

Length: 20 miles

Enjoy uninterrupted views of the Top Gear RoadEnjoy uninterrupted views of the Top Gear Road

Enjoy uninterrupted views of the A4069 – Getty

After leaving Llangadog, rural Wales turns into the rugged Brecon Beacons on the A4069, which winds a steep uphill route through the mountains. The views are long and uninterrupted, although your progress may be halted by a gang of stray sheep or a tractor.

Yet it is considered one of the best motorways in Wales, and has been dubbed the ‘Top Gear Road’ after Jeremy Clarkson drove along it in 2011. While the Tro Gwcw, or ‘cuckoo bend’, is best enjoyed from north to south, the views of the Tywi Valley are arguably better if you drive from south to north.

Eat/stay here: If you’re here for a longer stay in the Brecon Beacons, stay at the Felin Fach Griffin. Here you will find a roaring fire, lots of dogs and a relaxing but stylish stay in an old inn. Doubles from £115 per night. Plan the perfect holiday in Wales with our expert’s ultimate itinerary.

A2: Riding with Giants on the Causeway Coast Road

Begins: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Ends: Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Length: 120 miles

The best way to experience Northern Ireland on four wheels. Starting in Northern Ireland’s largest city, you’ll experience steep drives over cliffs, pass country parks and enter Game of Thrones territory along the north coast, putting you just steps away from the Giant’s Causeway.

The Causeway Coast Route ends in Derry-Londonderry, the only remaining walled city in all of Ireland. From here you can continue the 2,600-mile road trip through Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Eat/stay here: Built in 1897, the Slieve Donard Hotel and Spa is one of the most majestic spa hotels in all of Ireland. Situated just on the beach, in mature grounds with mountains on the other side, this is the epitome of the traditional turreted Baronial style. Doubles from £189.

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