England's 'Route 66': the A66 in Cumbria


We often hear about the fabled Route 66 in the United States; the latest offering I’ve seen is the excellent TV series describing comedian Billy Connolly’s ride along it. In England, we also have our ‘Route 66’ … nothing like as long, but maybe one day, someone will make a TV programme about it?

The A66 road over the Pennines is one of England’s main transport routes. Originally running from Scotch Corner, on the main London-Edinburgh road to Penrith, in Cumbria, it’s now been extended to the Cumbrian coast. Back in the 60s, I often used it to hitch-hike from Yorkshire, where I was stationed, to the Lake District, where my parents lived.

The highest and bleakest part lies between Bowes and Brough, and although the road in winter is not as formidable as it used to be, it’s still sometimes closed in extreme weather. And as an indicator of how bad it can get, there are posts by the side of the road to show how deep the snow is, and gates at either end of the worst bit which can be closed if conditions are too bad.


One thing that hasn’t changed is the roadside snack bars in the lay-bys. They’re not as frequent as they used to be, for modern trucks are usually equipped with the facility for the drivers to rest, and cook their own meals. The most famous one, the Brough Summit café (which years ago used to be in a caravan) is now a substantial building. It has to be, to withstand the extreme weather up here.

But many of them still operate from caravans or trailers, and the one we stopped at is situated right on the Cumbria/Durham border. The caravan is actually in Cumbria, but the litter bin is in Durham In fact, at the time of our visit, the bin was being emptied by a truck with a Durham County Council logo.


The man in the caravan explained. In lay-bys in Durham, he told us, there is a litter bin which is emptied regularly, whereas in Cumbria, they just have a sign, telling you to take your litter home.

The caravan is on one of the bleakest parts of the moor, but fortunately, it wasn’t snowing or raining that day - which was a good thing, because the caravan is reserved only for cooking, You must eat your food outside - or in the event of a rather brisk wind, in the car. But the excellent, freshly cooked bacon and black pudding rolls more than made up for this slight inconvenience!

We still use the road from time to time, and on the last occasion - since we weren’t in a great rush to get to our destination, Darlington - we thought we’d alleviate the drive with a short side-trip to Barnard Castle.


The town, known locally as ‘Barney Castle’, or sometimes just ‘Barney’ takes its name from the ruined castle overlooking the River Tees. The castle takes its name from Bernard de Balliol, who founded it in the 12th century. It passed into the Nevill family, and eventually into the hands of Richard III, who acquired it through his queen, Anne Nevill. His symbol, the boar, can be seen carved above a window. After Richard’s death at Bosworth, the castle fell into disuse and ruin.

We didn’t stay very long, because of a slight drizzle. But we managed to park fairly near the castle, and took a short walk to photograph it from the outside, as well as the magnificent bridge over the River Tees. And made a note for a return visit in better weather.

The castle looks like it would be worthy of a further inspection in better weather on a future date. And that’s highly likely, for it’s in the care of English Heritage, which means I can get in for nothing.


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