A686, Hartside Pass, Cumbria

It isn’t often that we’re in the overcrowded South East of England for Great Roads, and with good reason. To find our typical fodder, one thing we don’t need is lots of people.

Instead, Total 911’s intrepid team of researchers regularly head out away from the vast swathes of the commuter belts to open country, and hopefully, space. It is a trick that turned up our latest Great Road, the A686, starting in Cumbria.

The North West of England has its own attractions, namely the Lake District, to cause congestion – but fear not. We may be following the holiday masses North, but then we turn 180 degrees away from the Lakes at Penrith, heading inland.


Now not many Great Roads begin at a motorway junction either, but ours sort of does here, for the A686 meanderingly connects the 20 miles between Penrith to Alston, who’s claim to fame is that it shares the title of ‘Highest Market Town in England’ with Buxton. Altitude may flag alarm bells to the astute, but more on that later.

We start in the West, leaving the M6 and threading our way out through classic Cumberland villages until we reach Melmerby. From here, the road changes altitude and steadily rises to the summit at Hartside.

It is from this summit that the road gets its other name – the Hartside Pass. At 1,904 feet above sea level, this is one place that you will definitely experience ‘weather’. Good, bad and ugly; be ready: those snow poles aren’t decoration.

From the wonderful, swooping curves up to the summit, then around the hairpin just before the cafe, the next section is glorious. Well-sighted, open; it puts you right amongst the scenery, through seemingly nothing but superb views.


You can see the best of the Lake District’s peaks and even as far as Scotland on a clear day. From the summit’s cafe to Alston there are few tight bends, meaning you can leave it in third or fourth gear and take pleasure in merely setting the car up. Looking for the line becomes almost hypnotic.

Watch for bikers buzzing you from behind – it’s a popular route for them to have accidents on, no surprise. Stop in the cafe, check out the display board pointing out the views, and have a great time.

Oh, yes – the weather. We visited the Hartside Pass early one January where there must have been a -10ºC wind chill. We got the job done and duly raced for home. Five hours later, it snowed, closing the road for almost a week. As I say, watch the weather!


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