Drive Five Historic UK Road Trips

Published 24 Oct 2018, 17:50 BST
Photograph by Matt Kimberley

Roads are the lifeblood of Britain, as essential today as they were over 2,000 years ago to the Romans who laid down so many of our still-current routes, and to those first intrepid horseless carriage drivers of the late 19th century.

A Victorian driver, let alone a Roman centurion, couldn’t begin to imagine a machine with the reliability of a Subaru SUV, whose permanent four-wheel drive-enabled capability on all terrains and in any weather conditions is backed up by a suite of advanced safety systems to protect you wherever your wanderlust takes you. But we can try to imagine what journeys must have been like for them by tracing their steps along these five historic routes.

A1 London to York

Dubious legend has it that Dick Turpin’s horse, Black Bess, carried him the 200 miles from London to York using the Great North Road in only 15 hours. The modern A1 tracks most of the same route and a Subaru SUV will get you there in a quarter of the time - and in a far more relaxed manner thanks to a Subaru’s comprehensive suite of safety systems including EyeSight driver assist technology.

Many of the original coaching villages have been bypassed, but it’s fascinating to explore those long-forgotten villages, including Stilton of cheese fame, whose once bustling main street now terminates abruptly below the six lanes of the modern A1.

Photograph by David Mullany

Preston By-pass and the Forest of Bowland

Britain’s first motorway wasn’t the M1, but the Preston By-pass, opened a year earlier in 1958. Now part of the M6, it still funnels traffic to the east of Preston in Lancashire, saving the city centre from gridlock.

Historically important and functional though the M61 is, it’s not the most exciting drive, so use it as a springboard for roads that are. Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Forest of Bowland to the north of Preston covers 312 square miles, stretching from Lancashire into neighbouring Yorkshire, and the roads here are perfect for exploring the agile yet sure-footed handling of a Subaru SUV.

Photograph by David Mullany

London to Brighton

The ‘Emancipation Run’ of 1896 had nothing to do with voting rights, but instead celebrated the recently passed Highways Act. Drivers no longer needed to follow an escort on foot carrying a red flag, and were now free to speed all the way up to a heady 14mph.

Still run annually and open to cars built before 1905, competitors travel from Hyde Park in London to the Brighton seafront, but November’s inclement weather means drivers often get wet long before they have a chance to dip their toes in the sea. Of course, rain, or even snow, is no concern for the driver of a Subaru SUV – all have permanent Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive as standard to ensure you retain perfect control whatever the weather.

Fosse Way

Not all roads are incredible because of their curves, the Fosse Way is remarkable for its lack of them. Stretching from Exeter in Devon to Lincoln, Lincolnshire, the original road was built in 1AD, and is believed to have originally been a defensive trench marking the west of the Roman Empire, Fossa being Latin for ditch.

Many towns along the route owe their names to the road, including Leicester and Cirencester, whose ‘cester’ suffix is derived from the Latin word for a military camp. And Stratford, which comes from the Old English word for street, itself evolved from the Latin ‘strata’, or paved road – though sneak away from the modern route and you’ll find the odd river ford to test your Subaru SUV’s generous ground clearance.

Watling Street

What sounds like it might be a cul-de-sac of 1970s semis is actually a historic route linking the port of Dover to North Wales. Expanding on an existing route connecting Canterbury to St Albans, the Romans paved the route from Dover to London, eventually continuing the road to the Welsh border.

In 1707 Britain’s first turnpike trust was established by an Act of Parliament, charging tolls to road users to help repay the £7,000 cost of paving the section from Fourne Hill to Stony Stratford. Today, the original route forms part of the modern A2 and A5. With the tolls gone, and the reassurance of Subaru’s legendary reliability, you can retrace your predecessor’s steps without landing any surprising expenses.


Read More

You might also like

Travel and Adventure
This is the loneliest road in America
Travel and Adventure
Take a road trip through Tuscany's breathtaking countryside
Travel and Adventure
Britain's top five winter drives
Travel and Adventure
The world's largest artichoke and other giant food
Travel and Adventure
Inside England's mystical world of crop circle tourism

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved