This week, the fabulous Greetings from Route 66 book thudded onto my desk. It's a mightily impressive tome.
It details the history of the road, the roadside attractions, facts, pop culture and even a collection of recipes from the roadside cafes. The whole thing is sumptuously illustrated with beautiful photos and paintings inspired by the road linking Chicago and Los Angeles through the heart of the country. Setting out on Route 66 is an adventure.
Flicking through this beautiful book about the most evocative road in the world, it got me wondering about what the British equivalent is to old '66. Or indeed whether there is a UK road that can inspire people to the extent that they'd feel compelled to get the camera out or write a tune about it.
First among the UK contenders is an obvious one. It shares a number with the US Mother road and originally linked Hull and Penrith. Today it only goes as far as Scotch Corner, which despite an impressive spacious petrol station, is hardly Sunset Boulevard.
Verdict: Right number. Wrong road.
Mother Road rating 1/5
In the 1960s, the opening of the M1 was a momentous event, but it could hardly be termed inspiring. Especially once the speed limit was enforced. Watford Gap was the first motorway service area in the country but a song by Roy Harper about it pointed out how poor, rather than how great it was.
Verdict: Lacks sparkle but has plenty of presence and historical significance
Mother Road rating 2/5
3) M25 London Orbital
The London Orbital motorway is too recent to really conjure nostalgic feelings. In terms of great places to stop, Clackett Lane and South Mimms are a little short of charm. Sadly, it is not great for a road trip either as you will spend an hour or so stuck in the road works in the north west corner, and end up back where you started. But it gets a point for being (in)famous across the world and Chris Rea's "Road to Hell' song was written about it. And you can get a sticker for visiting it.
Verdict: Not what dreams are made of. Too circular.
Mother Road rating 3/5
4) A1 Great North Road
The A1 at least has a name that sounds a bit more inspiring. The Great North Road sounds like the beginning of an adventure. It links two great cities in London and Edinburgh. True to say that in its day, it had a selection of interesting eateries along its route, and much like Route 66, much of the original route has been bypassed, leaving quieter stretches to explore.
Verdict: A genuine contender to the title of Britain's Mother Road.
Mother Road rating 5/5
Might seem an odd one but it's one of the few UK roads with a song written about it. Billy Bragg did a version of Route 66, called A13; Trunk Road to the Sea. However, linking London and Shoeburyness won't conjure dreams for many…
Verdict: Scores well on culture, but hardly magical
Mother Road rating 1/5
6) A5 Roman Road
The best way to combat the cosy Americana of '66 is with Britain's trump card; proper history. If you stretch things a bit, you could claim that the A5 links London and Dublin, if you count the ferry. These two compare well with Chicago and L.A. It follows the route of the ancient Watling Street built by the Romans, hence it is signposted as 'Roman Road' along sections of its length. And there is plenty of things along the route indicating the route's history, such as coach houses and staging posts. The real trump card however is the Menai Suspension Bridge. This bit of architectural interest makes the A5 a stand out candidate. If only there was a song about it…
Verdict: History, major cities at either end (nearly) and the drama of the Menai straights make this a worth contender
Mother Road rating 5/5
So which is Britain's Mother Road?
Greetings from Route 66 has over 900 colour photographs and the largest ever collection of memorabilia from the beginnings through today, It's a cracking christmas gift or equally a lovely thing to have on your coffee table.
So the question is which major British road could warrant a work like this? Would a similar work about the A5 or the A1 have the same browsing appeal if casually plonked in front of you? No. I think I'll stick with the Route 66 book too. But pushed into an answer, I'd go for the A5.
Greetings from Route 66 is available to order direct from
Grantham Book Services
Tel: 01476 541 080
ISBN: 978 0 7603 3885 8
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