You Take The High Road

Thers is always a plan, we often just don’t know it, and the numbering of roads in the UK is one of those things that I used to wonder about every time I heard the traffic news. It seems I was not alone either, Bill Bryson’s new book, “The Road to Little Dribbling”,  is out now and in a publicity interview at the Cheltenham Festival he said, “The road numbering system in Britain is completely insane!”. Well Bill, I am afraid it ain’t…..

Basically the allocation of numbers is based on a hub-and-spoke system. Because mainland Britain is long and narrow (and because Scotland always likes a measure of autonomy from the Sassenachs), there are actually two hubs, London and Edinburgh. Radiating from these hubs are the nine principal A-roads 1 to 9:

A1 London to Edinburgh
A2 London to Dover
A3 London to Portsmouth
A4 London to Avonmouth
A5 London to Holyhead
A6 London to Carlisle
A7 Edinburgh to Carlisle
A8 Edinburgh to Greenock
A9 Edinburgh to Scrabster

These roads divide Great Britain into nine distinct areas, shown in the map above. Each zone is numbered, taking its number from the A-road on its anticlockwise boundary. From this point, the system is remarkably simple: other roads get their number according to which zone they lie in. Any road in, say, zone 5 gets a number with the first digit 5. It’s as easy as that.

Of course, there’s a system to work out how the rest of the digits are assigned but there is a man who can explain this much better than I can; the amazing CBRD website is an entertaining source of  information about our roads and motorways, just click on this picture of a famous exception to the plan to find out lots more:

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