London’s Longest Roads And Where They Lead To

Did you know that Selfridges is on the same road as the Brecon Beacons? That you can see the Scottish Parliament from a road that passes through Islington? Or that you can walk directly from Lambeth North to Brighton Pier without setting foot on more than one road?

Then there is the blessed junction outside St Paul’s Tube station, where roads from two different countries meet. Head west along the A40 (beginning on Newgate) and you’ll eventually reaches Wales. Choose the northern route past the Museum of London, and you can get into Scotland without leaving the A1.

Welcome to the surprising world of London’s A-roads. We tracked a few of the more interesting ones down to their final destinations (with a lot of help from Google Maps and Street View).

The A1: Take Upper Street to another country

So you thought Highbury and Islington was at the northern end of Upper Street...?

Upper Street in Islington is really badly named. It’s actually part of the lower 0.5% of the A1, which stretches all the way up to Edinburgh. This most famous of A-roads begins at St Paul’s and travels up past the Museum of London, along St John Street, through Islington and along Holloway and Archway Roads and then onwards past Welwyn and Stevenage to the north. Eventually reaching Edinburgh, the final stretches of Britain’s longest route adopt the name London Road. Total length: 410 miles.

The A2: Take the Old Kent Road to Dover

Live in Borough? The white cliffs of Dover are just at the end of your road.

The A2, as Old Kent Road is more prosaically known, begins at Borough Tube station as Great Dover Street. It is indeed old and Kentish, forming the southern part of the Roman Watling Street down to Canterbury and Dover. Its London sections pass through New Cross, Deptford and Blackheath before climbing Shooters Hill. There, the A2 dips down into Kidbrooke and Eltham on modern roads, but you can still follow the original Roman route by carrying on east on a dead-straight line through Welling and Crayford (A207). The two routes recombine near Bluewater before heading off into deepest Kent. Total length: 72 miles.

The A3: Take Borough High Street till you reach Portsmouth

Follow Borough High Street for rolling hills like this.

Instead of heading east at Borough Tube, you might instead go south, down the A3, which eventually reaches Portsmouth. Along the way, it is variously known as Borough High Street, Newington Causeway, Kennington Park Road, Clapham High Street, Wandsworth High Street, Kingston Road and much else besides. Total length: 78 miles.

The A4: Take Fleet Street as far as Bristol

More gorgeous countryside, on the same road as Fleet Street.

Call it the A4, and you have an unmemorable traffic route. Call it Fleet Street, Strand, Pall Mall, Piccadilly, Knightsbridge and Brompton Road, and you have some of the most famous streets in the world. This most notable of roads also comprises Cromwell Road (home of the V&A and Natural History Museum), the embattled Hammersmith Flyover, and the Great West Road before heading out to Bath and Bristol, flirting the whole way, and occasionally commingling, with the M4. Total length: 130 miles.

The A5: Take Edgware Road…to Anglesey

Multicultural Edgware Road

Edgware Road and its northern continuations are perhaps the most obviously Roman route in London, heading in a perfectly straight line, save for an Elstree kink, all the way out beyond the M25. This is the northern stretch of Watling Street, the Anglo-Saxon name for the old Roman route out to the Welsh borders. Today, as the A5, it ventures as far as Holyhead in north-west Wales, although it briefly loses its name (becoming the A5183) just outside London. Total length: 260 miles.

The A10: Take Bishopsgate up to the Norfolk coast

Just carry on up Kingsland Road and you'll eventually get to this.

One of the main thoroughfares through the ancient City of London, Bishopsgate formed part of Ermine Street, a Roman road that once led up to York (Eboracum). Sometimes called the Old North Road, it remains one of the straightest roads in London, beginning at Monument station, passing up through Bishopsgate, Shoreditch High Street and Kingsland Road, then on through Dalston, Stokey, Tottenham and Edmonton. Were you to follow the A10 (as it’s officially designated) to its conclusion, you’d pass through Cambridge before coming to an end in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Total length: 161 miles.

The A13: Take Commercial Road out to some Essex mudflats

The A13 leads out from Whitechapel to Southend and Shoeburyness, whisking beachhut-hunting Londoners through many areas of industry and marshy desolation. You’d think there wasn’t much more to say about this estuarine highway. You’d be wrong. Total length: 41 miles.

The A23: Take Kennington Road down to Brighton

One road connects Lambeth Tube to Brighton Pier.

A single road connects Lambeth North Tube station to Brighton Pier. The A23, as it’s now known, is another old Roman road, a fact that becomes readily apparent if you follow its largely straight course on a map. Within London, the A23 follows Kennington Road, Brixton Road and Streatham Hill, before heading down through Norbury and Croydon. It then picks up speed by joining the M23 before relaxing back to its A-status on its way down to the coast. Total length: 52 miles.

The A40: Take Oxford Street…all the way to Wales

Trade in your West End shopping for a stroll in the Brecons...all on the same road.

You guessed it, Oxford Street leads to Oxford. But it will also take you to Cheltenham, Gloucester and over the Brecon Beacons to Fishguard in Wales.

The stretch known as Oxford Street is about a mile and a half long, although the distance can seem much greater on a Saturday afternoon. This is one of the capital’s oldest thoroughfares, following the line of an ancient Roman road that led to Colchester in the east and Hampshire in the west. Today, it’s also known as the A40.

Within London, it begins just north of St Paul’s, runs over Holborn Viaduct and along Holborn and New Oxford Street, along Oxford Street, then north to the Westway, Western Avenue and the M40, and thence on to Wales. In days gone by, the A40 took the more satisfyingly straight route of continuing west from Marble Arch along Bayswater Road and Uxbridge Road, running along what is now the A4020. Total length: 256 miles.

 

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  • http://www.dorkadore.com Katie

    What a lovely article!

  • http://twitter.com/EastVillageLDN East Village London

    Haha – that’s amazing! 

  • Sam Roberts

    I’d always thought that Green Lanes was London’s longest road with respect to not changing its name along its route as these examples seem to…

    • Maneenz

      Except it does turn in to “High Road” between Turnpike Lane tube and up to the North Circular. Then as it goes North after that it returns to “Green Lanes”.

  • Tony Medawar

    Excellent essay

  • http://twitter.com/steinsky Joe Dunckley

    You missed a delightful mundane fact about the A4. It starts at Holborn Circus and ends on a junction with the M5 in a dockland industrial estate in Avonmouth, Bristol.

    The very first building on it, at the exact start, is the headquarters of Sainsbury’s. The very last building, at the exact end, is the regional distribution warehouse of Sainsbury’s.

    I haven’t counted the number of stores that line the route…

    • Anonymous

      Joe, that might just be the most fascinating thing I’ve ever heard. Then again, it might not.

    • sainsburysgeek

      this is amazing. best fact ever.

  • http://twitter.com/jordandias Jordan Dias

    Further, another useless fact is that the other end of the A1 in Edinburgh is a junction with the A8 & A7.  Not sure there are any other junctions with three single digit A roads.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BB4X52DG5RRHDVBLT7NNNQCKU4 tupinambah

    I knew this but thanks for sharing all. It would be great an article about our dear M25, amazing Motorway.

  • http://twitter.com/johnnyfoxlondon JohnnyFox

    A30 ‘Travellers Way’ a rather grubby dual carriageway of soundproofed houses in Hounslow which then skirts the perimeter fence of Heathrow actually goes all the way to Land’s End.

  • soundslike

    I don’t agree that Oxford street leads to Oxford. If you want to go somewhere you call it Road. London Road, Uxbridge Road even Kings Road. Oxford Street is named after the Earl of Oxford who owned and developed the streets around that area.

  • Rootymasters

    I actually rode the A3 from end to end last year on an old MZ Motorocycle. Great fun whizzing around the City on Easter Sunday at 7 am!