The M6 Motorway in Cumbria :
On 5th December 1958, Preston became the site of Britain’s first motorway in the form of the Preston Bypass, and was opened by the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. It consisted of 8.26 miles from Broughton in the north to Bamber Bridge in the south. In subsequent years the motorway was extended piecemeal in both directions and is now 230 miles (370 km) long.
The M6 motorway is the longest motorway in the United Kingdom. It runs from a junction with the M1 near Rugby in central England, passes near Coventry, through Birmingham and near the major cities of Wolverhampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester, Liverpool, and Preston, and on to the north of Carlisle, close to the Scottish border.
The three-lane M6, which came to Cumbria in the late 1960s and early 1970s, transformed communications within the county and outside, creating opportunities in relation to tourism and economic development, which had not previously existed.
The route to Scotland is very close to the one chosen by the Romans, except that their road passes to the east of Farlton Knott, the prominent limestone hill a few miles north of Carnforth, while the M6 passes to the west.
For several miles through the Lune Gorge, the motorway and its 2000 year old predecessor run parallel to each other. The Roman road is clearly visible from the motorway on the opposite side of the Lune on the western flanks of the Howgill Fells. After about 400 A.D., the Roman road fell into disuse, and during the Middle Ages a much more tortuous route north came into use, going through Kendal and over Shap Fells. Eventually with the coming of mass motoring it was decided that a new road was needed. The Lune Gorge route was chosen as it was easier to engineer, and not so liable to be affected by hill fog and bad visibility.
There are 160 structures on the Lune Gorge section of the motorway of which 77 are bridges or underpasses. Cost studies led to open abutments being selected generally, so that for standard situations overbridges have three or four spans, but most underbridges have single spans. In one case an overbridge carrying a minor road was designed with 3 spans rather than 4, so as to frame a magnificent early view of the approach to the Lune Gorge for North-bound travellers.
Within a length of 2.5 miles in the Gorge, 8 underbridges were required to carry the motorway, and 3 to carry the diverted A685. The 73 ft high Borrowbeck viaduct is close to and 10 ft higher than the stone arch railway viaduct carrying the West Coast main line to Glasgow. The central span of the curved motorway viaduct was designed to frame the railway viaduct when viewed from the realigned A685, itself on a new curved bridge over Borrow Beck.
The location of Service Areas was treated as an environmental as well as an amenity matter. Connecting overbridges were avoided, and sites were selected alternately for North- and South-bound traffic with the two southernmost ones widely separated. However, where the carriageways are separated North of Tebay, they are opposite one another. All are designed to provide views away from the motorway, and at Killington the Service Area overlooks the Reservoir, and is well screened from the motorway by ground contours.
The M6 rises from near sea level on the Forton to Carnforth section to over one thousand feet above sea level on the moors near Shap. Consequently there is a marked contrast in scenery and vegetation owing to the rapid change in climate. The road at sea level, and close to the warm waters of Morecambe Bay, is not normally subject to heavy snowfalls. As the motorway moves higher and away from the coast the frequency of snowfalls increases rapidly.
On average the Tebay to Penrith section is about 5 degrees F colder than the more southerly section, and is subject to snow and hill fog. The engineers have attempted to minimise interferance from snow by seperating the carriageways in this section. In some places they are 800 feet apart, and where they are brought together, the central reservation is never less than thirty feet wide. In addition to having plenty of space for removal of snow, the slopes of the cuttings along this section have been made as gentle as possible, as steep cuttings encourage the formation of snow drifts.
On this elevated ground between Shap and Tebay, where the north and south-bound carriages split apart, a local road runs between the two carriageways without a direct link to the motorway.
The section of the M6 which runs over Shap Fell in Cumbria is 320m above sea level, one of the highest points on any motorway in the UK (Junction 22 of the M62 on Saddleworth Moor is higher). The West Coast main railway line runs alongside the M6 for much of its length.
The following gallery shows some features of the M6 motorway as it passes south through Cumbria, and some places of interest beside it.
Cumbria’s award-winning Tebay Services, operated by Westmorland Ltd, is a family-owned motorway services, located on both the north and southbound sides of the M6 Motorway, just north of Junction 38. They are the only services in England to be built and operated by local people, and have established a strong reputation for excellent home made food and friendly staff, as well as its award-winning farm shops.
The Lune Gorge between Junction 37 and Junction 38 is widely acknowledged as the most beautiful stretch of motorway in the country. The Gorge cleaves through a geological fault line in the band of hills which joins the Pennines with the Lake District fells.