Posted by: wesleyjohnston | November 1, 2012

In the Footsteps of the Old A1

Note: This post uses embedded Google StreetView images. These don’t work well on the iPhone, and other hand held devices.
The A1 between Lisburn and Newry surely holds the record as the most piece-meal road upgrade in Northern Ireland’s history. Since 1970, and largely thanks to the lack of funds during the “Troubles”, there have been no less than 26 distinct phases in turning this from a twisty single-carriageway road passing through every town en-route, to the passable dual-carriageway it is today. The whole process took 38 years from the first upgrade in or around 1972 to the final piece in the jigsaw, the “new” Newry Bypass, which opened in July 2010. And still more projects are planned, including four further grade separated junctions and a bypass of the whole messy Sprucefield area.

Almost all readers will remember the A1 south of Loughbrickland before it was dualled, while fewer will be old enough to remember the northern stretches around Hillsborough and Dromore before they were upgraded. Despite the old road being largely obliterated, there are still places today where rural parts of the old A1 remain in-situ, and where you can get some flavour of what it must have been like to drive on it before any work was done. Here I list just five of these. There are quite a few others, so happy exploring!

South of Hillsborough

Background: The Hillsborough Bypass was one of the earliest upgrades, opening in 1974, but it was preceded a year earlier by a short stretch south of the town. This stretch was built entirely off-line, and the old A1 remains more or less in its original form just to one side.

Where Is It? You can see it highlighted on the map below.

How to Access It: The easiest way to reach this stretch of road is from the A1 at the Dromore Road grade separated junction just south of Hillsborough. Locate “Dromore Road” which heads south off the edge of this map. The StreetView below shows what it looks like. Having ceased to be part of the A1 almost 40 years ago, this part of the old A1 is now a very ordinary rural road, and has had almost no upgrades since. It gives drivers a very good idea of what a journey to Dublin by car would have been like in the 1960s.

Between Hillsborough and Dromore

Background: The A1 between Hillsborough and Dromore follows a distinct S-curve that is certainly below the standards expected of a modern dual-carriageway. The reason it is this shape is that this part of the A1 was an on-line upgrade of the old A1, which followed a similar route through the County Down drumlins. This was also one the first parts of the A1 to be dualled, the work having been carried out in two phases in 1971 and 1973. However, the old road could not be upgraded in its entirety due to some tight bends, the most notable of which was a near-90° bend originally located here, but long since obliterated. Achieving a sweeping curve here meant cutting off a slice of the old A1 just to the north.

Where Is It? The stretch in question is highlighted here:

How To Access It. It is safest to access this stretch of the A1 by travelling along the northbound carriageway. There are two access points, one at either end of the short stretch of road. I don’t recommend trying to turn right across the A1. This road now serves just a handful of houses, so is virtually unchanged from how it looked when it was part of the A1 back in the 1960s:

Between Dromore and Banbridge

Background: The Halfway House is a well-known establishment just off the A1, not-coincidentally half way between Dromore and Banbridge. It sits on a short cut-off section of the old A1 which was left behind when the A1 was straightened and dualled here in 1977.

Where Is It? You can see the short section highlighted in this map:

How To Access It: As with the previous location, it is safest to access this stretch of the A1 by travelling along the northbound carriageway. Once again, there are two access points, one at either end of the short stretch of road. As before, I don’t recommend trying to turn right across the A1. Imagine the chaos if all the modern HGVs were attempting to rumble past each other along this little road!

South of Loughbrickland

Background: One of the earliest upgrades to the A1 was the dualling of a short stretch between Loughbrickland and Newry, near a settlement known as Glen View. This was achieved “on the cheap” in (or possibly before) 1972 by building a new northbound carriageway to the west of the existing road, and then turning the old A1 into the southbound carriageway. This remained the case until the A1 was upgraded to a more modern standard in 2005. The southbound carriageway was literally just the old road, and many will remember just how weird, scary and frankly dangerous it felt to drive along what felt like a country road with lines of cars overtaking you approaching blind summits! Two of these stretches survived the 2005 upgrade and have now reverted back to being two-way country roads.

Where Is It? You can see the stretch I have chosen highlighted on the map below.

How to Access It: Travelling southbound is best, as there is a T-junction on the modern A1 that will take you into this area. The road is now, finally, back to the rural idyll it was in the 1960s, with only the modern-looking surface and “no overtaking” central line offering clues to its relatively recent past:

Well, that and its extremely sudden truncation at the north end!

South of Newry

Background: The A1 at Newry was not upgraded to dual-carraigeway standard until the period 2006-2010, so the old A1 here looks like any other modern road. See here, for example, just north of the city. The works south of the city, however, have left some interesting stretches of the single-carriageway A1 in place which are curiosities for road enthusiasts of the future to ponder. Perhaps the oddest is a stretch just south of Cloghogue which was cut off where the new dual-carriageway, built offline south of here, re-joins the route of the A1 to bypass Newry.

Where Is it? The stretch I mean is highlighted on the map below.

How to Access It. This stretch of road is best accessed from the Ellisholding Road junction on the new A1, although note that this junction is limited-access and only accessible from the north. It seems like a good way to end this blog post because of the way the road gradually disappears. First, you have this eerily quiet section of high-quality single-carriageway road with full hard shoulders. This was the hugely important A1 until 2007:

At the point where this road is obliterated by the new A1, a new link road has been built which starts off with good intentions…

…before apparently deciding that being two lanes wide is just too much like hard work…

…and then finally ignominiously merging with an unclassified rural lane.

Conclusion

It is rare for a major road upgrade to entirely obliterate its predecessors, and one of the pure delights of being a road enthusiast is finding these wonderful little bits of lost glory nestled amongst trees and fields. Happy exploring!

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Responses

  1. As a railway enthusiast, it is sad that the A1 obliterated the railway trackbed at Hillsborough (station included) and at Dromore. Although it is possible that there may be some interesting industrial archeology if ever the road was lifted at say Hillsborough. Would the road builders have work in progress photographs of that area?

  2. They may well do, but I don’t know where they would be now – it was almost 40 years ago, and Roads Service chucked a lot of stuff during the Troubles. Your best bet is retired engineers, but it’s hard to track them down.

  3. I’m sure the Sheepbridge Inn to the North of Newry has lost a lot of trade.

    From the new A1 towards Newry you can still see the Specs cameras of the old A1. Bit like the old A77 near Glasgow.

    The old checkpoint South of Newry finally permanently dismantled!

    The B113 too which has the old straight stretch, now with mostly abandoned Bureau de Changes and petrol stations!


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