For most of the north of England, the M62 is a lifeline. That's not as much of a cliché as it might sound: its central section crosses the Pennines, a place of harsh winter weather, and before the motorway came along, there was often no way across in winter. The M62 was designed to be the pass that would never be closed.
For a motorway with such an unassuming number, it notches up an astounding array of achievements. It is the nearest that Britain has to a coast-to-coast motorway, linking Liverpool with Hull, more or less. The bridge over junction 22 at Moss Moor is the highest motorway in the UK, while out near Goole in East Yorkshire, it's just two or three metres above sea level, making it also the lowest. It is the motorway that has evolved and shifted its route more than any other, starting life as the Stretford and Eccles Bypass west of Manchester. It now only uses about a mile of that original route, with the rest becoming first M63 and now M60.
At the Liverpool end, the motorway was never finished. It starts at junction 4, with a steep ramp from street level to a length of elevated motorway through the suburbs. The city's engineers had planned it to run in a tunnel to Islington where it would have ended on the never-built Liverpool Inner Motorway. Instead it just stops at a congested set of traffic lights on the ring road.
The section it's known for, and the part that truly defines it, is the spectacular run across the Pennines. Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire are two densely built-up conurbations whose fringes are only about ten miles apart, but between them is a shockingly bleak and forbidding wilderness. Engineers and labourers spent more than five years fighting the elements to build that motorway.
At Scammonden, the M62 crosses the top of an earth dam, built with material excavated from the cutting immediately to the west. The bridge spanning that man-made cutting was the longest single-span non-suspension bridge in the world when it was opened. The Pennines presented an engineering challenge on a scale rarely seen in this placid little country.
The Pennine section of the M62 is also home to an enduring urban myth: the house in the middle of the motorway. There really is a working farmhouse there, and someone really does live in it, tending to sheep that graze on the moorland. But the legend that the farmer there refused to move is wrong. Land for motorways is bought by Compulsory Purchase Order, and a CPO is just that: compulsory. If the M62's engineers had wanted to flatten the farmhouse, it would have gone.
In fact, while it was originally scheduled for demolition, geological surveys showed that the ground below it would be unable to support a motorway, so the load was spread by building each carriageway separately, some distance apart. The house was saved from demolition, but sadly condemned to being situated in the central reservation, where to this day it is stared at by every passing motorist.