From Roader's Digest: The SABRE Wiki
|From:||Marsh Street (SX909952)|
|Length:||42 miles (67.6 km)|
|Meets:||A39, B3224, B3222, B3227, A361, B3137, B3391, A3072, A377|
|Former Number(s):||A3126, B3222|
|Exeter • Minehead •|
|Route outline (key)|
The route starts within half a mile of the high water mark, and immediately turns its back on the sea, heading up the Avill Valley, a steep sided but flat-bottomed valley, lined with trees. Initially, though, we pass through the pretty tourist-trap of Dunster. Progress is slow as we avoid the pedestrians marvelling at the Yarn Market, pretty houses and impressive village church - once part of Dunster Abbey. Sitting above, watching, is the bulk of Dunster Castle. There are a couple of narrow 'give way to oncoming traffic' sections, but soon the village is behind us and we are out into the foothills of Exmoor. Minor roads give access to cycle trails through the woods.
At Cowbridge the valley divides and we head south west past Timberscombe through a narrower valley than before. We cross the river then make a short detour through woodland up a side valley to cross a tributary stream as we climb up the hill towards Wheddon Cross, where we cross the B3224.
A couple of tight bends take us out of Wheddon Cross, and we descend into the Quarme Valley. Although this is Exmoor, the hill tops are covered in fields - it is the steeper valley sides that are uneconomic to farm that are covered in woodland.
At the tiny village of Coppleham we meet a minor road from Winsford. The main significance of this junction is that it also marks the confluence of the Rivers Quarme and Exe, and it is the Exe that we now follow southwards. The road remains very scenic as we head south. The surrounding hillsides remain steep and covered in forest and the road's course is very much defined by the river valley.
Just to the east of Dulverton we meet the B3222, then we pass the site of Bury Castle, an old Motte and Bailey castle. Soon the Rivers Hadden and Barle join the Exe, as we leave Exmoor National Park. For a short while, the valley widens out as we pass Exebridge, and the other end of the B3222, then the valley becomes more confined again. Though the sides are not as steep as before, we continue through woodland past Oakfordbridge and on to crossroads where we cross the B3227 (formerly the A361) next to its bridge over the Exe. The eastbound B3227 heads west from here, rising away from the A396 in a double hairpin, in order to escape the valley. But for us, we continue following the Exe, always heading in a southerly direction, but rarely heading due south.
To prove the point, we head briefly north to a roundabout with the B3190 where we have to turn right to resume the A396, and continue through the tree lined valley to a roundabout on the A361. Here, we used to turn left onto a dual carriageway multiplex with the A361, then turn right at the next junction off the A361 to head into Tiverton. This always seemed very odd - the route the A396 took through Tiverton was longer than the direct route (Which was at that time the A3126), which was presumably the original A396, but doesn't look any quicker, particularly as we have to negotiate a number of roundabouts to continue the journey south.
The next section down the Exe Valley is on the west bank - until we reach Bickleigh Mill where we cross again near the junction with the A3072 to Crediton. The valley now broadens, and we gradually diverge from the river as the land becomes open floodplain rather than confined river valley. We pass through Stoke Canon then head south-west past Stoke Woods to a roundabout on the A377 near Cowley to the north of Exeter, where the road finally ends.
In the days when the A361 still crossed Somerset and Devon on its rural meanderings, the A396 had a spur. This was to be found at Bampton (as shown to the left), and has now been consumed by the extended B3190. This is a relic of the days when the A396 actually went through Bampton, before being rerouted along the original route of the B3222 in the 1920s.