|From:||East Combe (ST161304)|
|To:||Exford (W) (SS836388)|
|Distance:||23.2 miles (37.3 km)|
|Meets:||A358, B3188, B3190, A396, B3223|
|Route outline (key)|
One of Somerset's great roads, the B3224 starts on the A358 at East Combe, just north of Bishop's Lydeard, and runs across the top of the Brendon Hills and Exmoor to Exford, passing through Raleigh's and Wheddon Crosses along the way.
We start with a junction on the A358, where the B3224 almost immediately passes under the arches of a West Somerset Railway bridge. The pretty villages of Combe Florey and Lydeard St Lawrence, as with so many along this road, lie off to the north of the road, but there are a maze of side roads serving them and the villages to the south.
The road is climbing steadily all the way, with spacious views (behind us) across to the Quantock Hills. At length, we reach the crossroads at Elworthy, where the B3188 crosses on its way from Wiveliscombe in the south to Washford in the north. The road continues to climb, and straightens out somewhat too as it approaches Raleigh's Cross. Here we meet the B3190 which has come from Watchet away to the north on the coast. For a little over a mile the two roads multiplex, although maps differ as to which has priority (logic - and the road signs - say the dominant road is the B3190). On the ground, at Raleigh's Cross we have priority, but we then have to TOTSO at Brendon Hill. Raleighs Cross, even today, is little more than a large and comfortable old coaching inn. There are a couple of other houses within view, but that's all.
Both junctions are well splayed for continuing east-west, and traffic is normally light enough to minimise the disruption to your journey! After turning off the B3190, we almost immediately cross the former course of the West Somerset Mineral Railway. Remarkably, this small line ran a steam-winched incline up the steep hill from Roadwater, which at times carried passengers too! Today little remains to be seen in the thick woodland of the hillside, although aerial photography clearly shows its wiggling course parallel to the B3224.
Continuing west, the road is reasonably straight and wide most of the way, allowing fast progress. However, there are some narrow points, a couple of nasty bends and plenty of blind undulation along the way. Off to the north are the pretty villages of Treborough and Luxborough, buried deep in their valleys. Eventually, the road swings north-westwards and drops down into Wheddon Cross. The name of the junction has almost replaced the real name of the village - Cutcombe. It is at Wheddon Cross that the B3224 meets the A396 Dunster-Tiverton road, and the crossroads is not an easy one to use. The A396, naturally, gets priority, but the crossroads is narrow, with old buildings crowding the edge of the road in every direction. Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that they never bypass it!
The road now climbs out of the village, before dropping once more, and this time much more steeply, down to Luckwell Bridge. It goes round a sharp bend at the bottom, over the bridge and back up the other side of the combe for the final push to Exford. It should be obvious that there is no such thing as an ugly village on Exmoor, and Exford isn't the exception to prove the rule! Its spacious village green, with shops and historic coaching inn is where the local hunt often meets (even in the animal-friendly present); it's also one of the biggest villages on Exmoor. We pass through the village, crossing the Exe Bridge in the middle, and finally end our journey at a TOTSO with the B3223 about half a mile west.
The B3224 must also rank as one of the most extended. Originally, it ran for about 3.4 miles from Wheddon Cross west to Larcombe Farm, where it ended on the B3223. Then, when that road was rerouted to Dulverton, it got extended through Exford to maintain the route as a B-road, and finally its length was more than doubled when it was extended east to join the A358 near Combe Florey.