|Distance:||37.6 miles (60.5 km)|
|Meets:||A303, A357, A359, A37, A361, A39, A38, A368, A370|
|Former Number(s):||A303, A357, A37|
|Route outline (key)|
The A371 is a cross-country road in north Somerset.
The 1922 Road Lists state that the original start of the A371 was in Shepton Mallet, and that the section from Wincanton to Shepton Mallet started life as the A357. It is unclear why this was changed, as the two routes have always been connected end-to-end. A more sensible option would have been to unite them with a single number.
Wincanton - Shepton Mallet
As can be seen in the map to the left, the A371 once started in Wincanton itself, running up Silver Street and West Hill to join its current route. Currently it starts at a GSJ on the A303 with a short section of purpose-built road, leading to a roundabout at which the A371 turns left, thus avoiding the town centre, which is now served by an extended spur of the B3081. This first section of the A371 is the old route of the A303 after leaving Wincanton. At the next roundabout but one the road is joined by the A357 from Henstridge, and we turn right on a new piece of road to the next roundabout, where the original route is picked up once more.
We pass close to the village of Bratton Seymour and the gardens at Hadspen House, before arriving at a crossroads with the A359 just outside Castle Cary. Along with part of the A359, the next section of the A371 forms a "natural bypass" of Castle Cary - not built as such, just a route that happens to avoid the town centre (the B3152 passes through). The A371 does run through the edge of the village of Ansford which in some respects is an extension of the town, though the residents would probably tell you otherwise!
After Ansford we turn sharply right at the junction with the B3152 to cross the railway line from Yeovil, and are immediately joined by the B3153 from Somerton, we then cross a second line - the line from Frome to Taunton. Castle Cary station is on our right - the location of the station apparently determined by the railway junction rather than its proximity to the town. On yet another bridge we cross the River Brue at Ansford Bridge and so head north.
After about four miles passing through rolling countryside and missing the villages of Ditcheat and Evercreech, we arrive at the Royal Bath and West Showground, home to one of the country's major agricultural shows but now used for many other events. The B3081 from Bruton joins from the right, and we continue through the village of Prestleigh to the junction with the primary A37. Many years ago this was a TOTSO where A371 traffic flowed straight onto the A37, but now there is a roundabout. After a short multiplex with the A37 through Cannard's Grave (named for a local highwayman who was hanged there) there is a second roundabout at which the A371 bears off to the left into Shepton Mallet.
On the approach to Shepton Mallet town centre there is a sharp bend to the right, followed by an equally sharp left turn at the Cenotaph where the road is diverted from its original course along the High Street (now one-way). At a mini-roundabout we turn right onto a purpose-built section of road which relieves the town centre and provides access to Haskins furniture store (one of the town's biggest businesses). We turn left again at the next mini-roundabout (where the road to the right is a spur of the A361) to regain the original course of the road, through the western parts of the town to Bowlish.
Shepton Mallet - Locking
Coming out into the country again, we skirt the edge of the Mendip Hills for most of the rest of the route. We pass through the villages of Croscombe and Dinder to arrive at Dulcote, where the road has been diverted from its original course through Wells, now taken up by a spur of the B3139. This section of road is brand new, and not as many suspect running along the old railway line, but parallel to it, the two merging only on the edge of the city. It meets the A39 - now itself re-routed to avoid the city centre - at a roundabout on the southern outskirts of Wells and multiplexes briefly with the A39 along Strawberry Way, before branching off again to the left.
Outside Wells the road forks in two, the left fork being the B3139 to Wedmore. This section of the road provides access to the village of Wookey and the caves at Wookey Hole - two distinct places, on opposite sides, to the confusion of some visitors! We then pass through a number of villages on the edge of the Mendips - Easton, Westbury-sub-Mendip, Rodney Stoke and Draycott - before arriving in the well-known village of Cheddar. This section of road is often narrow, twisty and so tortuously slow, especially if stuck behind one of the many quarry lorries that use it.
Sadly, we won't see much of the "picture-box" side of Cheddar from the A371 - the Gorge, Caves and cheese factory are all on the other side of the large village, served by the B3135. Instead, we pass through the main part of the settlement, with the B3151 from Wedmore joining from the left. Then there's a curious junction with the B3135 and an unclassified road, which the unwary may mistake for a roundabout - it isn't one, merely two short one-way roads connecting the A371 to the other route.
Passing Cheddar Reservoir to the left, we move onto the Axbridge bypass. The original route of the A371 through Axbridge was extremely narrow, and the bypass was built along the route of the former Cheddar Valley Railway line to relieve a notorious bottleneck. The road runs quite high above the village, cut into the hillside, and has an unusual feature - a grade-separated junction on a single-carriageway road. This allows traffic heading for the southbound A38 to regain the course of the original A371, which remains as a short spur. The mainline bears right on a further purpose-built section of road, which soon splits from the railway line and picks up the course of an old lane. We approach the A38 at an acute angle, though the junction itself is built to require a right-angle turn for northbound traffic.
We have joined the A38 at the top of the notorious Shute Shelve Hill, and multiplex with it for about a mile, crossing into North Somerset as we do so. At the first village, Sidcot, we turn left to regain the A371 proper, which takes us through the middle of Winscombe and on to the village of Banwell. This is the point where the A371 picks up primary status, being joined from the right by the A368, and the improvement in the quality of the road once out of the village is noticeable. However, to start with we have to negotiate the narrow steep descent to the A368 junction, and then weave along the almost as narrow (but at least S2, just) West Street. Eventually, we head over the M5 on a bridge (the proposed site of the not-so-proposed J21A), and bypass the village of Locking, site of a former military airfield. The road now terminates at a roundabout junction with the new A370 "Somerset Avenue" distributor road on the outskirts of Weston-Super-Mare.
This wasn't always the end of the road - but if you want to regain its original course from here, you can't. The road ran over two narrow humpbacked bridges to end on the original A370 (now B3440) in Worle, and one of the bridges has now been closed, leading to a gap in the original route.
As well as being rerouted in Wincanton, Wells and Weston (as described above), the route through Cheddar has also been changed. Originally, the A371 turned right at the war memorial and followed The Hayes up to Tweentown. It then ran along what is now the B3135 to the bottom of Shipham Hill, where it met the B3151 which came up New Road, the A371's present alignment.