|Distance:||70 miles (112.7 km)|
|Meets:||M5, A376, A3015, B3123, A38, B3192, A381, B3199, A3022, B3205, A3122, B3205, A381, B3392, A3121, B3186, A374|
|Former Number(s):||A378, B3199, B3264|
|Old route now:||A3022, B3205|
|Route outline (key)|
The A379 is the south Devon coast road.
There's a problem before we start, because the A379 in fact has two beginnings some four miles apart at Clyst St Mary (M5 junction 30) and Kennford (A38). This is because when the Exeter bypass, hopelessly inadequate and notorious holiday season bottleneck that it was, found itself bypassed by the M5 in 1977. The A38 ‘disappeared’ and the A379 was extended as two spurs from its junction midway along the bypass. Originally, even in the days of the A38 Exeter bypass, the A379 continued a little further into Exeter on the Dawlish Road and started in Alphington.
Exeter – Torquay
So it is that the A379's first beginning is now at the Sandygate Roundabout, otherwise known as junction 30 of the M5, by Clyst St Mary to the east of Exeter. From here the road runs as a dual carriageway under the Exeter to Exmouth railway onto a trumpet junction with the pre-motorway Exeter bypass (now at this point the A3015, previously the B3181 but historically part of the A38). It continues south, as an S4 and then S4 narrowed to S2+1, along the old bypass, now known as Rydon Lane and Bridge Road. It passes through the Countess Wear signalised roundabout and then over the Countess Wear swing bridge, the former being a notorious rush hour bottleneck on the busy route into Exeter city centre and the latter being quite a traffic black spot when the bridge is opened to shipping or partially closed for what seems like semi-permanent road works. At the next roundabout the A379 meets itself!
The A379's other start point comes in the form of free-flowing south facing slips off/onto the A38 at the wonderfully named ‘Wobbly Wheel’ interchange by the village of Kennford. It starts as a dual carriageway, recently narrowed to D1, along the A38's historic route towards Exeter, across the modern day A30 and then onto the southern part of the old single carriageway Exeter bypass. There is a roundabout at Matford, providing access to the Marsh Barton industrial area, before the road meets the ‘true’ A379 at the next roundabout.
The next section runs parallel to the River Exe, bypassing Exminster on a 1980s bypass and through Kenton. At Starcross road and railway both run right up against the estuary, and there's a passenger ferry to Exmouth. The road continues through the coastal resorts of Dawlish and Teignmouth, passing between the town centre and seafront at the former and behind the town on modern (1970s?) dual carriageway relief road though the latter.
The faster B3192 from Exeter meets the A379 at a set of traffic lights in Teignmouth and a little further along, at some more traffic lights, the A381 continues straight ahead to Newton Abbot (it meets the A379 again later on) and the A379 TOTSOs left for the Shaldon Bridge over the River Teign.
In 1991 the A379 south from Dawlish, and thence through Teignmouth and Shaldon to Torquay, was downgraded to become the B3199 by Devon county council. This decision was reversed by the council a mere six years later – in 1997 – when the A379 was reinstated. It must have about this time that it was decided to strengthen Shaldon Bridge that, for many years, had a weight restriction. Since this strengthening work was completed many local people have complained that the bridge's railings make a haunting whistling noise in certain weather conditions. The cause of the whistling has never been identified.
Shaldon Bridge is a low-lying structure several hundred yards long. Originally it had a section that opened for shipping but this has been sealed for many, many years. This bridge was once tolled, becoming free in the 1940s. Originally Victorian, the bridge was rebuilt a few times, most recently in the 1920s. At the time it must have been the longest bridge in the southwest.
The section of the A379 from Shaldon through to Babbacombe Bay is narrow, just about maintaining two lanes throughout, and very twisty and hilly. Driving along it you can understand why it got downgraded to B road status, although how it became an A road again isn't obvious. Now the Kingskerswell bypass has opened on the heavily congested A380, a little to the west, it is quite conceivable that the Shaldon to Torquay road might get downgraded again.
On its route into Torquay the A379 strays from its original alignment. During Devon county councils far-reaching review of road numbering the road's old route into the town centre from St Marychurch became an unclassified road and part of it, within the town centre, is now pedestrianised. The route now through Babbacombe is that of the original B3199 between St Marychurch and Torquay Harbour.
Torquay – Plymouth
After Torquay harbour there is a section of dual carriageway, basically a D1 plus parking, and then the A379 goes into multiplex with the A3022. Curiously it is the A3022 takes priority! The reason why the three-digit road should yield to a four-digit one, when they are both non-primary, is a result of the botched 1991/97 downgrading/upgrading of the A379 and bizarre re-routing of the A3022.
The multiplex continues to Paignton, where the A379 resumes through Goodrington (this section was also part of the B3199 from 1991-97). But it isn't for long though, because along comes the A3022 again! Another A3022 (A379) multiplex (but this time the A379 number is dominant) sees the road crosse the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway near Churston station before the A379 turns off with the A3022 continuing to Brixham.
The A379 winds its way via Hillhead through hills to the Dartmouth Higher Ferry. An alternative, and smaller, Dartmouth Lower Ferry is available by taking the B3205 to Kingswear from Hillhead (this is the original route of the A379). Either ferry, predictably enough, takes you into Dartmouth, which is arguably one of the most beautiful towns on the south coast.
After Dartmouth the A379 continues to Kingsbridge via Stoke Fleming and then along the coast at Slapton Sands past the Slapton Ley nature reserve. At Torcross it turns inland and runs via Chillington to Kingsbridge.
This whole stretch is another piece of road that screams B road at you but, in spite of the 1991 review, has always managed to retain A road status. It is twisty and narrow, single lane through most of the villages, but passes through some spectacular coastal countryside. A main road this is not and from Dartmouth most traffic leaves by the A3122 for which the A381 can be picked up for a faster route to Kingsbridge one way and the rest of Devon, avoiding the ferries, the other.
As we've already seen Devon county council's 1991 road review, and subsequent reinstatement of the culled sections of the A379, have lead to some strange road routings on the map. However the most bizarre aberration occurred around Kingsbridge where for fifteen years there were gaps in both the A379 and A381 (which we met earlier in Teignmouth) after the council downgraded the connecting section of the A379 to become the B3264. This anomaly has now apparently been resolved, as of late 2006, by the reinstatement of the A379 from Kingsbridge to Churchstow along the now ex-B3264. The nearby B3197 was upgraded, at the same time, to become the mainline of the A381 thus creating a new anomaly in the area where the old A381 from Kingsbridge towards Salcombe through West Alvington has effectively become a spur of the A381.
So after Kingsbridge the A379 does now continue to Churchstow and is joined after a roundabout, and in multiplex through the village, by the A381 from Totnes. At another roundabout beyond the village the A381 (ex-B3197) turns left to Salcombe whilst the A379 turns right for Plymouth. Straight ahead takes you on a minor road to the pleasant seaside village of Bantham. A short distance later, after a fairly steep descent, the A379 comes to another roundabout at the bottom of the (1990s) Aveton (pronounced Aurton) Gifford bypass. This is the only modern section of road for some miles around as from here the quality of the road deteriorates once again. It is very bendy, hilly and narrow, and if you do get stuck behind something, opportunities to overtake are few and far between. The village of Modbury is pleasant, nestling at the bottom of a steep valley. After the villages of Yealmpton and Brixton you are out of the South Hams area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), which we have been in since leaving Torbay, and into the suburbs of Plymouth. The road opens out into a dual carriageway, albeit a dual carriageway narrowed to a single lane plus cycle lanes and a lot of hatching in the 1990s. markings indicate that cyclists have priority over all traffic entering and leaving the A379. Once past three roundabouts, and most of Plymstock, the road becomes a proper dual carriageway.
One more roundabout, providing access to Plymstock and a large Morrisons superstore, and the A379 makes the southernmost crossing of the River Plym on Laira Bridge before coming to a similar problem as when we started. The A379 now has 3 finishing points. The first is a short one way sliproad westbound on to the A374 Gdynia Way (which Plymouth-bound traffic takes), Heles Terrace (for A38 bound traffic), and the original route for Plymouth - Kingsbridge bound traffic from the A374 at Embankment Road.