|A38 near the Somerset/Devon border|
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Originally, the A38 ran from Plymouth to Derby, but it was extended at both ends. It was known to some as "the longest country lane in England", and the south-western section was notorious at holiday times for the congestion. Fortunately, the M5 took care of that, and nowadays for most of its length the A38 is a fairly quiet road shadowing the M5 extremely closely. (I don't know how many junction signs on the M5 mention the A38, but it's a lot!)
Bodmin – Exeter
The A38 starts as a trunk road at a junction with the A30 north of Bodmin in Cornwall, we head off in a southerly direction (not a good start for getting to Mansfield, passing around the East and South of the town before meeting the A30 again at another limited access junction.
From here it follows the valley of the River Fowey (known as the Glynn Valley), parallel to the main railway line, where it meets the A390 at a roundabout marking the beginning of the Dobwalls Bypass. This now forms a continuous dual carriageway via the Liskeard bypass (where the A390 which had multiplexed with the A38 departs), to the Trerulefoot roundabout (A374 junction). Along the way, the road runs through several cuttings and then returns to single-carriageway. The A38 TOTSOs left through a 50 mph "Gateway Zone" through the villages of Tideford, Notter and Landrake before bypassing Saltash, meeting the A388 at roundabout and then briefly returning to dual-carriageway. We then narrow to three lanes as we head into the Saltash Tunnel, and across the tolled Tamar Bridge into Devon. Tidal Flow operates on this section.
The A38 dual-carriageway through Plymouth is called the Parkway and its route was first marked out in "The Plan for Plymouth" published as long ago as 1943. The route was reserved while development went on all around it, and opened in 1986/87. The older S2 road took a slightly different track through the middle of Crownhill before heading off to St Budeaux and the Tamar Bridge. It was a notorious traffic bottleneck for many years before the bypass was eventually built.
An interesting point at the Tamar Bridge end of the Parkway is the old Devon County Council "ship" sign which was put up when the road was opened. Plymouth City Council took over responsibility for all services in Plymouth 1998, and Devon adopted a new logo. Plymouth have left the old Devon County sign in situ.
© Nicholas and Andrew Henderson , with permission
There's a three-level stacked roundabout junction with the A386 (the only three-level intersection in Devon), and then the road passes over the A374 roundabout, which was apparently the largest in Europe when it opened. From memory, the next section of bypass round Plympton is three lanes each way, but after that you're onto the D2 "Devon Expressway", a splendid sub-motorway road. It bypasses Ivybridge, South Brent, Buckfastleigh, Ashburton, and Bickington before coming to a cutting near Telegraph Hill. This is a long stretch through the green and pleasant south Devon countryside, with many local roads joining on either side, some with gaps in the central reservation to allow right turns.
The old route through Ivybridge is now the B3213, which joins the A3121 immediately before the limited-access eastern junction. South Brent is then served by the B3372, which joins the A385 at a dumbbell junction at the eastern end. By now, the road has turned northwards, skirting the southern fringe of Dartmoor, and some fine views can be had if you know when to look! The B3380 picks up the old route through Buckfastleigh, and meets the A384 at the eastern end of the town. Just before Ashburton, the road turns fairly sharply back towards the west before settling on a north-westerly direction. The Ashburton Bypass, meanwhile, is the odd one out as the B3352 manages to meet the A38 at both ends of the town!
About a mile further north, the A383 departs at the limited access Goodstone Cross. From here to the A382 junction, the A38 has no side accesses, and with the A382 forming a roundabout over the A38, it almost feels like we are up to motorway standard. However, the A38 then returns to its bad old ways once more, with 3 side turnings in the half mile up to the B3344 at Chudleigh Knighton, which we pass to the south of. The road is quite twisty now, as we weave round to the north of Chudleigh, also served by the B3344, and at both ends too! Next we pass though the forest of Great Haldon, home to Exeter Racecourse, with some more side turnings. The last of these is the old route of the A38 and winds round to join the A380, allowing A38 traffic to get to the services at Kenn. Haldon Hill (and Telegraph Hill on the A380) are major obstacles in extending a Motorway south of Exeter.
After this the A380 from Torbay merges to form a four-lane road northbound which was widened in 2015 from three lanes (southbound remains three-lanes) which bypasses Kennford. In 2017, the northbound carriageway had average speed cameras installed between Haldon Hill and the Wobbly Wheel (A379) junction.
As you pass the next unassuming exit for the A379, be aware that that road is the original A38, and that to all intents and purposes you're now on the M5. There's only one more junction before the M5 proper – the turn-off for the A30 towards Okehampton. Here the A38 vanishes for a while. Its previous route can be traced along the A379, A3015 and B3181 as far as Waterloo Cross.
Waterloo Cross - Bridgwater
At junction 27 of the M5 (Waterloo Cross) the A38 starts again as non-primary. The section of road here was partially upgraded in the 60s, complete with two short D2 sections, and much of the single carriageway sections are clearly wide enough to indicate that it was once S3.
From Waterloo Cross, the road continues towards Somerset, with lots of quiet minor junctions to local Devon villages. Along this section, there is an Inn called the Poacher's Pocket, which has a picture of the road in the 60s, showing the S3 layout. Just after here, there is a climb uphill, aided by a climbing lane. At the end of the hill, the first, very short D2 section begins, allowing about thirty seconds of overtaking of any slower vehicles before narrowing back down to S2. A few miles along, the longer D2 section, which is about half a mile long begins, complete with a give-way junction leading to Holcombe Rogus. It is also on this D2 section that the road crosses into Somerset. Next up is the Beam Bridge junction, a nasty crossroads at the bottom of a hill, and still a local blackspot. The original A38 deviates here, going under the railway through a low bridge and then ending in a pile of rubble, while the current route goes over the railway. This was built in the 60s, probably to allow lorries to use the road without having to negotiate the low bridge. Past here, the road has very wide highway boundaries, possibly suggesting that the plan was to dual the road. The A38 now meets Perry Elm roundabout, built with the Wellington Relief Road not long before the M5 in the area was completed. The Relief Road itself was largely built by cobbling together existing local roads, but is a fairly standard S2 bypass of a small town. As with many other bypasses, it is now on the edge of the town, with a new housing estate just yards from the road at some points, while there are many nursing homes on the other side. At the other end of the Relief Road, a new roundabout has recently (2009) been constructed, allowing access to the new Westpark 26 business development. Just yards ahead, the road reaches Chelston Roundabout, on which three out of five arms are designated A38, the third being one of the last sections of S3 to be repainted as an S2+1. It is a spur to M5 J26, allowing Wellington easy access to the M5. For some reason, Exeter is still signed down the Relief Road, meaning the M5 is signed as 'Motorway M5'.
After Chelston Roundabout, the A38 passes through part of Chelston itself, before being subjected to a 50 limit while going round a couple of tight bends, which are another local blackspot. Just up the road from here is a crossroads at the World's End Inn, with side roads leading to West Buckland (which is used locally as a shortcut to the motorway) and Bradford-On-Tone. After this junction, the limit becomes NSL again, though the road is busy enough that the average speed is usually about 50. Passing Sheppey's Cider, the road becomes fairly straight and flat for the next couple of miles, before reaching Rumwell and being limited down to 50 again. After passing through Rumwell, the limit is cut again, to 40, and climbs up a hill into Taunton. Just like many other major roads replaced by motorways, there is no Taunton Bypass for A38 traffic, so the road becomes an urban crawl, beginning by reaching the 30 limit at Silk Mills Roundabout, where the unsigned A3065 links the A38 to the A358 and old A361.
In Taunton, the A38 runs up Wellington New Road and Wellington Road, past the Musgrove Park hospital. It skirts the town centre and then runs along East Reach, and left along Victoria Parkway. At the next roundabout the road turns right along the "Toneway", a dual carriageway running parallel to the River Tone. We then reach Creech Castle Junction, which is a TOTSO where the A358 carries straight on, and the A38 turns left over a bridge onto Bridgwater Road. Then it's joined by the A3259 and becomes dual carriageway for a mile or so, before the A361 branches off to the right, and the road continues via Adsborough to North Petherton.
Bridgwater - Bristol
Here there's a spur to M5 junction 24, and then you run along side the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal into Bridgwater. The town centre is bypassed on an old dual-carriageway relief road around the south. From here to the Cross Rifles Roundabout where the A39 parts once more, the two roads multiplex. There are traffic lights at the A372 junction, and then the Cross Rifles is reached. The road is now single-carriageway once more, heading out of Bridgwater, with industrial estates to the left. Traffic Lights denote the start of the new Northern Relief Road, which is an unsigned bypass, and allows M5 - A39 Minehead traffic to miss the busy town centre. We then reach a dual-carriageway section from the new Enterprise Business park up to the Dunball Roundabout where the spur to M5 junction 23 is actually a spur of the A39. The road runs north through Pawlett, and on to Huntspill, where the land has been drained by the artificial Huntspill River. This is the start of a very long 30 limit which stretches all the way through Highbridge. In Highbridge itself, two mini roundabouts provide access to each arm of the B3139. The busy town is another bottleneck, with (illegally) parked cars and lorries often blocking Church Street. Eventually, we reach the northern end of the town, pass over the railway and the end of the 30.
At the Edithmead Roundabout, there's a spur from M5 junction 22 (I told you the A38 and M5 were pretty friendly!), after which the road diverges slightly from the M5 and becomes primary, though I'm not quite sure why because it's no longer the signposted route into Bristol. It passes the ancient hillfort at Brent Knoll, then just before East Brent the A370 leaves at a roundabout. We then cross the M5 again, and pass through a series of villages with silly (and not so silly) speed limits. After Lower Weare, we bridge the River Axe and the Cheddar Yeo, before a right turn at Cross is a spur of the A371 leading up to the Axbridge Bypass. The next piece of road is much tamer than it used to be, with a 40 limit, speed camera, central islands and mass-hatching! It is, of course, Shute Shelve Hill.
The hill is infamous locally as an accident blackspot, with fast traffic formerly flying down the hill and into emerging traffic at Cross. Hence the traffic calming. At the top of the hill, we reach another junction with the A371 just before we cross the border into what used to be Avon (now North Somerset) and arrive at Sidcot, where the A371 leaves us again and heads for Weston-super-Mare. The next major junction is the Churchill crossroads, where there are traffic lights controlling the junction with the A368.
The next few miles, as the road passes Langford and Redhill on its way to Bristol International Airport is an old S3 route, where the central lane has now been heavily hatched out. Much of it is used to provide turning lanes, and one bit is an overtaking lane up the hill. We eventually reach the Airport at Lulsgate Bottom, and loop around the extended runway between two roundabouts. The next significant junction is the quiet right turn for the B3130 to Chew Valley, but as we run between the reservoirs at Barrow Gurney, the other arm of that road turns left at a short D2 section through traffic lights! We now cross the border into Bristol, and the Kings Head roundabout provides a 'rat-run' through to the A4174 for those in the know. The A38 runs along Bridgwater Road and Bedminster Down Road to a one-way system at Bedminster, which meets the A3029/A4174 outer ring road. At this point the "A38" signs cease, and the road is simply signposted "Bedminster", traffic for Bristol city centre being directed along the A3029 towards the Cumberland Basin, and then the A4.
The A38 runs through Bedminster as West Street, however, since East Street is now a pedestrian precinct, it has been diverted along Sheene Lane, Malago Road and Dalby Avenue to resume the old route along Bedminster Parade. There's certainly no indication of the number at the next junction, Bedminster Bridge Roundabout, where we meet the A370. This roundabout is unusual in that it includes two bridges spanning the River Avon, and has six roads leading onto it, three on each side of the river - at first glance the signs for the roundabout look like those for a motorway-style roundabout junction, except that all the exits are two-way! From here the road (theoretically, at least) runs up Redcliff Hill to St Mary Redcliffe Church, which is the largest parish church in England - many people mistake it for a cathedral, and it's often considered to be finer than Bristol's own cathedral. Here there's a roundabout, where the A38 briefly breaks off.
The A38 originally ran through the city centre, but it's possible to rejoin it by taking the A4044 former Inner Circuit Road along Redcliffe Way, Temple Way and Bond Street to St James Barton roundabout. However, this is not where it restarts, and to do the full road, you will need to head south along the inner ring road along Colston Avenue, as far as the junction with the A4018. This is where the A4 and A38 now meet head on. Heading back to St James Barton, you'll need to take the road signposted "Horfield" (this is part of an attempt to direct northbound traffic up the M32 instead). The road passes under an office block and then runs up Stokes Croft and Cheltenham Road, before bearing right into Gloucester Road, through Bishopston and Horfield. The north of Bristol is criss-crossed by a mass of B-roads, some of which are signposted, others not.
We are now on Filton Road, and (in Filton) Gloucester Road North to a roundabout meeting the northern end of the A4174 Avon Ring Road (running eastbound only; it's not complete and will probably never be so). This arrives as Dual Carriageway, and so the A38 becomes dual carriageway past Filton Airfield, through Patchway, over the railway and past the Aztec West Business Park up to junction 16 of the M5.
Bristol - Tewkesbury (M50)
Beyond the M5 we pass through the village of Almondsbury and over the M4, to resume running parallel with the M5. We pass through Alveston, around Thornbury, and past the Young Offenders Institution at Eastwood Park. At Stone we cross into Gloucestershire proper - the bit from Filton northwards is ex-Avon and now South Gloucestershire. At Berkeley Road we cross the railway line (the OS map has this stretch down as Roman) and has a short dual-carriageway section near the wildlife sanctuary at Slimbridge. The next village is called Cambridge, but I believe that's with a short "A" after the local River Cam. Then it meets the A419 at a roundabout, and has another short dual-carriageway section.
The next roundabout connects with a road that is technically the B4008, but is actually yet another spur from the M5 (junction 12); primary status resumes here. There's a dual carriageway around Quedgeley, after which the original A38 through Gloucester was originally renumbered A430 but now unclassified. The A38 now runs through the eastern outskirts of Gloucester, with a dual-carriageway section at Coney Hill, and a roundabout meeting the A417. Here one turns left for the A38, which is once-again non-primary. A few roundabouts later one turns right, and comes out on the junction with the A40.
From the A40 roundabout near Longford, the A38 runs roughly NNE via the villages of Twigworth, Norton and Coombe Hill, where there's a junction with the A4019 to Cheltenham. A dual-carriageway section continues to just south of Tewkesbury, and at the next roundabout the road takes a sudden turn to the right, avoiding the southern part of the town. Traffic turns sharp left at the junction with the A438 and then right at a roundabout in the town centre. The road then turns left again to cross the River Severn, after which the A438 branches off to the left, with the A38 continuing via The Mythe and Shuthonger to a "dumb-bell" junction with the M50 (junction 1).
Tewkesbury (M50) - Birmingham
From here on all maps seem to show the A38 as a primary road, which is surprising since it still runs parallel to the M5 - indeed this section of the M5 is the oldest. Both roads cross into Worcestershire at Stratford, the A38 then runs close to the course of the River Severn via Holly Green (A4104 junction), Severn Stoke, Draycott and Kempsey. It crosses the A4440 Worcester ring road at a roundabout before heading into the centre of Worcester. Here there's a TOTSO with the A44 where the A38 turns left, immediately continuing over the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, then turning right into the dual-carriageway City Walls Road and round the Corn Market roundabout. After this the road splits into two one-way streets, of which the northbound one, Foregate Street, gives its name to the adjoining railway station. The road out of Worcester, the Tything, forks into two, the left-hand road being a spur of the A449; the A38 itself passes under the A449 with no access, although at Fernhill Heath another spur allows full access from the north.
The curiously named Martin Hussingtree is the next village, where the road's joined by the A4538. The next major settlement is Droitwich, which the A38 bypasses to the west. After crossing the railway, canal and river Salwarpe, it becomes dual carriageway with a multi- grade junction with the A4133; the A442 junction has to make do with a normal roundabout. The next single-carriageway section is a Roman road leading to junction 5 of the M5 near Wychbold, another "dumb-bell" with two roundabouts. After passing through Upton Warren we come to the outskirts of Bromsgrove. Here the A38 skirts the town centre to the east, meeting the A448 at a roundabout and continuing to junction 1 of the M42 near Lickey End. This junction only allows access to the eastbound M42, although it also incorporates a curious cannon - the B4096 both joins and leaves the roundabout on the eastern side of the A38.
No sooner have we passed through the next village of Marlbrook than we hit yet another motorway junction. This time it's M5 junction 4 near Lydiate Ash, where the A38 itself cannons off the M5; the A491 lies to the western side of the roundabout, and both A38 exits are on the eastern side. From here on the A38 is dual carriageway and starts to become urban, as we cross the border into the former West Midlands metropolitan county. It runs via Rubery and then left at a roundabout near the former Longbridge motor works, continuing via Northfield (now bypassed) to Selly Oak, where we meet the A4040 (formerly the outer ring road). Here, the A38 now bypasses the main centre, and follows Harborne Lane, taking over part of the A4040 until we cross Harborne Bridge, formerly and soon to be again our crossing of the Dudley No 2 Canal, and come to a roundabout. Here the A4040 branches off on its route to Harborne, and the A38 is routed via New Fosse Way and Austin Webb Boulevard to rejoin its former route (now renumbered, bizarrely, B384) by the east gate of the University of Birmingham, whose campus we have passed on the left. At the next major junction, we meet one of the most ridiculously short A-roads in the country: the (unsigned) A4029 Pebble Mill Road, 200 yards of it, leading to the former location of the BBC's studios - and it's dual carriageway to boot!
We then run along the 4-lane Bristol Road through Edgbaston to the junction with the A4540 Middleway, which passes beneath us with slip roads leading up to the A38. At the next junction the carriageway continues as an underpass, now we are on part of the former Inner Ring Road, the Queensway. Continuing round the Queensway takes us to the junction with the former A34, nowadays B4114, followed by the A4540 Middleway again, this takes traffic straight into the A38(M) Aston Expressway. The A38 proper restarts at junction 6 of the M6, formally named Gravelly Hill interchange, but known to most of the population as Spaghetti Junction. (It formerly ran along what is now the A5127 through Erdington, Sutton Coldfield, but bypasses all of these now.)
Birmingham - Derby
Beyond Gravelly Hill, the A38 near to the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. After crossing the A4040 again at Bromford Lane it turns right at The Norton junction (named after a now-demolished pub - the road straight ahead is B4148 towards Walmley) to bridge the canal, meeting the A452 at a roundabout by the Tyburn House inn. The A4097 leaves at a roundabout in Minworth, after which the A38 turns north to bypass Sutton Coldfield, leading to Bassetts Pole, a five-way roundabout meeting the A453 and A446 (which sneaks up alongside it). On our way there, our progress is rudely interrupted by the M6 Toll which crosses our route and insists on having a limited-access junction (T3, or Langley Mill interchange). Beyond Bassetts Pole the M6 Toll can be seen sidling up from the left (west) and shadowing the A38 on its way to the A5. (If you turn left at the first available exit - a quarry - you can get a fine view of the M6 (Toll) southbound toll plaza from the adjacent overbridge.) The large A5 roundabout was transformed recently by the creation of a grade-separated A38 as part of the A5 Weeford and Hints bypass (opened September 2005). This junction also provides access to junction T4 of the M6 Toll.
From Bassetts Pole, our route has been taken over from the A446. Passing the Young Offenders' Institution at Swinfen Hall, we then come to a well-known TOTSO junction. In design it's a standard motorway- style junction, with a roundabout and slip roads down to a dual carriageway below. This road used to be the A38 straight through the junction, but nowadays the left-hand section has been renumbered as the A5148, with A38 traffic having to negotiate the roundabout, a legacy of the route changes in the 1970s. The junction also incorporates the A5206, which is the final section of the former A446 to Lichfield. The next junction is with the A5192, but it's limited access, with only south-facing slip roads. Then at another limited-access junction near Streethay, the road is joined by traffic from the historical A38 through Lichfield, now the A5127.
The next section runs along the course of a Roman road (Ryknild Street), and has several grade-separated junctions, of which the most important is the A513 junction at Alrewas. The next major junction is with the A5121,the original course of the A38 through Burton upon Trent. The modern A38 skirts the town to the west and then runs alongside the Trent and Mersey Canal to Clay Mills where it's joined once more by the A5121. The road regains its Roman course, crossing the A5132 at a simple grade-separated junction near Willington and coming to a three-level stacked roundabout where it meets the A50, running past the Toyota car factory at Etwall.
2014 saw small, but important, safety improvements along the section from Barton interchange B5016 to the northern end of the Burton-on-Trent bypass. All the central reservation crossings south of the A5121 interchange have been removed and the maximum speed limit reduced along this section to 60MPH, following a number of multiple death RTAs in recent years.
The next section bypasses Derby, with the original road renumbered as the A5250. Here the A516 joins at one junction and leaves at the next, then we hit our first roundabout for many miles, at the junction with the A5111, shortly followed by another roundabout where we cross the A52. The A6 junction at Allestree is grade-separated, but after crossing the river Derwent we hit another roundabout - the junction with the A61. In fact the A61 only exists to the south of this junction, since the section to the north through Little Eaton has been superseded by the A38 and downgraded to a B-road.
Derby - Mansfield
For this reason the A38 now swings north to run alongside it, with a multi-grade junction at Holbrook allowing access to the A609 to Belper (which has no direct access). A junction with the A610 allows access to Ripley, then at the next junction the A61 reappears running north and the A38 swings eastwards. This section of the A38 supersedes the original A615, which formerly ran through Alfreton and South Normanton and is also now a B-road. The roads join at the roundabout at junction 28 of the M1.
From here, the final seven miles is partly on new construction and partly on former B roads, as it makes its way through the Mansfield hinterland to an ignominious end on a 4-digit road, the A6009 Mansfield Ring Road. Because of the convoluted start at Bodmin, both ends of the A38 actually face roughly the same direction, north- east.
Thus ends the longest two-digit A road in Great Britain, and also the longest A road entirely in England. At 292 miles, it is beaten only by the A1, which it so nearly meets. Through traffic from the A38 for Worksop via the A60 or for the A1 via Ollerton and Dukeries Junction leaves the A38 at Sutton in Ashfield, to skirt Mansfield to the north on the A6075 – this eventually crosses the A1 at Tuxford to end on the A57 at Darlton, in the 1-zone. The A6075, and not the A38, is the through route at Mansfield, so Darlton is the spiritual end of the A38.