|Distance:||60 miles (96.6 km)|
|Meets:||River Torridge, A39, A388, A3124, A3072, A3079, A30, A390, A38, A3064, A374|
|Former Number(s):||B3236, B3234, A39, B3235, B3219, A3041, A387, A388|
|Old route now:||B3250|
|Route outline (key)|
The A386 is a coast to coast road in Devon.
Section 1: Appledore - Okehampton
The road starts in the shipbuilding village of Appledore in north Devon, on the banks of the River Torridge. After a TOTSO with the B3236 in Northam, we meet the A39 Atlantic Highway at Heywood Road roundabout. The A386 south of this roundabout runs through the edges of Bideford and along the quayside before meeting a mini-roundabout next to the old Long Bridge (the original northern end of the road - it was extended to Northam very early on and to Appledore in 1935). The section from the A39 roundabout to here is still signed as the B3235, but as of November 2011, is now the primary A386, just like the rest of the route south of Bideford.
The reason for the change is that the old Long Bridge, which carried the primary A386 before the construction of the A39 bypass, is becoming ever more fragile, and has had a 3-ton weight limit imposed for several years. This was believed to be the lowest weight limit on a primary route in the UK. As part of improvements to the Westleigh Junction (the old terminus of the primary A386 where it meets the A39 at the eastern end of the new bridge), signage was replaced around that junction showing that the primary A386 had been downgraded to become an extension of the B3233, and traffic for the A386 is now signed over the new bridge to the A386 roundabout. Some maps, however, are unsure and can give the A386 either or both routes. Certainly when the A39 was given its current route the A386 crossed the Torridge in Bideford before crossing back on the A39 multiplex to get to Appledore.
We now head south, soon heading away from the river to cut out a large loop, passing the end of the A388 as we do so. We return to the riverbank, already much smaller than the broad estuary, and climb up to the town of Great Torrington, home of the Dartington Crystal factory where you can spend an afternoon watching glassblowing - very impressive how they make it look so easy.
Great Torrington is set high above the river, and in the town we take a right at a mini-roundabout - the straight ahead route is the B3227 towards South Molton (and the A361, which seems to get everywhere).
On leaving Torrington, we head steeply down into the heavily wooded Torridge valley. We turn right across a narrow stone arched bridge, just after passing the A3124 on the left hand side. The bridge, like other sections of the A386 to come, is too narrow to have a centre white line. We then climb steeply out of the valley, again along a wooded twisty road, to pass the village of Little Torrington. All things are relative and the road now straightens out, though overtaking is still tricky. We pass Potheridge then turn sharply to the south towards Merton.
The next few miles are very bendy - great fun if you get a free run at it, but very frustrating if you get stuck behind a slow vehicle - you won't get past for a while. Once again, we lose the white lines from time to time as the road is so narrow. From Merton we proceed up hill and down dale to Meeth, and then we make another trip into the Torridge valley, down steep roads to cross the river at another narrow stone bridge. We climb up another steep hill, and then suddenly, the alignment improves as we bypass the small market town of Hatherleigh. We're now leaving the Torridge behind.
Signs on the A386 point to Cattle Market and Abattoir - no prizes for spotting the reliance that this area has on cattle farming, nor how devastating the Foot and Mouth outbreak must have been to the local farmers. At the south end of the Hatherleigh bypass, we turn sharp right. Though not a TOTSO, the B3216 heads straight on towards Exbourn and the A3072. We continue south, with views of the northern hills of Dartmoor opening up in front of us.
The A386 doesn't actually reach Okehampton, appears as the primary destination on both northern and southern approaches to the town, all the way from Bideford in the north and Plymouth in the south. Instead, we pass a couple of miles to the west to reach the A30 at Sourton Down. This has not always been the case - the present A386 was once the B3219, and the A386 ran into Okehampton Town Centre - the renumbering happening sometime between 1970 and 1972. The old A386 is now a minor road, restricted to light traffic - bigger vehicles have to turn left at a new roundabout on the A386 along what was once the B3218 and is now an eastward unclassified continuation from the A3079 (ex B3218). I hope you are following this....
Section 2: Okehampton - Plymouth
As we head south from Sourton Down, the hills of Dartmoor rise on our left hand side, a relatively barren landscape with occasional rocky outcrops. We pass through the village of Sourton, where northbound motorists will see a pub built / decorated to look like an old boot. We then climb up towards Shortacombe where we pass the Fox and Hounds Inn, which lends its name to the junction outside it, though you need to be on the road from Bridestow to see the name on signs.
We then run on a remarkably straight road, though restricted to 40mph, to pass the turning leading to the very picturesque National Trust-owned Lydford Gorge. After dropping into the Lyd valley, where we pass a double-bend sign with a plate suggesting the double bend lasts for 1.5 miles, we climb up steadily along a good straight line, breaking out from the cover of trees to run on high exposed moorland, within the Dartmoor National Park. Below us, to the left (east) there is a steep green valley which includes Wheal Betsy, the remains of an old tin mine which served as the cover illustration on an edition of OS Landranger Sheet 191.
We then drop down into Mary Tavy, and on into Tavistock. Here, we pass the west end of the B3357 (once A384), which leads to Princetown and the heart of Dartmoor (watch out for this on http://www.rural-roads.co.uk/). Returning to the A384, we arrive at a small roundabout where we turn right to reach the town square / market place. Here we take a left turn past the Bedford Hotel, named after the Dukes of Bedford (owners of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire) who made their fortune mining tin and copper in this part of the world. The eldest son of the Duke of Bedford is known as the Marquis of Tavistock, and the connection with the Bedford family can be seen all around this delightful market town.
The next roundabout (start of the A390) commemorates another famous son of Tavistock. Though there is no name on the statue in the middle of the roundabout, the fact that it has the word Armada on the reverse, and features a man standing by a large globe tends to suggest that the subject is Sir Francis Drake. The houses opposite are Drake Villas which also confirms this. We turn left at this roundabout, then cross the River Tavy once more, emerging to the south of Tavistock.
We now run south-east on a windy course towards Yelverton. The road is tree-lined again, and where trees are not present, there is still a substantial hedge. At Yelverton we turn right at a roundabout by the Leg O Mutton Inn. The left turn is the B3212 across Dartmoor. We climb again and reach another long straight section of road - overtaking being restricted by vertical rather than horizontal curvature.
At the end of this stretch we reach the edge of Plymouth, though we are still well above sea level. The road becomes dual carriageway and begins to descend towards the coast, still 5 miles away. We pass through a series of signalised roundabouts, which, on a Sunday afternoon at least, seemed to work very well. One section of the A386 in the north of Plymouth is being realigned and dualled.
As we head down into Plymouth, we continue to descend, and our dual carriageway picks up bus lanes and other urban paraphernalia. We cross the B3413 (which once carried the A374 number, among many others) at a grade-separated junction (almost a cloverleaf) then reach the present A38 junction. Manadon Interchange is a three-level stacked roundabout with the A386 passing high over the top and the A38 at the bottom. To get an idea of the height of the A386 above this junction, take a detour down the southbound off-slip, but test your brakes first - it is rather steep. Then look down at the A38 below you. The full height can be seen by approaching the junction along the A38 - you can see how the A386 slopes from north to south as it descends across the junction.
After passing over its flyover, now reduced to a D2+1, the slips from the roundabout join in and the A386 loses its Primary status. The road continues through 3 more sets of traffic lights and a couple of side turnings as a D2 before becoming an S4 passing Plymouth Argyle's stadium. At Milehouse the A386 meets the A3064 coming from St Budeaux on the right, and the B3396 straight ahead through Stoke, which is a short cut to the A374 at the Torpoint Ferries. The A386 however TOTSOs left along a succession of D2 and S4 sections, passing under the mainline railway, where it finally finishes on the A374 at North Cross Roundabout.