The A39 is one of the longest routes in South West England, stretching from Bath in Somerset to Falmouth in Cornwall. Along the way, it passes some famous historical places - Wells and Glastonbury - tours genteelly along the Somerset, Devon and Cornish Coasts, before skirting to the north of Bodmin Moor and crossing the county to the historic port of Falmouth on the southern shore.
Bath - Wells
The A39 starts at the Globe roundabout on the A4 at Corston, just west of Bath, near Bath Spa University College. It runs through the village and then the B3316 from Keynsham joins at traffic lights. As we approach Marksbury, there's an odd and very short section of dual-carriageway, then after the village there's a traffic-light controlled TOTSO junction with the A368, which carries straight on towards Weston-super-Mare; A39 traffic must turn off to the left. Originally, of course, and I'm talking way back before the War, the A39 never reached Bath. Instead, it was the A368 that ran up to the Globe Inn. But then, the A39 didn't even get to Marksbury, it was the original A369 that ran south from here to Wells and Glastonbury.
The A39 continues through Farmborough and Hallatrow to meet the A37 at a T-junction. Between the two villages, the B3115 turns off to the left to Paulton. There's a short multiplex with the A37 through Farrington Gurney, where the A362 to Midsomer Norton joins at more traffic lights, then another TOTSO where the A39 carries straight on, despite the A37 being marked on maps as the primary through-route.
The next section runs across a rather scenic part of the Mendips, through the village of Chewton Mendip, which lies at the bottom of a steep valley, with the B3114 joining from the west at the bottom. The approach is twisty, but the escape is straight, between tall stone walls, and under a thick tree canopy. At the top of the hill, the B3114 heads eastwards again after its rather quiet multiplex, while to the right a useful road provides a link to the B3135 and so Cheddar Gorge.
There are traffic lights at Green Ore, where we meet the real B3135 as it crosses over, then a rather steep descent into the beautiful city of Wells, complete with escape roads.
Wells - Bridgwater
The journey through Wells used to take you round some rather narrow streets by the cathedral, but there's now a relief road bypassing the centre. The B3139 turns off to the left, along the old A39 route, then at the fourth set of traffic lights, the A39 meets the A371 head on. Of secondary importance, is the two roads multiplex turning off to the left down Strawberry Way. This is an incongruously wide road, hinting at unfulfilled plans perhaps? It is also intriguing as it uses the old track beds of three different railway lines (Cheddar Valley, Somerset & Dorset, East Somerset).
Halfway down you cross another set of lights and then - blessed relief - there is a roundabout where the A371 continues straight on to Shepton. The A39 turns right and heads out through the villages of Coxley (pronounced "Coaxley") and Southway, then across the Somerset Levels to Glastonbury (with a great view of the Tor as you approach). Another roundabout marks the start of the relief road (on the Somerset & Dorset trackbed), which means you avoid the centre of Glastonbury, and instead come out to meet the A361 at a roundabout. This is the fourth on the bypass - no traffic lights! - the first seeing the B3151 from Wedmore and Meare join.
From here the road becomes primary for a while. (It was once numbered as the A361, then was signed as a multiplex of both roads, before its current signage of A39). Curiously, we are actually now travelling along the A39, A361 and B3151! We cross the River Brue at Pomparle's Bridge, and then lose the B3151 at another roundabout on the edge of Street. There's a bypass round Street whose main purpose is to serve the Clarks Village factory shopping centre.
After several sets of lights, a roundabout provides access to Sainsbury's and McDonalds. However, this is also the start of the vaguely-proposed Walton/Ashcott Bypass. Like that's ever going to get built.
The A39 continues west, passing through Walton, and then the A361 bears off to the left at the Piper's Inn. At one stage the A361 was signposted at this point as the main route to North Devon for HGVs, but this has since been replaced with the M5. The main purpose of this stretch of the A39 is now to take traffic from mid-Somerset to the M5; it achieves this by means of a spur road which turns off to the right near Bawdrip. The spur retains the primary status as far as the M5; the road ahead becomes a non primary route. Beyond the motorway, a very short section of Dual Carriageway connects to the A38, which we shall meet again in Bridgwater.
Between Street and Bawdrip, the A39 has passed along the Polden Hills, and this ancient Ridge route (and Roman Road), is often twisty and very up-and-down. There are very few houses, and no villages between Ashcott and Bawdrip, but nevertheless the road is subject to a large number of strange speed limits. I believe, however, that some have been removed/raised since I was regularly using the road six years ago.
Bridgwater - Minehead
The A39 continues south from its spur, across the M5, without a junction, to Bridgwater, where it has a short multiplex with the A38 - here an old dual-carriageway relief road round the town centre. We join the A38 at a roundabout, where much of the traffic goes straight ahead to the retail parks and town centre. The Dual Carriageway turns round the southern edge of the town centre, meeting the end of the A372 Westonzoyland Road and crossing the River Parrett. Almost immediately, the A38 turns left, heading south for Taunton, but we keep the dual carriageway for a while. There is still a mile or two of town to pass through, and we soon find the next roundabout, where the Northern Relief Road and B3339 join from the right. We meet the B3339 again, a mile or so later, at the far end of Wembdon - it is the original A39.
Next stop is Cannington, except that it has been nicely bypassed, with roundabouts at either end. From here on, with the exception of the Nether Stowey Bypass and a short section at Holford, the road becomes very narrow, twisty and hilly as it skirts the northern edge of the picturesque Quantock Hills. They are well worth a detour if you have the time! It would avoid some more rather odd speed limits at any rate.
After passing through Kilve, famed for its fossil beaches, we finally reach Williton, where we cross the West Somerset Railway. This is the longest private steam railway in the country, and sticks close by all the way to Minehead. In Williton, we turn left onto Fore Street, with the B3191 joining from the right, and then right at a mini roundabout where the A358 comes up from the south.
A quick blast through pleasant countryside with the Brendon Hills and Exmoor to the south, and across the B3190 at Washfor Cross, and Washford itself appears. We meet the West Somerset Railway again here, with a small museum at the station. A little to the south are the well-preserved ruins of Cleeve Abbey.
The next village is Carhampton, where we meet the other end of the B3191, after its coastal run through Watchet and Blue Anchor, And then its on to Dunster. Unfortunately, the A396 takes all the glory, running down the High Street and past the famous Yarn Market, leaving the A39 to skirt past to the north.
Original Author(s): Guy
Minehead - Lynmouth
As we approach Minehead, the A39 encounters a new roundabout for the new road to Butlin's and Minehead sea front, while the A39 passes through Alcombe. The A39 used to go right through Minehead town centre but has in recent years been diverted along a "short cut" - namely Hopcott Road and Periton Road - saving some time. Or has it? Road Markings and signage all send through traffic along this route, but maps, and indeed town centre signs suggest that the A39 itself still winds its way through the town centre.
As we leave Minehead, we pass behind the notable Selworthy Beacon, with a fairly flat wide stretch of road allowing overtaking; after this the road dips down to Holnicote and a sharp left at Allerford and over a small hump-back bridge. This is not, however, Allerford's famous Packhorse Bridge, which lies off to the left on an unclassified road - vehicles have to use the ford!
At this point the geography and features of the A39 change dramatically. There is a short steep drop of 1-in-6 down in to the village of Porlock, with a brief one-way as you enter the town. Porlock High Street is again narrow, and often filled with pedestrians hopping on and off the stop-start pavements. You can easily spend five-ten minutes in peak season trying to pass through! Towards the end, as the road starts to climb, the B3225 runs off to the right to Porlock Weir. There are then red, blue and yellow road signs warning of the 1-in-4 Porlock Hill and the alternative 1-in-14 toll road. The A39 veers left and the toll road veers right.
The A39 becomes narrow for a while then road signs warn drivers to use the lowest gear and Porlock Hill begins with a sharp right hand bend and an immediate 1-in-4 upward slope. After a few hundred yards, there's another road sign showing a vicious hairpin to the left - still 1-in-4 and warning of oncoming traffic in the road, etc. Indeed the hairpin takes some navigation - a wet road often means tyre slippage on front-wheel-drive cars. There is a sand trap escape lane opposite the bend for runaway vehicles. If you get the chance to look out the side window, down on Porlock, do so as it twists your brain, seeing the landscape laid out at what looks like twenty-odd degrees to the horizontal!
The gradient then starts levelling out over the next mile or so as you emerge onto Exmoor itself, denoted by rattling over a cattle grid. The road then meanders its way over pleasant moorland - the 1-in-14 toll road emerges on the right. The road swoops over the moors with the odd turning off for small villages, at one point passing through a wonderful tree lined avenue which in summer provides a complete canopy over the road. The final turnings lead to Oare, home of Lorna Doone and Doone Country.
The A39 then waves goodbye to Somerset and hello to Devon with magnificent views of the sea to the right at County Gate, where there is a big car park and small visitor centre. A couple of miles after this and the village of Countisbury presents itself with some more red and blue road signs marking the start of the long descent to Lynmouth - Countisbury Hill starts innocently enough but ends up a steep 1-in-4 drop with sandy escape lanes to the left. All of a sudden you are in Lynmouth, a nice place that's well worth a visit.
Lynmouth - Barnstaple
The steep gradients do not stop here however! There are two possible routes west out of Lynmouth - one is a shortcut up the B3234 (another 1-in-4) to Lynton and on to rejoin the A39. The A39 itself goes on a pleasant but lengthy mystery tour down a valley and doubling back for a while - more like a B road or even unclassified in places - no road markings and steep cliffs on one side and the East Lyn river bubbling away on the other. After a few miles there is a junction with the B3223 (to Simonsbath) and the A39 doubles back and starts climbing again quite steeply, another sharp hairpin to the left and up onto another plateau. Approaching West Lyn village the road zigzags sharply with more steep hills until Barbrook where the B3234 emerges from Lynton.
After this, the A39 continues to swoop up and down through the countryside - skirting round the village of Parracombe where the A39 sticks to the high ground, casting a great loop around three sides of the village. We then meet the A399 at Blackmoor Gate, where a staggered crossroads gives that road priority (although the opposite was once the case). Exmoor National Park is left behind then and the A39 carries on south westwards with one or two sharp bends and hills! The B3229 joins at the first of these, but there are many, many more including a hairpin or two, before we reach the B3230 and the bright lights of Barnstaple appear on the horizon!
In Barnstaple itself, the A39 has changed route in recent years, with the opening of the A361 Barnstaple Western Bypass. The A39 now follows the Inner Relief Road (which was at one time the A361) around the eastern side of the town centre, before heading out to the North Devon Link Road and multiplexing with the A361 to the new Lake Roundabout.
Original Author(s): Martyn
Barnstaple - Falmouth
The A39 beyond Barnstaple starts as a continuation of the A361 North Devon Link Road (aka Atlantic Highway), sweeping over the hills between the Taw and Torridge estuaries to Bideford (the original route, now the B3233, follows the coast through Instow). The Torridge is crossed by a high viaduct called the Torridge Bridge, festooned with hoardings advertising the Samaritans' phone number, which rather puts the dampeners on the spectacular view. There is a junction with the A386 at the far end of the bridge, leading south to Okehampton and Plymouth, and north to Appledore. The old bridge at Bideford which used to carry the A39 first became the A386 but now seems to be the B3233.
After the bridge the A39 then sweeps downhill and up again on a three lane section (of the two up, one down variety - the last for a while heading west) to Abbotsham Cross, passing the first of many tourist attractions on this stretch - The Big Sheep, which has sheepdog trials, an ovine Grand National, and even its own currency - the EWE-ro. The number of such attractions is indicative of the climate - what do you do with the kids on a wet day? At Abbotsham Cross the A39 rejoins its original route, which has come out of Bideford by way of Handy Cross. From here, despite some improvements, overtaking opportunities are few and far between and, as this is the main coast road, progress is dictated by the slowest caravan. The hamlet of Ford is bypassed, but Fairy Cross, Horns Cross and Bucks Cross are not. We pass the entrance to the "Hobby Drive"- a scenic route to Clovelly over a private road (with a toll), and then the "Milky Way" adventure centre.
Passing the roundabout at Clovelly Cross (for the B3237 to Clovelly -- famous for its steep cobbled street from which non-motor traffic is barred), we then reach the first of three turnings, all on the right, for the B3248 to Hartland. Once upon a time, when Hartland Quay was a major port, this was the main road, but now the A39 turns south and heads for Cornwall, with occasional views of Lundy Island out in the Bristol Channel (better seen when coming the other way).
After some open moorland, and the turnings for Woolfardisworthy (pronounced, so the signs say, as Woolsery) we reach Welcombe Cross and the last house in Devon, before crossing into Cornwall at the watershed between the Tamar and the Marsland Water which between them define the entire border of Cornwall. Although we are a mere three miles from the sea, this marks the division between rivers running to the channel and rivers running to the Atlantic.
Across more moorland, passing turnings for Morwenstow (where the eccentric opium -smoking 19th century parson, the Rev Hawker, invented harvest festivals and built a rectory with chimneys each shaped like one of the churches he had been associated with) and so to Kilkhampton - the first town of any size passed through since Barnstaple (or the M5, if you've come by the A361 as most drivers will have. Another adventure park - Brocklands, formerly Pixieland - and the B3254 for Launceston.
The road now takes a circuitous route down the Neet valley to Stratton, which is a suburb of Bude, passing the junctions for the A3072 to Launceston and to Bude itself in quick succession. Beyond here there area a few improved sections, and also the curiosity of Box's Shop, at the junction for Widemouth Bay (pronounced Widdy-mouth) where the road appears to have been unstraightened in order to make the short hill less steep - or possibly to discourage overtaking on the brow. On this stretch the huge white dishes of the Government satellite receiving station near Morwenstow are visible (again, better viewed coming the other way if you want to stay on the road!)
As the landscape becomes more open towards Otterham on the western edge of Bodmin Moor, wind generators start to appear, and we pass the B3263 to Boscastle and Tintagel, legendary home of King Arthur.
We now hit Camelford which, now that Wadebridge has a bypass, is the worst congestion point on this road. Assorted B roads (B3314, B3266, B3267) to the west make a sort of diversionary route, but none are entirely satisfactory as they add several miles and it's difficult to avoid other bottlenecks at Slaughterbridge, Delabole, St Teath and Valley Truckle. Valley Truckle is where one of my favourite B roads, the B3266, crosses, on its way from Boscastle to Bodmin.
The A39 scenery becomes more pastoral as we leave Bodmin Moor and follow the valley of the River Allen (a tributary of the Camel we met at Camelford and will meet again) to arrive at a roundabout where the original A39 heads into Wadebridge (starting as the B3314, which we met shortly before Camelford, and has followed a longer route nearer the coast), but mainly unclassified and partly pedestrianised. The Wadebridge bypass is the A389 (left) to Bodmin, and the A39/A389 multiplex (right), which crosses the Camel estuary on a big viaduct similar to that at Bideford -- but without the Samaritans' placards -- and meets the old A39 coming up from Wadebridge at the County Showground.
Shortly thereafter at Hal's Grave the A389 leaves the multiplex to turn off for Padstow. The road follows rolling countryside to a roundabout at Winnard's Perch where the B3274 crosses. That route is actually of a higher standard than the short-cut A389 passed earlier and HGVs have to go round this way. Shortly after the roundabout the route diverts for the late 1970s by-pass of St Colomb Major. Although single carriageway it is straight and traffic usually moves quickly. At the end of the bypass is the Trekenning Roundabout where the A3059 leaves for Newquay. At Trevarren is the Halloon Roundabout, where the A392 primary route for Newquay arrives. The A39 becomes part of the recent improvements at Indian Queens, following an entirely new dual carriageway route to meet the A30 Indian Queens bypass. This improvement is primarily to allow traffic from the A30 access to Newquay, and thus, on this stretch only, most traffic heading out of Cornwall will be travelling in the direction of this narrative.
Beyond Indian Queens the original A39 through Brighton and Ladock has been renumbered as the B3275, but a new version leaves the A30 at Carland Cross, following the former A3076. This is partly on a new alignment including a couple of S2+1 sections on the sweeping hills. At Truro it joins the A390 at a traffic light to multiplex round the city centre on a dual carriageway (Morlaix Avenue) that also has to negotiate a couple of roundabouts. They then part company, when the A39 turns left at Arch Hill to run down the west side of Carrick Roads through the trees.
At Playing Place are a couple of roundabouts near together, the second of which is the B3289 leading to the King Harry Ferry. At the start of the Carnon Downs bypass is another roundabout and a dualled section follows. Down the hill and at the foot is a further roundabout for access to Devoran and Bissoe. The road is singled thereafter. The road runs along the head of a tidal creek and then heads away from the river on a long steady climb with two lanes Falmouth bound and one Truro bound, another S2+1. The extra lane ends and it’s round the bends to the Treluswell Roundabout another double mini. The A393 is the right turn at the first and the B3292 for Penryn is the left turn at the second.
Onto the Penryn bypass, the first part of which is a renumbered A394 spur. Yet another double mini system named Treliever Roundabout is ahead and here is the primary A394 for Helston. The A39 now follows a newer built section to the Kernick Roundabout and beyond to the Hillhead Roundabout. There are alternate double lane sections along here. From the roundabout is posted a 10% drop with an escape lane added for runaway vehicles. At the Ponsharden Roundabout the A39 returns to its original route at the end of the Penryn bypass. Here is the other end of the B3292. The road enters residential Falmouth before nearing the Dock area and where, surrounded by sea on three sides, it has to stop.
Original Author(s): Tim