|From:||Marsh Street (SX909952)|
|Length:||42 miles (67.6 km)|
|Meets:||A39, B3224, B3222, B3227, A361, B3137, B3391, A3072, A377|
|Former Number(s):||A3126, B3222|
|Old route now:||B3227|
|Route outline (key)|
Marsh Street - Cowley
The route starts within half a mile of the high water mark, and immediately turns its back on the sea, heading up the Avill Valley, a steep-sided but flat-bottomed valley, lined with trees. Initially, though, we pass through the pretty tourist-trap of Dunster. Progress is slow as we avoid the pedestrians marvelling at the Yarn Market, pretty houses and impressive village church - once part of Dunster Abbey. Sitting above, watching, is the bulk of Dunster Castle. There are a couple of narrow 'give way to oncoming traffic' sections, but soon the village is behind us and we are out into the foothills of Exmoor. Minor roads give access to cycle trails through the woods.
At Cowbridge the valley divides and we head south west past Timberscombe through a narrower valley than before. We cross the river then make a short detour through woodland up a side valley to cross a tributary stream as we climb up the hill towards Wheddon Cross, where we cross the B3224.
A couple of tight bends take us out of Wheddon Cross, and we descend into the Quarme Valley. Although this is Exmoor, the hill tops are covered in fields - it is the steeper valley sides that are uneconomic to farm that are covered in woodland.
At the tiny village of Coppleham we meet a minor road from Winsford. The main significance of this junction is that it also marks the confluence of the Rivers Quarme and Exe, and it is the Exe that we now follow southwards for the rest of the journey. The road remains very scenic as we head south. The surrounding hillsides remain steep and covered in forest and the road's course is very much defined by the river valley.
Just to the east of Dulverton we meet the B3222, then we pass the site of Bury Castle, an old Motte and Bailey castle. Soon the Rivers Hadden and Barle join the Exe, as we leave Exmoor National Park. For a short while, the valley widens out as we pass Exebridge, and the other end of the B3222, then the valley becomes more confined again. Though the sides are not as steep as before, we continue through woodland past Oakfordbridge and on to crossroads where we cross the B3227 (formerly the A361) next to its bridge over the Exe. The eastbound B3227 heads west from here, rising away from the A396 in a double hairpin, in order to escape the valley. But for us, we continue following the Exe, always heading in a southerly direction, but rarely heading due south.
To prove the point, we head briefly north to a roundabout with a spur of the B3227 where we have to turn right to resume the A396, and continue through the tree lined valley to a roundabout on the A361. Here, we used to turn left onto a dual carriageway multiplex with the A361, then turn right at the next junction off the A361 to head into Tiverton. However, it seems now that the multiplex has gone and the road just continues ahead along the former A3126.
The next section down the Exe Valley is on the west bank - until we reach Bickleigh Mill where we cross again near the junction with the A3072 to Crediton. The valley now broadens, and we gradually diverge from the river as the land becomes open floodplain rather than confined river valley. We pass through Stoke Canon then head south-west past Stoke Woods to a roundabout on the A377 near Cowley to the north of Exeter, where the road finally ends.
On classification in 1922 the A396 detoured from its route along the Exe valley at Exebridge to pass through the centre of Bampton. Later in the 1920s the road was rerouted along the original route of the B3222 to gain its current route. The old A396 from Exebridge into Bampton became the B3222 (and was later declassified); the road south became the A3073 but then became a spur of the A396 in 1935, as shown in the map on the left.
The spur certainly lasted into the 1970s and it is possible that it existed until the A361 through Bampton was downgraded. The spur remains a spur, however, as it is now numbered B3227 rather than the more obvious B3190.
Tiverton has also provided a rerouting, although this time there seems less reason for doing so. The original route of the A396 was more-or-less on the current route (which is a relief road for the town centre). However, in the 1990s the old road through Tiverton was renumbered A3126 and the A396 rerouted via a multiplex east along the A361 to the next junction, before returning southwestwards to rejoin its original route.
This always seemed very odd - this route through Tiverton was longer than the direct route, but doesn't look any quicker, particularly as we have to negotiate a number of roundabouts to continue the journey south. However, it appears that common sense has prevailed, with the A3126 being banished to the history books, the A396 being returned to its rightful route, and the B3391 created to plug the eastern gap!