Callington to Saltash on a bicycle

The A388 runs from Bideford in Devon to Saltash in Cornwall.  It forms the main commuter route from Launceston to Plymouth and passes through Callington on the way.  It’s an extremely busy road, thanks in part to its linking the A38 and A30; the two major arterial routes in Cornwall.  It’s also home to a number of companies that operate fleets of articulated lorries, such as Ginsters, Tamar Foods, Samworth Brothers Distrubution and Jaspers Meats.  These lorries plough their way, 24 hours a day, up and down the A388.

Living in St Mellion I’m constantly made aware of just how busy this road is.  My house is one side and the field where I walk my dogs is the other.  During busy periods, it’s quite common to wait a few minutes for a gap in the traffic and then there’s a calculated gamble as to whether the gap is big enough.  The dogs seem to feel my sense of urgency and run over as enthusiastically as I do!  My driveway also connects directly with the road and it’s a honed skill to edge out into the road in such as manner as to see what’s coming without being broadside to 40 tons of oncoming lorry.  Yes, I chose to live here and the road pre-dates my occupation so I can only hope that one day a bypass comes along.  I’m sure the commuters share my hope as the 30 MPH bottleneck of St Mellion reduces their daily commute to a trudge as the volume of traffic piles up at each end of the village where it abruptly slows down (in theory) from the national speed limit.

Having been born and raised in Tavistock, I’m well acquainted with the frustrations of commuting.  The A386 from Tavistock to Plymouth was, if anything, worse than the A388 I now live on.  The saving grace of the Tavistock to Plymouth commute is that cycling it has become a very real option.  And by that I mean, a real option of performing it daily, at rush hour times, with a long-term chance of survival!  This is thanks to the fantastic Drake’s Trail cycle path that goes off-road all the way into the heart of Plymouth.  I don’t know how many cyclists use it to commute each day but I strongly suspect it’s a significant number.  Heck, it’s probably quicker than sitting in the stacked up procession of cars!

That brings me nicely on to the point of this rant.  Why hasn’t the A388 got a cycle lane?  I used to frequently cycle the route but the volume of lorries and cars eventually drove me to admit it was simply too dangerous.  One of the cars even made contact with me.  The 50 MPH slap on the arse its wing-mirror dealt me was the cause of much hilarity in the local pub.  Funny perhaps, but sufficient warning that eventually a car or lorry would come an inch closer with potentially life-changing results.

For most of the road from Callington to Saltash, the A388 has enormous verges.  I’m told by reliable sources that these were originally left so that the road could be expanded to dual-carriageway.  If it’s wide enough for that option, surely it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that it could accommodate a cycle lane?  The two obvious exceptions are around St Mellion and Carkeel where the road passes through the centre of each village with barely room for a pavement.  Even in these places though, the villages are bordered with fields and putting a narrow cycle path through them hardly seems rocket science.  I’m sure the cyclists and drivers alike would be delighted as the two forms of transport have little in the way of compatibility on busy, narrow roads.

No doubt Cornwall Council have statistics out there somewhere that will state that only eight bicycles a day use the route so it’s not worth the expenditure.  Well, I wonder how many cyclists commuted from Tavistock to Plymouth before and after the opening of Drake’s Trail?  It’s meaningless to base usage statistics on a road that’s too dangerous to use.  Come on Cornwall Council, how about it?  We have some great cycle routes for tourists to the county but something to benefit the working residents would be most welcomed!

1 comment

  1. Hi Steve,
    I often cycle the A388 Callington to Saltash, in fact it’s nearly 30years since I started riding it when commuting. I was coming out of Plymouth only yesterday to Callington. I live in Gunnislake and retired now, but still cycle over 80miles a week – all of it on the roads.

    I find the A388 no problem, and do not agree with you.

    The best way out of Callington to Saltash is to get on the old road over Viverdon Down. The new bit south of Callington goes right over the top and is bleak and open. By taking the old road, you come out at the roundabout north of St Mellion. Going back the other way, there’s a No Entry onto the A388, but you can get off and walk the 50yds. The road is open and wide there and within a short while, you can pedal away easily.

    Likewise, I ride the A386 to Plymouth via Yelverton. I tried Drake’s Trail a few months ago and although it was nice and picturesque, it certainly isn’t quicker or easier by bike into Plymouth city centre – or back out again. The main road is fast and free-flowing and a good surface. Drake’s Trail isn’t too good in some places though the majority is ok, but not a patch on the main road.

    Roborough Down is used by loads of cyclists every day. Even when driving there, I see a few every time. The A388 isn’t so well populated with cyclists mainly because of less population along it’s length.

    Sorry to take an alternative view to yours, but I’m sure you don’t mind.


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