The A30 is one of the UK's longest A-roads, running from the fringes of London to Land's End. Along the way it varies in importance, beginning life as a suburban arterial road, connecting up a string of large Hampshire towns, and then quietly retreating into the background while the A303 takes the limelight from the M3 to Somerset. Then suddenly - and the transition is indeed very sudden - at Honiton it transforms into a major interurban expressway, powering across the middle of Devon and forming the vital spine road on which virtually the whole of Cornwall relies.
It's the expressway through Devon and Cornwall that puts it here in the Motorway Database, of course, and while the idea of a spine road down into the south west might seem obvious it's only surprisingly recently that it's formed anything like a continuous route. In fact the history of the A30 in the south west is a story of one bottleneck being replaced by another.
As far back as the 1930s the Exeter Bypass was a problem, and by the 1970s it was unbearable. Further down the line, the difficult bends at Launceston and the historic town centres on the rest of the road meant the journey from north of Exeter to the far reaches of Cornwall could easily take the best part of a day in summer holiday traffic. Even today, with most of the route a fast dual carriageway, the first rule of driving in Cornwall is that it's further than you think to Penzance.
In 1977, the new M5 Exeter Bypass opened, solving the most notorious bottleneck once and for all, just a year or so later than other vital bypasses at Redruth, Launceston and Bodmin. But all it did was move the bottlenecks to new places: with traffic moving freely on new roads, Exeter and Launceston were replaced by Okehampton and Indian Queens in traffic reports. New bypasses continued to open until the bottlenecks became the end of the bypass and the return to the old single carriageway road between them. Each generation's memories of childhood holidays to the south west are characterised by memories of the summer queues on the A30 at whichever was the worst part when they visited. (When I was a child it was the end of the Okehampton Bypass and the long slog towards Launceston, a rural stretch that was finally bypassed in 1993.)
Today the gaps in the expressway are fewer. The worst remaining one is the final section of single carriageway between Bodmin and Exeter, which lies between Temple and Higher Carblake, and which was finally upgraded when Cornwall Council funded the improvement. The A30 is a trunk road, but the local authority paid for the work anyway to stop the crippling effect on the county's economy. (The exit list shows this section complete, though it's being published about six months ahead of it properly opening to traffic.)
One final section, now in planning and again to be funded by Cornwall Council, will see the gap between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross filled in with a new dual carriageway. That will complete a continuous expressway from Exeter to Redruth and perhaps, for the very first time, put an end to the chronic congestion that has been a feature of summer holidays on the A30 since long before anyone can remember.
What we're left with - despite the one remaining gap - is one of the UK's most pleasant expressway routes, traversing varied scenery from the rolling hills of Devon to the stark expanse of Bodmin Moor and the cosy villages of Cornwall. It helps, of course, that many of its travellers associate it with holidays in one of Britain's most wonderful places and summer journeys to the seaside. And even for those who don't - those who live in Cornwall all year round and use the A30 to get to work or to run their business - the shape and the geography of the county mean that there are few other dual carriageways that could claim to be quite so uniquely indispensable.
You're not looking at the whole A30
This page is about the parts of the A30 that are designated a motorway or that have motorway characteristics. Other sections of this road will not be featured here and will not count towards the length of the road as shown below.