I've been travelling regularly to Devon for about 15 years, both on holiday and to visit family, and on my most recent visit, I noticed something strange...
Unusual Discoveries on Familiar Roads
My wife is from Devon, and her family still live in Plymouth; when visiting, we usually stay at the Modbury Caravan and Motorhome Club site. We drive to her parents in Plymouth each day via the A379. I must have driven along this route dozens of times over the years, and we regularly stop off at the local garage in Yealmpton.
This time whilst passing the petrol station, something unusual caught my eye, a road sign to Noss Mayo with blue writing‽ Initially, I figured it must have faded over time, but then I started to notice more of these strange blue road signs; not only that, but I also spotted some weird brown signs. These weren't the standard Department for Transport brown usually used for pointing the way to tourist attractions; no, these were a light golden brown pointing the way to small Devon villages and hamlets.
The following extracts from the leaflet explain the reason(s) behind Devon's colourful road signs.
DEVON'S MINOR ROUTE SIGNING
Many of the roads in Devon are winding, hilly and very narrow. To help you choose the best way to your destination, the County Council has identified a network of roads varying from main roads down to those which are only suitable for cars or essential delivery vehicles.
Once you have decided where you want to go, simply use the highest class of road available, only using the lower classes when you are near to your destination and a more suitable route is not available.
Are the council simply trying to help the hapless tourist or lost locals get to their location as efficiently as possible?
DEVON ROAD NETWORK
Devon has developed a highly effective system to ensure that the limited funds available for road maintenance are used to best effect. It relies on grading the road network into different categories, depending on the suitability of each route.
The different grades of road are distinguished by a unique signing system which is shown here in detail. Using the most suitable routes will get you to your destination more safely and quickly and save on road maintenance costs.
It was all about cost and asset management rather than a scheme to reduce congestion on Devon's minor roads. Not surprising, given that Devon County Council has one of the most extensive highway networks in the UK, comprising over 12,000 kilometres of road and 5,700 kilometres of public rights of way to maintain, that's excluding those in the City of Plymouth, the Borough of Torbay along with the Motorways and Trunk Roads, which are the responsibility of the Highways Agency.
Decoding Devon's Colourful Road Signs
Throughout Devon, you'll encounter various types of signage, some more familiar, like the standard Department for Transport Motorway signs, other styles are unique to this corner of the world.
National Road Signage
These are the signs most of us are familiar with and indicate national through routes which are suited to all vehicles:
Motorway Signs - Blue with a white border and text.
Primary Route Signs - Green with a white border, text and yellow route numbers.
Other Main Road Signs - White with a black frame and text, suitable for MOST vehicles.
Devon Specific Road Signage
This unique signing system shows Devon road users at a glance the sort of road they are about to use.
MEDIUM vehicles only
Blue-bordered signs with a blue chevron indicate a route suited to MEDIUM vehicles but not suitable for caravans unless specifically highlighted. Text can be black but is occasionally blue.
This shouldn't be confused with the 1957 style "Local Direction" signage which has a blue border, black lettering and a black chevron, these should have been removed by the end of 2014, but can still be found throughout the country.
LIGHT vehicles only
Brown-bordered signs with a brown chevron indicate a route suitable only for cars and other LIGHT vehicles. Text is usually black.
LOCAL access only
Borderless signs with an open chevron and black text - This shows a route for LOCAL access only.
A place name within a box (known as a patch by the DfT) indicates that the destination is reached via a lower standard route, as indicated by the border colour.
On minor roads, the signs are, more often than not, traditional fingerposts, which may incorporate junction names and the Devon county logo on the top.
So whilst it was primarily a scheme aimed at reducing costs by reducing traffic on more minor rural roads, there is a benefit to following the code and only using a lower-grade road when a higher grade is unavailable.
Hazards Unveiled: What the Signs Don't Mention
Of course, the signs don't mention the unforeseen hazards you may encounter while travelling on a minor road.
These hazards could include stray animals, horse riders, walkers and cyclists and other leisure vehicle drivers carefully navigating the same potential dangers as yourself, not to mention challenging bends, high bankings, steep hills, and more.
The Rise and Fall of the Scheme
Following a successful trial in the Dartmoor National Park in the late 1980s, the signage was rolled out to the rest of Devon in 1992.
The scheme was initially promoted via leaflets handed out at tourist information centres and on signage at the entrance to the county.
But by 2000, all mention of the project had been quietly dropped from the Council website, and explainer signs began to fall into disrepair.
The Last Explainer Sign
But wait, there is hope for the scheme. In June 2022 the sign at the entrance to the Dartmoor National Park, just off the South Brent junction of the A38/A385, was replaced with a new sign.
So far as we can tell, this is the only remaining explainer sign (as well as touring the county extensively, we've also spent a lot of time on Google Maps!), but to be sure, we've submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the council and will update this blog when we get a response.
Rob has been involved in the leisure industry since completing a BTEC in Travel & Tourism in 1993. Previous roles have included the promotion of tourism in Yorkshire and running a motorcycle touring company in the Australian Outback.
He is the General Manager at Alan Rogers Travel Group, responsible for the ongoing development of the Alan Rogers website and the publication of the Alan Rogers Guides and 'Destinations' magazine.
He regularly travels with his wife and young daughter in their Dethleffs 'Campy' caravan. A keen cycling fan, Rob can often be found in a field in Belgium during the 'Spring Classics' season or riding his Royal Enfield Himalayan motorcycle.
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