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The Atlantic Highway - Naming History

The "Atlantic Highway" - Naming History


Origins of the "Atlantic Highway" name in Devon and Cornwall

The name originated because of the North Coast's strong ties to the Southern Railway's "Atlantic Coast Express". The "ACE" ran daily from London, Waterloo, to the North Devon and North Cornwall coast from 1926 until 1964. During this period, the"ACE" became a well known symbol of travel to the traditional west country holiday.

In the Spring of 1988, members of the Bude Area Tourist Board conceived the idea of naming the A39 "The Atlantic Highway"between Bideford, in North Devon, and Fraddon, in Mid-Cornwall.

On September 21st, a meeting was held in the Council Chambers, The Castle, Bude for all interested parties. Attendees included representatives of North Cornwall District Council, Torridge District Council, Cornwall Tourist Board and the West Country Tourist Board. The Atlantic Highway concept was explained at some length for the benefit of the assembled audience:

  • An identifiable and marketable holiday route for the North of Devon and Cornwall.
  • A route in and out of Cornwall offering tempting views of the coast and sea.
  • Traffic circulation throughout Devon and Cornwall would be greatly improved during the peak season "down one way, and back another"

1988 - Two colour, one-third A4 promotional leaflet for the"Atlantic Highway" distributed.

Group of tourism businesses in North Cornwall issue "Atlantic Highway" colour promotional leaflet. Size A3 folded to 3rd A4. Participants included Wooda Farm Park, Wheatley Farm, Willow Valley Camping Park, Clovelly Visitor Centre (Devon), Tamar Otter Park, Mornish Hotel, The Splash in Bude and Lambley Park Hotel.

Devon and Cornwall Training and Enterprise Council and funding partners launched the "Regional Challenge" tourism programme. Central to its theme was the naming of tourism routes through the two counties. The only route to receive a majority consensus of opinion for naming was the "Atlantic Highway".

By the mid nineties, the "Atlantic Highway" had become an accepted designation for the A39 coast road through Devon and Cornwall, and appeared on many maps and guides such as the "Inspirational Cornwall" Guides, West Country Tourist Board Leaflets, English Tourist Board Mini Guides, tourism publications by North Cornwall District Council and even appeared in an RAC magazine article entitled "Beside the Sea" .

The desire to see actual road signs in place designating the A39 as the "Atlantic Highway" was gathering pace and now had the support of many prominent west country organisations and local MP's.

Cornwall County Council obtains outline agreement from the Highways Agency as to how signing could be implemented."Atlantic Highway" would appear in white letters on a brown background on Route Confirmatory Signs. ( Route Confirmatory Signs are the signs placed after a junction indicating the mileages to towns ahead). The signed route in Cornwall should be from the Devon / Cornwall county boundary to the Haloon Roundabout south of Newquay. October 1999. Representatives of the Bude Action Team put their proposals for signing the A39 the "Atlantic Highway" to senior representatives of Cornwall County Council's Land Use and Transportation Committee and the County Surveyor's Department. The proposals are agreed in principle, funding needs to be arranged and confirmed amongst a wide variety of interested parties before further progress can be made.

The cause for naming the A39 the "Atlantic Highway" is taken up by a sub committee of the North Devon Economic Partnership.


 After consultation in the North Cornwall area, an "Atlantic Highway" logo is chosen and produced with the support of North Cornwall District Council.

A feasibility study, "Marketing Strategy A361 / A39", is published by the North Devon Economic Partnership.


  • Enhance the enjoyment of visitors using the "Atlantic Highway".
  • Raise Awareness of "Atlantic Highway" leisure opportunities.
  • Promote destinations along the "Atlantic Highway".
  • Attract new visitors to the area, and encourage return visits.
  • Relieve traffic congestion at peak holiday periods by promoting circulatory routes in and out of Devon and Cornwall.
  • Increase economic activity.

Spring 2002. www.atlantic-highway.co.uk is launched to give the A39 "Atlantic Highway" and surrounding area high profile branding as a tourism destination. Emphasis is placed on the natural assets and history of the area, and will promote the"Atlantic Highway" as a major tourist attraction that will do much to redress the balance of prominent visitor attractions located on the south coast and far west of Cornwall.

History of the Atlantic Highway Website

In its heyday the Atlantic Highway Web Site was the most successful tourism website for North Cornwall, attracting over 1.6 million hits per year.  As with many other things technology related, the speed of development of the internet very soon lead to more sophisticated web sites and highly targeted marketing which, in turn, eventually diminished the popularity of the Atlantic Highway Website.  However, it still attracts a number of viewers who seem to appreciate the vast amount of information the site holds on the coastal area between Barnstaple in North Devon and Newquay in mid-Cornwall.  The main body of the site is now hosted on 'Google Sites' to facilitate those still wishing to access information about the Atlantic Highway, its coast, surrounding countryside, villages and towns. Now a little out of date, but it still has its followers!

The "Atlantic Highway" brand will provide the "umbrella" which will assist many businesses in Devon and Cornwall to promote their goods and services to a local, national and worldwide audience. The importance of branding the A39 as the "Atlantic Highway" should not be understated. The signing of the road and successful promotion of the name will provide substantial marketing support to increase income for commerce and communities along the entire length of the road from Barnstaple, in North Devon, to Fraddon, in Mid-Cornwall.

May 2002. Cornwall County Council put the 'Atlantic Highway' on the Map. Responsibility for the A39 in Cornwall passes from the Highways Agency to Cornwall County Council. The road is to be renamed and 'Atlantic Highway' signs will be erected along this picturesque route between Kilkhampton on the Cornwall/Devon Border and the Halloon Roundabout near Indian Queens.

"New signs will be erected after 1st June so everyone knows they are travelling on a route with a glorious past, and an exciting future. Director of Planning, Transportation and Estates Richard Fish says, "It is fitting that the A39 should have a new name to go with its new county status. We think that a main road which serves such a large and distinctive area deserves special treatment."

"The newly-named route links Bude to the Newquay area via Camelford, Wadebridge and St. Columb Major. Landmarks along the north coast Atlantic seaboard include the satellite dishes of Morwenstow and the spectacular Camel Estuary. Surfing and other watersports had their origins along the beaches near Bude, and the road links many of Cornwall's finest surfing and family beaches, as well as tourist magnets like Padstow Harbour and Tintagel Castle."(Part CCC Press Release 21/05/2002)

June 2002. 

Monday June 24th 2002. 
Atlantic Highway Sign. Otterham Station, travelling north.

August 2004.
Devon's first "Atlantic Highway" sign unveiled.


On Tuesday 3rd August 2004 the Deputy Leader of Devon County Council, Brian Greenslade, unveiled the new Atlantic Highwayroute confirmatory sign which is situated on the south bound carriageway of the A39 just past the Portmore Roundabout at Barnstaple.

Atlantic Highway Sign Devon (group)

Picture reference: 3rd August 2004, Barnstaple, from left to right:
Devon County Councillor, Michael Knight - Local County Council member and Chairman of Devon County Council.
Devon County Councillor, Brian Greenslade - Deputy Leader of Devon County Council.
Devon County Councillor Derrick Spear - Highways & Traffic Orders Committee (HATOC) Chairman.
Atlantic Highway Website, Edward Gregory.
The "Atlantic Highwayman," Bryan Dudley Stamp.

Brian Greenslade, the Deputy Leader of Devon County Council said "Although naming a road may seem unnecessary, it can be a crucial factor in creating an identity for an area. This is one of the main arterial routes for North Devon, bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists as well as providing swift links for commuters and business."

The new "Atlantic Highway" sign announces to the motorist the beginning of the North Devon section of the Atlantic Highway. As a key tourist route branding of the A39 will encourage new visitors to explore North Devon and North Cornwall and thus bring increased opportunities for the many businesses that are situated in the towns and villages along the Atlantic Highway.

Atlantic Highway Sign. Barnstaple, travelling south.