Portlock Hill is a road west of Porlock, Somerset. It is part of the A39, connecting Porlock to Lynmouth and Barnstaple in Devon and is the steepest A-road in the United Kingdom, approaching 1 in 4 (25%) in places. A parallel toll road is available which travels the same route at an easier gradient.
The route climbs west of Porlock to the north fringes of Exmoor. It climbs 725 feet (221 m) in just under 1 mile (1.6 km), the steepest gradient on any A-road in the UK. At one point, there is a warning sign advising motorists of a gradient of 1 in 4 (25%).
The road is part of the A39, a long-distance road across the north coast of Somerset and Cornwall, though it is not a main through route here. Porlock Hill is not recommended for caravans or HGVs, who are strongly advised to seek another route. Cyclists are advised to dismount. The road has two escape lanes along its descent, to handle runaway vehicles.
Owing to its gradient, numerous accidents have occurred on Porlock Hill. The village's local museum has an archive of photographs documenting various incidents along it.
In Porlock itself you will often smell burning brakes from vehicles who have just descended the hill.
There was no practical transport west of Porlock in the 18th century. In 1794, the poet Robert Southey wrote that such a route was considered "the end of the world". In 1812, the local community was fined for not maintaining a good road, and builders were employed to construct a suitable route. The road opened in 1843 when a stagecoach travelled from Lynton to Porlock successfully.
Shortly after the road opened, a local landowner, Mr Blaithwate, decided to build a toll road further west at a more relaxed gradient of 1 in 14 (7%). The toll road was not successful initially as horse-pulled traffic could cope with Porlock Hill, but became popular owing to the increased popularity of the motor car.
In 1899, a ten-ton lifeboat was launched from a storm in Lynmouth, but could not be put out to sea due to bad weather. Instead, it was hauled east by land, down Porlock Hill to the weir at Porlock, where it could be launched safely.
In 1900, a rally driver became the first person to drive a motor car up Porlock Hill, winning a £50 bet in the process. The first motor coach managed to climb the hill successfully in 1916.
Porlock Hill is popular with cyclists. In 2015, over a hundred racers competed for a £3,100 prize to cycle up the hill, followed by a series of children's races and a general fun ride.
- Gardner 2011, p. 68.
- "The Improbable A39". CBRD. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
- Bradt 2015, p. 159.
- Corfield 2010, p. 45.
- "Porlock and Around". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
- "Porlock Toll Road". Welcome to Porlock. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
- Leete-Hodge, Lornie (1985). Curiosities of Somerset. Bodmin: Bossiney Books. p. 45. ISBN 0-906456-98-3.
- "Top cyclists set for Porlock Hill Climb this weekend". Somerset County Gazette. 15 September 2015. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
- Bradt, Hilary (2015). North Devon & Exmoor (Slow travel). Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 978-1-841-62865-3.
- Corfield, David (2010). Roads with a View: England's Greatest Views and How to Find Them by Road. Veloce Publishing. ISBN 978-1-845-84350-2.
- Gardner, Nicky (2011). Bus-Pass Britain. Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 978-1-841-62376-4.