Traveller’s tale of Highway to the SunBy Caroline Cook
May 22, 2012
A Sonning Common author has taken a journey westwards to write his latest book.
The A303 Highway to the Sun is the story of a road which began as a drover’s path, was traversed by the Romans and had its heyday in the days when buying a family car became the ambition of every respectable Englishman.
Tom Fort, 60, of Wood Lane, motored down the A303 in an elderly Morris Traveller for a BBC 4 documentary.
His wanderings have now been compiled in a book which covers 80 miles and thousands of years of an English landscape where the most notable landmark is Stonehenge.
Mr Fort became familiar with the road through fishing trips.
He writes: “I would drive the A303 sometimes on my own, but often with a particular friend. In summer we would generally go down in the evening, towards the sun, reaching the Avon as the shadows of the trees stretched across the water, and finish late with the bats out and owls hooting across dark meadows.
“In winter the fishing days are short and the water can seem lifeless. But even the oldest of them can startle you with a magical hour around noon when insects suddenly hatch and the grayling wake up to eat them.
“And always the A303, holding out the promise of delight on the way there, the way back more muted, the radio on to cover the silences, the landmarks passing unnoticed, their meaning forfeited.”
Mr Fort – whose previous works have looked at lawns, eels and the weather – is unsentimental about the road to Glastonbury and the seaside.
He writes: “The A303’s central reservation is a study in contempt for notions of pleasantness.
“Along most of it, grey safety barriers run in monotonous lines above concrete tufted with scalded weeds and rank grass. The one plant that seems to find a congenial roothold is ragwort.”
He considers the landmarks along the route from Joseph’s, a caravan serving bacon butties in a lay-by near Winterbourne Stoke, to King Alfred’s Tower, an 18th Century 160ft folly near Stourhead.
And he muses on Stonehenge, site of Druidic rites and local government wrangles.
“The Stonehenge saga is a revealing commentary on the way we do things – or do not do them – in this country. It is difficult to imagine such a study in futility occurring in say, France or Germany,” he writes.
“Over a period of a little more than 20 years around £40 million of public money has been spent drawing up, proposing, publicising, discussing and dumping various schemes to protect the monument from the noise and disturbance caused by passing traffic.”
He goes on: “The upshot is that, now as before, the motorist has plenty of opportunity between reaching the queue before Amesbury and accelerating along the next available stretch of dual carriageway well beyond Winterbourne Stoke, to contemplate the vagaries of our bureaucratic processes and – when the moment comes –- to enjoy the sight of a 5,000-year-old jumble of stone.”
The A303, Highway to the Sun was published by Simon & Schuster at £14.99 on May 7 to coincide with the May Bank Holiday tailbacks.