A303 - Highway to the Sun

More than a road that takes you from A to B.

From the metropolis at its source, the A303 promises a quick route to the sandy roads of the South West.

But, as many a frustrated traveller will know, the big, fast road evaporates into little more than a country lane.

As former journalist Tom Fort has discovered, it is not like other roads - that merely take you from A to B - it tells a story.

That story unfolds in a new book, The A303 - Highway to the Sun.

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Tom, 60, was persuaded to write the book by a weary traveller, who has sat in countless traffic jams en-route to Cornwall.

“I thought the idea was idiotic to start with,” said Tom.

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“I’ve known the road for a long time.

“I am a very keen fisherman and my two favourite rivers are off the A303.

“Like many people, I had never given much thought to the road.”

Since then, however, Tom has walked the entire length of the road and even cycled sections of it - which he does not recommend, in places.

“Bits of it are terrifying,” he says.

Last year, he made a documentary about the road for BBC4 which proved so popular it has been broadcast several times.

“When you get on the A303 at our end, Reading, it’s a big, fast road and it promises to get you where you are going at high speed, but, when you get to your end, it’s a country lane.

“It offers views of the most lovely landscapes in England.”

Apart from Stonehenge, Cadbury Castle and Ham Hill, Tom says it throws a spotlight on “small farms, little hedges and woods”.

“The section through the Blackdown Hills is most extraordinary,” he said.

“The road does become narrow, but the landscape is wonderful.”

One of the road’s delights comes in human form - that of the owner of Annie’s tea bar, located in a lay-by at Stop Gate.

“She is a wonderful woman,” said Tom. “I’ve had innumerable, fantastic breakfasts there and presented her with a copy of the book last week.”

Although the A303 (on the Devon and Somerset border) is most often dismissed as little more than an accident black spot, Tom says it can be a magical place.

He said: “I had a magical moment there.

“I came out of the Eagle Tavern after enjoying a sandwich and was walking towards Marsh when there wasn’t a sound - no traffic at all, which must be rare.

“I heard birds singing loudly and a cow mooing.”

Tom Fort lives in Reading and is a former newspaper reporter on weekly and daily titles in Slough.

He went on to become a BBC radio journalist, working in London, and took early retirement in 2000 to write books.

The A303 - Highway to the Sun was published in hardback on Monday by Simon and Schuster and is available from all good bookshops, priced �16.99.

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