I watched Tom Fort's television programme A303 Highway to the Sun and thoroughly enjoyed it, mainly because it is a road I know very well. The book is much more than the television programme. It is a rambling book in more than one sense. When Tom Fort is actually travelling along the road it may be on foot, by car or on a bicycle. However, much of the time he is not on the road at all.
He has written books before, mostly on fishing and fish keep popping their heads above the surface throughout the book. For example, the Introduction tells us that he first encountered the A303 on his way to some fishing spots. Incidentally, an oddity of the Introduction is that it starts with nearly five sides about boyhood journeys to the Lake District.
From end to end the book uses the A303 as a framework for an eclectic mix of English history, politics, local geography and the many aspects of the motor car.
Chapter one, entitled `Ignition On' led me to think that I would now read about the A303, but no. I first read about the British and Foreign political scene in 1969 but coupled to the building of the Basingstoke and Andover bypasses. So off I go now on to the A303? Again no, I am to read about various cars the author has driven over the years.
I nearly skipped chapter two as it speculates on whether a fictitious character from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca would have used parts of the A303. This seemed a pointless exercise to me but I was heartened when the author gave us an interesting description of the old coaching roads and where they still exist, albeit wider and covered in asphalt.
From then on I really enjoyed reading the book. There are, it must be said, many deviations along the way but the majority of these are of interest, be they historical, political or geographical.
I found the book well written throughout and descriptions of the various stretches of the road chimed well with what I know of it. I loved the phrase `the tearing, rending noise of the A303' in chapter fifteen.
Tom Fort covers a vast spectrum of subjects using the A303 as his framework. He, unexpectedly, here and there, throughout the book, mentions his encounters with The Little Chef, what characters he met and what he ate there. Also mentioned periodically are various roadside public houses, some of which have been sadly bypassed, and the quantity and name of the beers he used to quench his thirst as he travelled along.
Ancient track ways are mentioned together with rivers and angling - but no more of the latter, please.
Chapter four moves from Ministers of Transport to people who have written about road transport over the years and finally back go the sights to be seen along the A303 and the stories they have to tell.
This eclectic format continues in chapter five. Firstly, he contrasts the A303 as seen on foot with the A303 as seen from a car. Then he describes the piecemeal building of it followed by descriptions of dead animals found in or by the road. The chapter ends with the history of Weyhill Fair, how he loved his SAAB 96 car and AA patrolmen.
A small selection of other subjects covered in the book follows: Flower Power, The Battle of the Beanfield. The decline of the British car industry, The history of Amesbury, The Great Bustard, Stonehenge history and its present day problems. Archaeology, Druids, sheep, William Beckford, Alfred's Tower and King Arthur.
All in all a jolly good read and I would recommend it to any of my friends. I enjoyed the descriptions of the road and its history best and think the Introduction would be improved by shortening. If you did not live in the Wessex area or did not use the road much then you may not find it of so much interest as I did.
As an improvement, I would like to have seen more photographs of the road itself.
Of all the roads, the A303 is my favourite and I was surprised and delighted to read a book about it.