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4.2 out of 5 stars
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I ordered this book because I thought it would be similar to "The A272 - Ode to a Road" by Pieter and Rita Boogaart. However, the style of this book is quite different in that it it is more focused on the historical aspects of the A303 and points along it. It talks of historic events and covers occurrences going as far back as the Romans and beyond as well as covering stately homes, social change, crime and the creation of new towns.

The book does evoke a sense of more modern nostalgia, for example, through talking of the building of Andover town and recollections of British cars such as the Wolseley 18/85, Riley Kestrel and Hillman Husky. It is not a criticism of the book, but, it gives one the feeling of meandering along the the A303 taking the occasional detour and straying either side of it - the journey this book takes you on is not a focused or direct one. It is also inclined to be an indulgent one on the part of the author giving disproportionate coverage to issues such as fishing etc. However, I have to say I love this book and have bought a copy for a friend who every few weeks has to endure a journey along the A303 from near Basingstoke to Launceston to see her mother-in-law - she says this book has made the journey far more interesting. This is an atmospheric book which is well written - I just had to remember it is not a "factual" travel guide to the A303 but an exploration of it and many issues, which, in some cases, only have a tenuous connection to the famous highway.

In summary, not entirely what I was expecting based on another road related book (the A272) but nonetheless very evocative and enjoyable - I will read it again soon. Recommended.
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A couple of years ago Fort published Downstream: Across England in a Punt, an enjoyable account of a trip down the River Trent, which explored the history and landscape of the river and lamented - though in a non sentimental way - the general desecration of its environment. He's now done something similar with the A303, the east-west road that cuts though Salisbury Plain and past Stonehenge. There's a symmetry between the two routes. Both cross England, both are less well known than they should be and both are suitable for displaying the effects of modernity on the countryside and small town.

Fort's is a gentle style, letting anecdotes and experiences speak for themselves, bringing out both the character and history of the landscape and some of the notable people and events associated with it. He evokes the changes of use to which the land has been put, the rise and fall of the various classes of workers - the drovers, the shepherds, the "drowners" responsible for managing the watermeadows - as well as the archaeologists, Victorian antiquarians, Druids, English Heritage mandarins and politicians who have also had an impact on what is still a rather ramshackle, unplanned route. Without being over didactic, Fort effectively tells the story of British (English?) road transport through the history of this one road. Despite a welter of grand plans, half finished or never started, and a great deal of expenditure, we are left with incremental fixes, so that parts of the road have been "duelled" or straightened while others (including the stretch past Stonehenge itself) remain as bottlenecks.

I'm not sure that the book is quite as satisfying as "Downstream" which could be framed as a journey down the river by boat, at a boat's speed, allowing the time and tranquillity to linger on sights and events associated with the river. Here, there is less structure: sometimes Fort is cycling, sometimes walking, and as a result I think it it is a little less coherent. It's also a shame he exercised such a self denying ordinance as to not write about fishing, clearly his passion. I have no interest in fishing myself, but I didn't find those sections in "Downstream" at all off putting: it is always good to read something written by a real enthusiast, and it's clear that there would have been plenty of scope for fishing-related deviations and reflections here, too.

All that said, it's an enjoyable read, whether you are familiar with the A303 or not.
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on 8 August 2012
This is a great book to dip in and out of. You can read a chapter and put it down for days as there is no story. It is a series of essays about topics related to the A303. So if you are a motorway person in life's fast lane, pass this by. If like me you like to potter along taking in the view, this is a book for you! The range of topics covered is very eclectic. I loved the account of Heston Blumental fruitlessly attempting to refresh the Little Chef at Popham Services. His account of the Free Festivals at Stonehenge made me remember a forgotten journey in my life, when travelling on a motorcycle i just happened upon the free festival. I bought some hash cakes and spent the night grooving to Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies. Now that doesn't happen on a Motorway! This is just a taster of what waits within? Love your book Mr Fort (ps. thanks for the great graphics on the cover and the period road map inside, all sets the mood perfectly!)
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on 26 January 2013
I've lost count of the times I have driven the Stourhead-Honiton section of this road, as well as a fair few trips eastwards along it. You see the place names, you stop at a few, but you wonder what hides just beyond the majority of this beautiful and frustrating route. I was reminded of a John Shuttleworth song about Blatherwike (sp?) when I read his book, and vow now to detour to more of these hidden-away villages and forgotten monuments, rather than just plough on because the kids are getting tetchy.

Fort combines whimsy and obscurity well, and his mostly romantic view is tempered by an assured and timely dose of scepticism every now and then. He doesn't take himself too seriously, but despite the conscious self-effacement, he does deliver an at times beautifully written book, and makes lovely what is, after all, asphalt and concrete.
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on 25 January 2013
I loved it.History and travel are my favourite subjects and with Mr Fort as our tour guide of the A303 it's delightful. I've traveled on this road so many times on my way to holiday destinations and now it will make the journeys even better. I have just ordered Tom's other books on the strength of this, his writing is fantastic. I don't even mind reading about the fishing exploits.I'm a sucker for rivers and streams too. Can't impress how much I enjoyed this.
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Tom Fort's 'A303' is a curious book. On one level it's a simple hymn to a particular and quintessentially English road but, on another, it's an exploration into landscape, history, myth and, of all things, successive government failures to devise and implement a coherent policy towards roads and transport. The way the book ranges across so many different subjects is part of its charm, but it also makes it an occasionally frustrating read. Every twenty pages or so you'll come across something absolutely fascinating but, like an interesting view at the side of a road, the book will frequently zoom past it all too quickly. For example Fort writes at one point about the site of Fonthill Abbey - an improbable Gothic pile built by the deliciously eccentric William Beckford - but no sooner does the story become interesting than we're off, shooting further down the road to look at something else.

Where the book is good, however, is when Fort lets fly with his own personal opinions on something. He has a lot to say about the ubiquitous Little Chef restaurants dotted along the A303; and he has a good eye for the quaint pub selling decent food and a fine pint but it's when he has a dash at the lumbering policies of successive governments towards transport that he's at his best. No government of any colour comes out of this at all well and as Fort travels down the A303 he uses the ill-conceived / never built / promised but not delivered town bypasses and road-widenings to validate his arguments. Just as the route of the A303 acts as a shorthand for a particular strand of English history then so it also acts as a reminder of broken promises by politicians of all parties. Stonehenge, of course, features large in the account - a focus for all that is sublime about the landscape and all that is wrong about the way we look after it.

In conclusion if you travel regularly on the A303 then Fort's account is well worth a look. He's great at pointing out the strange buildings and odd stories lurking within a few miles of the road as it winds down towards Devon. In particular, on a personal level, Alfred's Tower near Stourhead looks well worth a look the next time I'm passing; as does Montacute House and the little breakfast bar at the end of the road. The pairing of the A303 and the people who delight in travelling along it constitutes a very English love affair and Tom Fort has produced a very English book to go with it. Light, lyrical, a touch bright and breezy perhaps but great fun and informative all the same. Recommended.
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on 8 September 2012
This book is a gentle meandering type of book about the A303, the road that goes from Basingstoke to just outside Honiton.

Fort looks at the history of the road itself, and the changes that did happen and the ones that the governments of the day kicked into touch.

Covers some of the events that took part on or near the road, and naturally covers Stonehenge, and the scandal that has never been resolved of the road passing so close to this ancient monument.
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on 29 December 2012
Bought this for my brother's birthday. When he visits us he has to use the A303, as we do when visiting him, and it is not an easy or good road, having too many holdups and bottlenecks. I haven't read it myself but my brother was thrilled to receive it and looking forward to its contents.
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on 12 August 2012
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.
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on 12 August 2014
Excellent book. I drive the A30 and A303 several times a year as I avoid the M5 and M4. I saw Tom Fort's documentary on BBC Four and afterwards, bought the book. I avoid the road during August obviously but over the years I have travelled along it, (mid-week and off season) I have rarely encountered a jam. On the single carriageway bit through the Blackdown Hills, you now and then end up behind a haywain, tractor, lorry or a gramps with flat cap and gloves tootling along at 40 but one just plods on while enjoying the scenery of our glorious countryside.
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