The A303: Highway to the Sun, By Tom Fort - Reviews - Books - The Independent

Simon and Schuster £14.99

The A303: Highway to the Sun, By Tom Fort

It's thejourney that matters

Compared to the bland and brazen utility of, say, the M4, the A303 – which comes off the M3 at Basingstoke and runs down to Honiton in Devon – is a rich and magical road. For me, and I am sure many others, it has always been, and is now, if not a highway to the sun, at least a highway to a windy beach, with a good few sights along the way. I remember picnicking on the stones at Stonehenge – in the days before they were roped off – during a stop-off on the way down to a holiday in Minehead in my parents' Morgan. While the motorway might get you west more efficiently, the A303 offers more freedom, more poetry. It is a romantic road. It meanders. It is not just about travelling from A to B.

What Tom Fort has done in this excellent primer is to combine English history and myth with a host of nerdish facts about the road, some cultural analysis and not a little literary reflection to boot. There are quotes from Thomas Malory about King Arthur and his trip to Amesbury; visits to grand houses such as Montacute; perorations on the state of British farming. Fort gets down on his hands and knees to decipher the ancient lettering on ancient stones and reveal stories from the days of Ethelred.

Fort's book is also a meditation on the motor car itself: is it a force for darkness or for liberation? Certainly in the early days of motoring, even writers not known for their love of modernity praised the machine fulsomely: "Before I bought a Citroën," Aldous Huxley wrote, "no subject had less interest for me; none, now, has more." And Virginia Woolf noted in her diary: "The motor car is turning out the joy of our lives. Soon we will look back at our pre-motor days as we do now at our days in the caves."

Stonehenge, satisfyingly, merits a good few pages. Fort explores the world of Druidry, and tells the story of the Battle of the Beanfield, in 1985, when Wiltshire Police clashed with the summer solstice free-festival goers. And The A303 also wanders off into the worlds of the pig, of the Little Chef chain, of Camelot, of Jeremy Clarkson, naturally, and of 1970s transport ministers, and tells the fascinating tale of the murderer, imposter and "monacled mutineer" Percy Toplis, who killed the taxi driver Sidney Spicer on the A303 in 1920. Fort is rightfully scornful of Solstice Park, the industrial estate whose name sends me into paroxysms of rage when I drive past it.

One of the advantages of the A303 is that the driver is not tyrannised by service stations with their pricey big-brand offerings; instead you are free to stop at independently run and very reasonably priced roadside burger vans. Fort's book concludes with a visit to Annie's Tea Bar, situated at the very end of the A303 where it rejoins its "old rival", the A30, where he enjoys a full English breakfast and a chat with the proprietor, Annie. It's all very charming, like the road itself.

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week