A guide to A-road Britian: A44

In his Home Counties youth, John Simister eschewed the epic challenge of venturing through 'Archers' country to Wales and the sea. Regretting that caution, he details here just what he missed

The authorities will insist on messing around with road numbers. These digits are intended to be a route guide to help us join Place A to Place B, but to us they become linked to the physical tarmacadam itself, just as a street name is near-sacrosanct. So it's unfortunate that this journey along the sinuous, scenic A44 has a few temporal gaps and glitches nowadays .

Since the M40 was completed, it starts in Oxford. Here it used to be the A34, the Stratford Road, until the A34 was radically diverted to meet the new M40 on the route formerly called A43. Still with me? So we're driving through Cotswold country towards Stratford, and suddenly the A44 forks left to Chipping Norton and the straight road ahead becomes the A3400, in a historic nod to its former identity. This is where the A44 used to begin.

The A44 now takes us on a route of bucolic idyll, postcard villages and sturdy stone towns: Moreton-in-Marsh where it crosses the Fosse Way, Broadway and Evesham. It's a busy road, but choose your time and your car well and you can have a rousingly enjoyable drive. The steep, serpentine descent into twee, tourist-trap Broadway was notably entertaining for me a couple of winters ago as I gently drifted a Lotus Elise on the slush. Going up the other way, where there are two traffic lanes, is even better. Another note for students of ghost roads: that great trans-England route, the A46, used to cross the A44 at Broadway but has now been emasculated into the B4632 with the new A46 now skirting Evesham.

After Evesham, the A44 has been shifted north, by-passing the intriguingly-named Wyre Piddle and then Pershore, whose High Street was formerly part of our route (follow the B4084 for the old road). We're deep in The Archers country now, until we pass through Worcester (or Felpersham as the soap would have it) and cross into Herefordshire. The A44 skirts Bromyard, but it's worth leaving it to take in the town centre.

Wales, however, is where the A44 really asserts its line through the topography. We've left Leominster behind, heading amid myriad orchards and black-and-white villages towards Kington, over Offa's Dyke and onward to Hergest Ridge, after which Mike Oldfield's second album was named, on the Welsh border. On the far side, the place names have turned Celtic, the terrain is climbing and we're reaching the start of the best part. Shortly after Llanfihangel-nant-Melan the road performs a fantastic sequence of tight-but-fast twists as it crests another ridge, twists etched in my mind from past great drives of which the most recent involved a bright yellow Mini Cooper S in John Cooper Works guise. I had been ambivalent about that car, finding its suspension tiresomely firm, but just here it all came together in a rush of G forces, traction and torque.

There's a long, fast descent into Crossgates, then an open run along a shallow, big-sky valley past Nantmel, where lives Bill Boddy who edited Motor Sport magazine from 1936 to 1991 and who is still writing for it at 97 years of age. At Rhayader, the A44 goes into hiding as it splices into the A470, the road that clings to the River Wye.

We follow the A470 north-westwards, fast bends bounded by ever-wilder mountains as we climb and dip toward Llangurig. If we continued on the A470 to the right we would soon reach Llanidloes, but instead we'll head straight on because the A44 has reappeared. It has taken over the guarding of the Wye, and after more bleak, empty, majestic sweeps of the road we cross the river whose source is further up the mountains to our right.

Soon we reach the highest point (408 metres) of the whole road, where a large rock by the wayside improbably bears an "Elvis" graffito. Wikipedia tells us this was originally painted in support of Islwyn Ffowc Elis who was a Plaid Cymru candidate in 1962, but the lettering has mutated over the years.

From now it's a snaking descent to the coast, the A44 clings to the sides of the mountains as it passes abandoned lead mines. The density of human habitation gradually rises from near zero as we come closer to Aberystwyth on the coast, where I went for a university entrance interview back in 1973. I didn't take up the university's kind offer of a place, not least because getting there from my south-eastern comfort zone would have been such an epic undertaking. Now I realise how much fun I'd have had along the way.

Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Project Manager

    Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    IT Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London