A day spent driving the length of the A272 – a lovely, lovely lane.
I actually wrote this review a while ago and only remembered it when one of this month’s Silver Travel Book Club’s topics was about favourite UK driving routes, however I couldn’t condense this enough to just use as a comment in that prize draw.
Having shown an interest in a book written by a Dutchman about one of his favourite roads in the UK I was given a copy of Pieter Boogaart’s `A272 An Ode to a Road` by my nephew. I found it a fascinating read, although the layout confused me at times. Pieter extols the virtues of this road, but notes that opinions vary, between `a lovely, lovely lane` and `the worst b…… road in the south`. The author has researched, visited, reviewed and photographed historic houses, churches, statues, follies – and anything else that took his interest – and put them together in a well indexed book that is split into chapters covering sections from east to west, although to my mind the two maps on the inside cover pages are the wrong way round, the westernmost one being at the front.
My husband and I had driven along the eastern part of the A272 in the past but having read the book I thought it would be good to follow the complete route, so the first time we paid our annual visit to Winchester after reading the book we drove along the A272 rather than our usual journey of M20, M26, M25, A3, A31 (we always avoid the M3). It took us an hour and a half to even reach the beginning of the A272, which is at a junction on the A267 south of Five Ashes; and then so long to reach Winchester that we had to leave the last part of the A272 until the following day.
An Ode to a Road is a guide to all the places along the A272 and to places of interest within 6 or 7 miles north or south of it – those places that are worth making a detour to see – Piltdown (as in Piltdown Man), Sheffield Park (National Trust), Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, Haywards Heath, Bolney (where there’s a good vineyard), Dragons Green, Coneyhurst, The Mens (nature reserve) and then Petworth, where we stopped for a break. Unfortunately there was no time to visit Petworth Place (National Trust) but Petworth is historic and full of antique shops and tearooms so finding somewhere to buy lunch was no problem. Then onward, past Cowdray (of Park fame), Midhurst (until then to me only a name in a John Wyndham book), Petersfield, Cheesefoot Head and on to Winchester. We crossed the A3 and went under the M3, which wasn’t there when the guide was written in 2000. I looked out for various things that Pieter had written about – obelisks, churches, statues, dovecots, follies, pubs and monuments – and succeeded in seeing some of them and even remembered facts I’d read about them. The A272 is 90 miles in length, and runs between the North and South Downs from its start in East Sussex to its end in Stockbridge in Hampshire (or vice versa). The countryside we drove through was lovely, especially through the South Downs National Park and near Winchester – lots of chalk downland and far-reaching views – and I made a note of places I wanted to explore further.
After our planned meeting on Sunday we drove west from Winchester to find the remainder of the A272; it used to go right through Winchester but various `improvements` to the road system have obliterated parts of it and renamed other sections, so the A272 is now the B3049 between Winchester and Stockbridge. Passing Sparsholt College (university courses in land and ecology) we then stopped to climb Woolbury Hill, National Trust land with a hillfort and wonderful views and finally arrived in Stockbridge. What a beautiful small town/large village it is; everything I could ask for in a place to live, a wide street lined with beautiful houses, small shops, pubs, tributaries of the River Test running between picturesque houses, children feeding bread to enormous fishes in a clear roadside stream, a Co-op open until 11.00 pm, buses to Winchester in one direction, Salisbury in the other, but no doubt the houses are extremely expensive!
The following day we headed for home and drove the first part back along the A272, so we could visit a National Trust property, Hinton Ampner, and get some lunch there. We saw some beautiful rooms filled with exquisite furniture and a collection of rare china, and after lunch went round the lovely garden; I was surprised I’d not heard of it before. Then, to save time, we drove back to the A31 past Chawton, where Jane Austen lived, and near to Gilbert White’s house – another two places I simply must visit one day, when we have time.
The A272 is a lovely road, but not if you’re in a hurry.