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Driving the A303: Highway To The Sun

Tom Fort


"Why a road?" people asked when I told them I was presenting this documentary, then, "Why the A303?"

Actually it took a while for the questions to occur to me. About 20 years in fact, which is how long I've been driving the road on a regular basis.

Like most others I drove it and didn't think about it. It goes from just west of Basingstoke to just east of Honiton in Devon - 92 miles, give or take a few yards.

On the way it goes over three of my favourite rivers for fishing - the Test, the Avon, and the Wylye.

From my point of view, that was what the A303 was for - to get me to the riverbank.

Between the Avon and the Wylye it went past Stonehenge. Like everyone else, I wondered about Stonehenge.

Then I started wondering about other aspects of the landscape that flashed past the window.

Like Andover and the big slab of forest before it. Like Amesbury and the weird metal bloke on his knees by the turn-off. Like the burial mounds.

The shape of a story formed. A book, I thought. Then someone came along and said, "What about a film?"

So a film it became first - A303: Highway To The Sun. The book is having to wait.

I spent 20 years with BBC radio news, never having anything to do with TV. I was a words man, didn't understand pictures. Still don't, really.

The experience was gruelling, far more so than I'd expected.

For one thing, filming was in February and it was marrow-freezingly cold. For another, I had to drive a 1968 Morris Traveller.

The Morris is the real star of the show. It took me right back, because it was the first car I ever drove on a regular basis.

It's happiest at 50 miles per hour or under, which can be awkward on a dual carriageway, and the wing mirrors are at the far end of the bonnet, which means that the only way you can see anything in them is to stop and get out.

All in all, talking to a camera and driving wasn't the easiest thing.

Rather fun, though. As was singing in a pub with a pair of ram's horns on my head. And talking road-kill with the country's leading expert on the subject (if you ask me nicely I'll give you the recipe for fox casserole).

And I learned a lot, both about the mysterious world of television, and about the road. My road, as I've come to think of it.

Not my film, though. That belongs to John Holdsworth, who directed it. A man of heroic - almost inhuman - patience and dedication. I used to imagine documentary makers as precious, arty types. Not any more.

Tom Fort is the presenter of A303: Highway To The Sun.

A303: Highway To The Sun is on BBC Four at 9pm and BBC HD at 10.30pm on Thursday, 19 May.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.