Stealing the view

From the Guardian: a letter and an article about Stonehenge

I’m sure you’ve all heard of Stonehenge - a ring of ancient standing stones, on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, which you see by the side of the road down to Devon. The area is one of the few remaining bits of two-lane on the road, and it’s been kept that way because having a big dual carriageway so close to the stones would knock them down. Three months ago, the government decided not to build a tunnel for the A303 highway; this past week, the Tesco supermarket company announced that they intended to build a huge depot, the “MegaShed”, on the west side of Andover, with a fifth of its traffic going west, past Stonehenge.

Jonathan Jones, writing last Tuesday, supported the tunnel; the site and its environs are presently divided between two heritage bodies, English Heritage and the National Trust, and the vista leading up to it is cut in half by another major road. The letter in today’s paper alleges that the plan would have stolen the view that anyone travelling that route enjoyed for free, “in order to package it up as heritage experience and sell it back to us”.

My memory of Stonehenge is of stopping there on the way back from Devon one summer, and of really not wanting to stop (I must have been about five years old, or at least not much older) and wanting to get off back home. My favourite roadside view is closer to home - the Devil’s Punch Bowl in Surrey, otherwise known as Hindhead Common, on the A3 down to Portsmouth. You can find where that is on any decent map - it’s that kink in the A3 between Guildford and Petersfield, where the wide road turns into a winding lane through some woods, and before you opens up this, well, giant green bowl in the ground. It’s spectacular, and when we went down to Portsmouth when I was a child, that was much more memorable for me than the old ships at Portsmouth. It’s best seen from a coach, because you’ll be above the bushes which partly obscure the view from a car.

However, they have already got round to bypassing that view, by building a big tunnel through the hillsides to the west. They even intend to close the present route to traffic, so the coaches will not be able to use the old route in order to serve Hindhead; people needing to get to Hindhead, or off the A3 down to Farnham, will have to go to the far end of Hindhead village and back in on themselves. Apparently there are other users of the road who are inconvenienced by the large volume of traffic, and not everyone going down to Portsmouth appreciates being caught in the jams that “pinch point” on the A3 causes, but it was actually built as the London to Portsmouth road. It’s called Portsmouth Road, as is most of the A3 or old A3 that side of Kingston. Even if they by-pass it, why can’t they just drop the speed limit and keep it open for the lesser volume of traffic that goes to Hindhead and Farnham, so that people can continue to enjoy one of the most spectacular natural views in the south-east?

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