Wednesday, 28 March 2012

My Favourite Road

...splits from the Oxford ringroad just north of Wolvercote, and strikes northwest into the fecund Oxfordshire countryside. It passes through the delightful Woodstock, a village in the shadow of the mighty Blenheim Palace. The distant facade of this World Heritage Site can be glimpsed briefly as you drive past, built by Vanbrugh for the triumphant Duke of Marlborough and his pushy Duchess Sarah, generators of the legendary Churchill family. A few miles along, you pass through Enstone, with its picturesque riverside pub on the right, the very epitome of pastoral charm.
Swing left then right through Chipping Norton, just missing its market square, steeped in oolite richness. This ubiquitous limestone lets you know that you've arrived in the Cotswolds, and in a few miles you skim Warwickshire before passing into Gloucestershire.
The road twists through Moreton In Marsh, another evocative name, where your journey crosses the old Foss Way, the Roman road from Exeter to Lincoln and a one-time border of Brittania, and climbs steeply up to Bourton On The Hill. The road from Stow On The Wold joins at an acute angle, and on the ridge above Broadway, as you enter Worcestershire, you are treated to one of the finest views in England. The Vale of Evesham sweeps below you, the Malverns defiantly rising in the distance, the high ground of Powys visible on the skyline where the falling sun will later bathe the view in orange and scarlet. Wind down the ridge, bypass Broadway, move toward Evesham. Here it is best to leave the road for a while to take the A4084 through the busy Abbey village of Pershore, before speeding around the Worcester bypass. Below, the Severn floodplain stretches. I remember a severe Winter, transforming these fields into a lake, as the confluence of the Severn and the Teme rose and swallowed all but the steadfast trees on the field boundaries. Glance right to see the Gothic tower of Worcester Cathedral, resting place of the illfated Arthur Tudor and the much derided King John.
Back on the road as it heads west, to Broadwas, the Malverns looming on the left and Elgar's birthplace to the right. Our great composer, now usurped on our currency by a Scottish economist. The road peaks, dips, veers and twists and bisects the western part of Bromyard, the small town where I once had a great meal at an Irish themed pub, and through which I was travelling a few years back at the moment my divorce was granted.
Through to Leominster, its church reflecting on past importance in medieval times, then a clean run through to the rounded peaks of the Radnor Forest, the hills becoming crags, the half-timbered monochrome of Pembridge beckoning you into a different world. Cross the denuded border called Offa's Dyke, Croeso Y Gymru, the buzzard replaced by the infinite wheeling grace of the red kite, welcome to the stronghold of the Britons, welcome to the ancient land of the Ordovices and the Silures, welcome to Powys.
The A44. A perfunctory name for a road that is a journey through time, space and experience. Everyone should travel it as least once in their lives, just for the joy of seeing the landscape evolve and change before your eyes.

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