|To:||Bessels Leigh (SP450006)|
|Distance:||90.4 miles (145.5 km)|
|Meets:||A35, B3065, B3066, A347, A3049, A3060, B3073, A31, B3347, B3078, B3080, A354, A3094, A36, A30, A303, B3084, A3026, A342, A346, B3087, A4, M4, B4000, B4507, B4494, A417, A415, A420|
|Former Number(s):||A3052, A346, A345|
|Old route now:||B3347, A345, B3087|
|Route outline (key)|
The A338 starts off as the Bournemouth bypass, then becomes the Bournemouth link road and runs as a cross-country route via Salisbury, Hungerford and Wantage before joining the A420 a couple of miles outside of Oxford. As such, it links the south coast with Oxford, serving a similar purpose to the A34. Unfortunately, apart from the first part, it is a fairly poor route, and most traffic from the south coast northwards takes the A31/M27/M3/A34 route, contributing to the congestion on that route.
Section 1: Bournemouth – Salisbury
The A338 “Wessex Way” starts at the “County Gates Gyratory” system, a huge roundabout with the large (and at the time very innovative) Frizell House, home of a large insurance company. This is also the historic border between Hampshire and Dorset. The other major road here is the A35, which used to cross central Bournemouth, but now multiplexes with the A338 as a useless multiplex to the east of here.
The A338 immediately has a sharp right-hand bend and runs beside Bournemouth Traincare depot. This section of the road is built over the old Bournemouth West railway station and whilst wide enough for dual carriageway, starts off as single carriageway. After the first junction, with the B3066, the road becomes dual carriageway.
The A338 “Wessex Way” runs around the north of central Bournemouth passing over a valley on a high viaduct and then immediately entering a cutting for the grade-separated junction with the A347. The next junction is where the A35 turns off towards Christchurch, the New Forest and Southampton, and this is the only at-grade junction on the dual-carriageway section of the road. Passing the impressive, recently restored Bournemouth railway station, we start heading out of Bournemouth. At the junction with the A3060 “Castle Lane”, the road is no longer “Wessex Way”, and becomes the Bournemouth Spur Road.
The next seven miles to Ringwood is a wonderful road. Largely flat and straight, with only one (grade-separated) junction with the B3073 (for Bournemouth International Airport), this is a fast and rarely busy road largely through woodland. Several miles in the middle is built on the old Ringwood to Christchurch railway.
Unfortunately, this glorious road comes to an end at a junction with the A31. This used to be a roundabout junction, but in the early 1990s, it was grade separated - but only for the A31. The A338 multiplexes with the A31 for around a mile, which in the northerly direction is four lanes wide. Unfortunately, they seem to have run out of money when upgrading the road in the southerly direction which starts as two lanes and then halfway along suddenly gains a third lane, following a bit later by a fourth.
The A338 starts again at Ringwood at a roundabout with the A31 and B3347. The wonderful Bournemouth link road is offset by the poor road from Ringwood to Salisbury. This is a busy route, but starts off with a section of twisty road through small settlements, all with various speed restrictions. We finally come to Fordingbridge, which has been bypassed on a formation designed for dual carriageway, but with only a single carriageway actually built. We carry on through the towns of Breamore and Downton, before coming to the junction with the A354 and Salisbury.
Section 2: Salisbury – Bessels Leigh
The A338 skirts around Salisbury city centre before joining the A36, which takes its line. The A338 starts again on the northern outskirts of Salisbury after following the A36 and then A30 (incidentally, this is one of the few primary sections remaining on the A30 east of Honiton). The next 10 miles to the A303 is almost continuous strip-development with nine separate villages, several of which run into each other. Close to the road are the Porton Down chemical and biological weapons research facility and Boscombe Aerodrome, where experimental aircraft are tested.
After the junction with the A303, which is grade-separated, we come to the Army ranges on Salisbury plain, and the large army town of Tidworth – watch out for tanks crossing the road. North of Tidworth, we have a crossroads with the A342 and then a left turn where the A346 comes in from the right. After the villages of Collingbourne Ducis and Collingbourne Kingston we come to the town of Burbage. Here the main route north becomes the A346 and the A338 turns right, losing its primary status.
After a few miles of rolling downs, we come to Hungerford. Here the A338 multiplexes with the A4 for a few hundred yards before heading north again towards M4 junction 14. If heading north here, turn right onto the M4 for a few miles and pick up the A34.
The next 11 miles to Wantage is typical country A-road, passing through the scenic Lambourn Downs. In Wantage, the old A338 has been bypassed, so we need to take a short right dogleg to the A417 to pick it up again. The last nine miles to the A420 is almost dead flat, and as it is a Roman Road, very straight – a huge contrast to the previous 20 miles or so. We finally end up at a roundabout on the dual carriageway A420 near the hamlet of Bessels Leigh.So a road of contrasts: fast and glorious dual carriageway to twisty village streets to country lane over the downs. A road that starts off big but just peters out at the end.
The A338 originally started in Christchurch and ran along the east bank of the River Avon to Ringwood. When the Bournemouth link road was built in the late 1960s, this took over the A338 designation and the old road was renumbered as the B3347.
North of Salisbury, the routes get a bit complex. The A338 used to follow the route that is now the A345 from Salisbury to Pewsey and then the B3087 to Burbage, which explains the TOTSO there. What is now the A338 was originally the B3085 (soon upgraded to A3052) between Salisbury and the A303, then the A346 as far as Collingborne Dulcis, and then A345 to Burbage. The road received its current route in this area in 1935.
A route similar to that of the Bournemouth Spur Road was chosen in 1939, and due to start construction as a single carriageway with space for dualling. This would have cost £248,000 but was deferred due to the war. The modern road was designed in 1961, as part of a project to discourage traffic from accessing Bournemouth via the A35. Construction started in October 1967 and land removed here was taken to a sister project, the dualling of the A31 at Ashley Treening. The two projects were built by George Wimpey & Company for £2.17 million.