A34/Winchester - Oxford/route
Section 1.1: Winchester – Newbury
For such a high-speed road the A34 doesn't start very well. The Winnall Interchange (J9) of the M3 and the start of the A34) is the usual story of a major road ploughing in to an under-capacity signal-controlled roundabout junction, with signs instructing northbound traffic to "use both lanes" for the A34. Rush hour queues are common. On the southbound carriageway is a works unit and the northbound side has clearway signs with a plate beneath reading "for 63 miles" - that's the entire length of this section!
After this traffic (which comes in large surges due to the traffic lights) is pumped on to the narrow and poorly-aligned Winchester Bypass (originally the A33, now mostly consumed by the M3). Only 300 yards after the roundabout we're told that actually for the A34 you need the left-hand lane, as the right one becomes the A33 to Basingstoke. This ridiculous situation can be justified only by pointing out that this was once was the exit for all Southampton-London traffic, although today even Basingstoke traffic would use the M3, leaving a deserted right-hand lane.
The junction itself is a large crossover-fork with a 60 mph limit, with the southbound side becoming 50 after the junction. After this the A34 begins its uneventful, narrow, two-lane crawl north. Three miles after the M3 junction there are signs on the southbound side to warn of tailbacks from the congested junction. The Winchester Bypass ends at the first junction, the B3420, at a trumpet interchange. The old road runs alongside to the right, as the mid-1980s Sutton Scotney bypass begins. The A34 then carries on up a slight hill where a large concrete water tower comes into view and then on pass the Sutton Scotney services, which was once meant to be a sign of new, grand things for A-road services and is now a Little Chef in an oversized building.
The next junction is Bullington Cross, where it meets the A303. This used to be a large roundabout which was grade-separated into its strange mish-mash fashion when the A303 was improved eastwards. In the middle of the junction sits the Bullington Cross pub, which closed in 2008 and has since been demolished and was probably the reason for the junction being shaped the way it is. The signs on the northbound carriageway can change to tell traffic the road ahead is closed, although it's not known why.
The road begins to open out a bit here as it is now on an online upgrade. There is a dip where two culs-de-sac at Tufton join, marking the only break in the road's barriers. There is also a pedestrian crossing (which has warning signs on the approach) and a bus stop here, although the good views mean that traffic speeds are often high. The limited-access junction with the B3400 appears next, which enables you to enter Whitchurch and follow the old route of the road once again. After Whitchurch the road goes through a steep sided cutting which was once the route of a railway from Newbury to Winchester. The road used to be a marvellous red colour here, an old colour tarmac you don't see any more. From here it's back to the online upgrade as you pass the junction for Beacon Hill and Highclere Castle – a good climb if you're up to it!
From here the road climbs slightly until you reach the start of the Newbury Bypass at the Tot Hill junction, which is a half-teardrop, half-dumbbell affair with adjacent service station.
Section 1.2: Newbury – Abingdon
We follow the Newbury Bypass past the A343 junction, which they don't seem to want to tell you about. Then on round and up to the A4 junction. Despite being a fairly new road, these junctions aren't built to a very high standard, with each one featuring tight bends and short acceleration lanes. The old A4 probably didn't justify a roundabout above the A34 either. We then start downhill and head beneath a fairly impressive bridge before meeting the old route A34 and the end of the bypass. The northbound A339 joins through the old A34 bridge under a minor road and the A34 gets a brand new one.
Here the road sees a bit of excitement as it becomes D4 for the brief section running up to the M4 at Chieveley, which is now bypassed by no longer making the A34 dive to the east to meet the roundabout like it used to.
The next section is the 25-odd miles up to Oxford through Berkshire. It initially bypasses Chieveley and then East Ilsley, the latter is a mid-1960s road with several twists and turns and a few residential properties. Past East Ilsley we climb the steep hill (10%) up to the Ridgeway and Chilton. Climbing lanes were considered here, but a study resulted in several warning signs being placed there instead.
On the other side of Chilton Hill we encounter the A4185 junction, which marks the start of the offline improvements as the road approaches Oxford and gets noticeably busier. The first sightings of the cooling towers of Didcot power station come into view now on your right as you travel north. We pass the junction with the A4130 to Didcot at a busy roundabout known as the Milton Interchange and then pass over the mainline railway from Paddington to Bristol and Wales. On the northbound side an unofficial lay-by, once a temporary access point, marks the start of the Abingdon Bypass.
Section 1.3: Abingdon – Wendlebury
The next junction is a roundabout with the A415 at Abingdon: you can leave here to go off up to Witney and the A40 (not a route I'd recommend) or east to Dorchester and the old A423. We then pass the limited access A4183 junction with its north-facing sliproads. Once through a short wooded section we encounter Oxford for the first time, starting with signs advising you to park-and-ride. The next junction is a roundabout called the Hinksey Hill Interchange, where it meets the A423 (from here it's signed as "(A4144)", which actually makes a little sense as the A423 is a disjointed mess). This junction marks the point where the A34 becomes part of the Oxford Ring Road. The "Dreaming Spires" are visible to the right.
We now enter the major bottleneck of Botley (or North/South Hinksey), where the village was expanded around the A34 in the 1950s. Today the road is narrow with several right-angled exits, bus stops and a 50 mph limit. It is also fenced in for much of the route to reduce the noise, creating a nightmare for any potential (but unlikely) improvements to the road. A roundabout with the A420 is next, marking the end of the 50 section (even though Botley is long gone), the A420 offering to take you to Swindon or the city centre.
Moving north we now head over the Wolvercote Viaduct, which passes over various rivers, a railway line and the A44. The viaduct is narrow and another problem for improving the road, although it is currently being replaced as part of a five-year roadwork project. Immediately afterwards comes the Peartree Interchange with its service station, another one which was meant to be a lot more. Previously the A34 would have dived off to the left here – see the former section and this section's history.
We leave the ring road behind here, and begin to bypass Kidlington and Gosford, which is where the former A43 joins us. The next section is the early-1990s dash up to the M40, built on top of the former A43. This very busy section carries on for around 6 miles up the motorway, with regular countdown Route Confirmation Signs. It used to have a noisy concrete surface but is now smooth tarmac . This section also veers east to try to finish the job quickly. We pass the B4027 of double-numbering fame and the B430 to Weston-on-the-Green at two simple interchanges, and also pass our final service area at Family Farm.
The former A43 left at Weston-on-the-Green, and we are now on the former A421. Despite being ruler-straight, the road begins to slow down as we approach the Wendlebury Interchange, J9 of the M40, another flat roundabout. Traffic wishing to continue north can use either lane, the left one being a half-hearted filter lane onto the M40 northbound. Opposite is the A41 to Bicester.