|To:||Easton, Portland (SY691718)|
|Distance:||53.2 miles (85.6 km)|
|Meets:||A338, B3081, A350, B3082, B3142, A35, B3147, A353, B3159, B3157, B3155, B3154, B3153, B3156, unclassified|
|Former Number(s):||A37, B3154|
|Old route now:||B3159|
|Route outline (key)|
The A354 is a primary road that runs southwest between Salisbury and the coast at Weymouth and Portland. Formerly the main road from the Channel port towards London, the route north of Dorchester has in more recent times been superseded by the A31, but it still remains primary as a cross-county road. Its route has barely changed in over two centuries, as can be seen with almost every 18th-century milestone still at the road's edge, still readable at 60 mph.
Salisbury – Puddletown
The road starts at a set of traffic lights on the A338 immediately south of a triangular roundabout with the A3094 south of Salisbury city centre. A354 traffic wanting the A338 away from Salisbury needs to do a full circuit of this roundabout. Passing through another roundabout, the road strikes southwest onto Cranborne Chase. From Coombe Bissett it approximates Ackling Dyke for a couple of miles, a Roman road between Old Sarum and Badbury Rings near Wimborne. We shortly reach the border with Hampshire where the road, for no evident reason, becomes a two-lane dual carriageway with a tree-lined central reservation. On the left is Martin Down nature reserve and the Bokerley Ditch. Not long before the Dorset border the road becomes single carriageway again. This means there is three miles of isolated main road in Hampshire's network, which led to the road not being gritted during the heavy snow in early 2009 causing major delays.
In Dorset, we pass the small villages of Pentridge and Woodyates and arrive at a large, forested roundabout with the B3081. The next few miles of the route are the most scenic as we run along the edge of Cranborne Chase, giving views of the Blackmore Vale to the west. This section of road is dead-straight through Cashmoor to Tarrant Hinton. To the right is Pimperne Longbarrow, the remains of a Bronze-Age village, whilst the friendly no entry signs to the left denote the service entrance to Blandford Camp army base, home of the Royal School of Signals. (Trivia: the Camp’s perimeter road hosted a Formula 2 Grand Prix for a few seasons in the late 1940s.) We descend into Pimperne, make a deceptively tight left turn, and run down to the edge of Blandford.
Here is the first deviation from the historical route since Salisbury. The A354 turns sharp left at a roundabout and multiplexes with the southeastbound A350 - although that road seems more important, it's the A354 that keeps its number. The bypass, opened in 1982, flies over the other access to Blandford Camp and crosses the B3082 at a roundabout. The A354 carries the A350 over the Stour to Blandford St Mary, as it always used to within Blandford, and continues its southwesterly course. It passes through Thornicombe into Winterborne Whitechurch, and thence to Milborne St Andrew, where the road has difficulty squeezing through the village square. In 2005 village residents dressed as police officers and pointed hairdryers at oncoming vehicles in an attempt to slow them; nowadays the square is guarded by flashing “30” roundels. We continue past Basan Hill, and visible on the horizon is the Hardy Monument tower near Portesham, about 12 miles away. The A354 used to continue into Puddletown but since 1999 it has met a realigned B3142 at Northbrook Interchange, a dumbbell junction with the A35, which multiplexes with it for the next seven miles, initially dual.
Dorchester – Portland
The A354 reappears at a roundabout south of Dorchester, next to the town's football stadium. The first three miles follow the Roman port road, but on the descent from the Ridgeway the old road wound in a hairpin so tight it was given an advisory 15 mph limit, passing first over then under the railway line (the latter with a rather low headroom that is signed for miles around). After Upwey and Broadwey it reaches the start of Weymouth Way, the first phase of a bypass of Dorchester Road and a relatively smooth road with a few roundabouts. The second phase of the bypass, the Weymouth Relief Road, started construction in late 2008, nearly two decades after the first phase opened to traffic. This new road passes to the east of Upwey and Broadwey, meeting a diverted A353. As part of the works the Ridgeway hairpin has been removed.
At the end of Weymouth Way we meet the former A353 (now B3155) heading towards the town centre and seafront at Swannery Bridge over the river Wey. The road from here is very bendy and suburban, but completely unbypassable due to the closeness to the harbour. After traversing the areas of Rodwell and Wyke Regis, the road crosses Ferry Bridge and flies down Chesil Beach with the sea on either side to reach the fabulous not-quite-Isle of Portland. The road winds its way up the hill through Fortuneswell's one-way system. The streets here are very close and Mediterranean-like (Thomas Hardy once described Portland as “the Gibraltar of Wessex”). Beyond here we reach the hamlet of Grove, and then Easton, at whose village square the A354 classification ends. But to all intents and purposes the road continues for another couple of miles (bizarrely, with clearway restrictions) until it reaches a mini-roundabout with only one exit beside the lighthouse at Portland Bill, where the land drops spectacularly into the sea on all sides. It's not possible to go further south in England without detouring via Exeter.
The original 1922 route of the A354 only ran from the A350 in Salisbury to the A35 in Puddletown. The road from Dorchester south to Fortuneswell (but not the continuation to Easton) was originally classified A37, which makes more sense geometrically - but it was renumbered in 1935 to give the London route a more consistent number.
The road between Fortuneswell and Easton was originally the B3154. This road kept its number in 1935 and remained as the southern extension of the A354 until at least the 1970s before being upgraded. This section of road then remained the only non-primary part of the A354 until it turned green in the 2010s. The current southern end of the A354, in Easton Square, remains the same place as the end of the B3154.