|Distance:||60 miles (96.6 km)|
|Meets:||A4, A39, A361, A303, A30, A35|
|Old route now:||A356, A354|
|Route outline (key)|
The A37 nearly forms a coast-to-coast route in the West Country. It is wholly primary.
Bristol - Rush Hill
The road starts on the A4 near Temple Meads station in Bristol, at the "Three Lamps" junction – so called because of the historic signpost standing there, which has three lamps at the top and hands pointing to "BATH" and "WELLS". It's still called the Wells Road, and signed "Wells (A39), Yeovil A37". It crosses the A4174 Outer Ring Road in Hengrove at Traffic Lights, and then there's a stretch of dual carriageway, after which it leaves the boundaries of Bristol and comes out into what is now Bath and North East Somerset. At the same time, we pass from Whitchurch (Suburb of Bristol) into Whitchurch (Somerset village).
As we head south, the road is fairly hilly, and there are several stretches with an extra lane for traffic going uphill. However, recently some of these such as Hursley Hill have had the overtaking lane hatched out, with the extreme measure of double-white lining too. At Belluton, the B3130 joins from the west and then we pass through the village of Pensford, fairly close to the stone circles at Stanton Drew. Pensford is dominated by the old railway viaduct built by the GWR for their north Somerset coalfield lines. The road climbs out of the village on 'New Road', a Victorian realignment to ease the gradient of the hill. The next significant junction is with the A368 at a roundabout. This junction used to be known as Chelwood Bridge, and had a 4-way set of traffic lights over the top of a disused railway line; fortunately they've gone now. The road continues south though Clutton and Temple Cloud. The latter place is a new village developed alongside the new Turnpike Road at the end of the 18th Century, leaving the old Parish Church at Cameley almost alone in a farmyard.
At White Cross, the A39 joins from the left, and multiplexes with us as we continue south to Farrington Gurney, where there's a junction with the A362. Then the road climbs up Rush Hill, which bends gradually round to the right until you reach Rush Hill junction, which is a TOTSO. If you continue straight on you'll find yourself on the A39 to Wells (this explains why the road is known as the Wells Road in Bristol); we shall bear off to the left to continue on the A37.
Rush Hill - Yeovil
The road continues through the pretty village of Ston Easton and then climbs up onto the Mendip Plateau. At Old Down, we cross the B3139 at a staggered crossroads and then drop down into Gurney Slade (The sign at Gurney Slade oddly says "Binegar (Gurney Slade)"; Binegar is a neighbouring village.) Near Oakhill the B3135 joins from the west, and then the road swings round to the east climbing 'Long Hill' as an easier alternative to Old Bristol Road. Halfway up the A367 joins from the left, and then we meet another important junction, with the unclassified Old Frome Road. This is a high quality S2 route linking Wells with Nunney, and so bypassing Shepton.
At Downside the B3136 turns left into Shepton Mallet. (Historically this was the A37 and at this point an old sign along the A37 used to say "Shepton Mallet by-pass".) After passing Showerings Babycham factory, we reach the A361 at Charlton Crossroads. Depending on the inclination of the transport authorities at the time, this is either a branch into the town centre, or the mainline which then multiplexes with us as we continue south.
Cannard's Grave is a complex junction with two fairly new roundabouts. The first sees us meet the A371 and Fosse Lane - the one-time A361. All three roads then multiplex south along a standard S2 road past the Cannard's Grave Inn to the second roundabout. Here the A371 turns off to Evercreech, while the A361 sticks with us for another 300 m, before tunring right to Glastonbury at a normal give-way junction. It seems very wrong that so many important routes should be handled by such low grade roads and junctions, but it seems to work most of the time!
The next section of the road follows the route of the Roman Fosse Way for the next 9 miles, and is almost completely straight. The only deviation from the Roman Road is as we climb up Pylle Hill and descend Wraxall Hill, where the gradient has been slightly eased. We pass through Street on the Fosse, Wraxall and Lydford-on-Fosse, and then there's a kink between Babcary and Charlton Adam (don’t know why this is). After another 2 miles, we come out at the large Podimore Roundabout which meets the A303 and A372. At this point the original A37 seems to have disappeared entirely, although the Fosse is still traceable in the landscape! We need to head along the A303 Ilchester bypass for a couple of miles, then come off at a trumpet junction which takes us round the southern edge of Ilchester to a roundabout where we meet the B3151.
The next section is also fairly straight, passing the notorious blackspot at the Chilthorne Domer junction, and goes into Yeovil. As we enter the town, we cross over a roundabout, before dropping down an ancient Holloway into suburbia. The next roundabout sees the A359 from Frome join from the east and the former A3088 Preston Road to the west. There’s then a short dual carriageway down to the A30 Queensway, bypassing the centre of Yeovil. We turn right at the next roundabout and multiplex along the A30 along the Queensway to the Pen Hill roundabout, where the modern route of the A3088 turns left along Lysander Road. We stay with the A30 as we climb the steep, narrow S2 Hendford Hill, but at the top of the hill the two routes split and we head south once more, towards Dorset.
Yeovil - Dorchester
Before we cross the county boundary, however, we have to negotiate the newish roundabout for the Rugby Club, cross the railway line on a sweeping bend and navigate through the new junction at Prowles Cross. We then pass into Dorset and onto another straightish stretch, though some beautiful countryside, and with almost no villages en route; you don't hit another settlement until Grimstone, just after the A356 junction a few miles north-west of Dorchester. Before that, however, we must travel the stunning ridge road that the A37 is, with half of Dorset laid out before us. There are some hills, but most have climbing lanes and the bends are generally wide and sweeping. It is small wonder that the average speed for a car along this road used to be nearer 90 than 60. After we drop down the hill to Grimstone, we pass through a narrow tree-lined section, and onto the short dual carriageway that forms Stratton Bypass. The A352 joins from the left near Charminster, and then after a roundabout there's a section of bypass to the west of Dorchester which links up with the A35, where our road ends. Much of this stretch is dominated by two eras of Man's urban development. To the south, ahead of us, is the historic Maiden Castle Iron Age Hill fort, occupied for many centuries until the Normans arrived, and to our left is Poundbury, Prince Charles' vision of a new town on the edge of Dorchester.
In 1922, the A37 originally continued through Weymouth to Portland, but this part of the road was renumbered to an extension of the A354 in 1935. This was done to reflect the most popular flow of traffic after it was discovered more people visited Portland from the Home Counties (via the A30 and the rest of the A354) than from Bristol or Somerset.
Prior to WWII the route across the Dorset Downs between between Folly Hill and Frampton was a rough stone track little changed from Roman times. This was widened and metalled by the US Army prior to D-Day to enable traffic to more easily the south coast ports. Before that, the A37 ran via Maiden Newton, not the direct Roman route across the hilltop; the A356 east of Maiden Newton used to be the A37.