Remembering the fearful A3 drive

Today's A3 heading through the Butser Hill cutting.

Today's A3 heading through the Butser Hill cutting.

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I wonder how many of you driving up the A3 through Butser Hill cutting can remember when it was not a trunk road driven between two chalk banks, but a fearful drive over the South Downs?

Heading south, the climb over the top from the railway bridge at the junction of Greenway Lane – the junction for Buriton – was about 200ft.

The old A3's central reservation.

The old A3's central reservation.

If you talked of going to London in wintry weather you always thought ‘will I get over Butser?’

When the chalk from the hill was cut away and taken to Portsmouth to build the A27, M27 and M275 in the late 1960s and early 70s, a new road was laid out at the bottom of the hill. Overnight one of the worst roads for travelling on in winter was wiped from the map.

Mind you, even on fine summer days the traffic

was nose-to-tail all the way from Petersfield to Horndean.

Driving north, one can see the former road is to the left and now part of the drive into the Queen Elizabeth Country Park car park.

This curve was what was once called Cannonball Corner and you can still see it complete with cats’ eyes, although the road is now redundant.

As a child I was told that if the driver of a stagecoach did not hold back the horses when galloping down the hill the coach would gather so much speed and, not being able to take the bend, ‘cannon-balled’ off the edge of the road, down the slope and into a field.

Being a bit gullible I believed this story until I heard that it got its name from the driver of a wagonload of cannonballs being delivered to Portsmouth Dockyard. He lost control, went off the edge and ever since it was named Cannonball Corner.

Whatever the story, the corner is now just a memory and the new road was laid out in what is now a valley through the downs.

Further south of the bend, the remains of the former A3 passes the Hampshire Hog pub to the west and drops down to join the present A3.

Until the Clanfield interchange was built some 25 years ago the A3 was this minor road.

When I took my daughter up to the pub, I asked her what this country lane might have been. She didn’t know and when I told her it was once the main arterial road to London from Portsmouth she was astounded.

What would have happened if the road had not been rebuilt to cope with modern traffic can only be guessed.

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