This is our third rather pointless exploration of the starting points of five major trunk roads.
A4 London to Bath (103 miles, originally the Great West Road)
The A4 used to start in the same place as the A3, terrorist paranoia in the City of London has beheaded this first mile from the route, forcing the A4 to retreat to the edge of the City beyond a miserable security checkpoint cordon. And now the Great West Road starts somewhere rather less glamorous.
Six roads meet at Holborn Circus, which is now little more than complicated junction overlooked by the only equestrian statue of Prince Albert to be found in London. The new route chosen for the A4 follows the most insignificant of these roads, a tiny street squeezed in between a branch of Lloyds Bank and Sainsbury head office. This is New Fetter Lane, which leads before very long to the similarly quiet and narrow Fetter Lane. At the junction of the two stands London’s only cross-eyed statue, a memorial to 18th-century libertarian John Wilkes.
We turn right into Fleet Street passing Temple Bar, where traitors heads were once displayed in spikes and the westernmost extent of the Great Fire of London.
Comply King Charles Statue
L/By Cockspur Street
B/L Pall Mall
R St. James’s Street
F Piccadilly Underpass
F Hyde Park Corner
B/L Brompton Road
F Cromwell Gardens
F Cromwell Road
F West Cromwell Road
F Talgarth Road
F Hammersmith Flyover
F West Cromwell Road
5-mile ends at approximately Hogarth Roundabout. Should you be travelling down the A4 approaching the Hogarth Roundabout from the east you probably will be unaware that just yards from the racetrack that this stretch of road becomes during the evening rush hour, that you reluctantly find yourself driving along while following this post, is an oasis of calm.
This small backwater (I use the word advisedly) has been the enclave of choice for artists to reside for over 200 years. One property, Walpole House was once a school which William Thackeray was a boarder. It provided the setting for Miss Pinkerton’s Seminary for Young Ladies, where Becky Sharp fatefully made the acquaintance of Amelia Sedley in Vanity Fair.
But take care, the Thames floods the road, the houses have high front walls, surmounted with perspex panels.
A5 London to Holyhead (270 miles, originally Watling Street)
The A5 begins at the site of the Tyburn Tree – London’s popular spot for public executions during more than six centuries. More than fifty thousand criminals were hung here, originally from the branches of a tree beside the Tyburn river but later from a purpose-built wooden tripod of death. A memorial to these notorious gallows is paved into a traffic island at the very bottom of the Edgware Road.
The most famous landmark in the vicinity today is Marble Arch, originally designed by John Nash as a triumphant entrance to Buckingham Palace but moved to its existing location when the palace was extended in 1851.
Like the A2, the A5 follows the Roman road of Watling Street, of which this is the start of the northern section. The road from Marble Arch to the edge of the suburbs is the longest straight line in London, never once deviating to left or right for a full twenty miles. The first mile is a cosmopolitan shopping street, although probably not one you’d go out of your way to visit. Unless you were Lebanese, that is. There’s a distinctly Arabian flavour to the very bottom of the A5 – perfect for stocking up on pomegranates, using your Bank of Kuwait cashpoint card or smoking aromatic tobacco out of some mysterious piped bottle.
F Maida Vale
F Kilburn High Road
F Shoot Up Hill
F Cricklewood Broadway
F Edgware Road
F Hendon Broadway
F The Hyde
5-mile ends approximately here, and look, I’m sorry to have dragged you out here, but there is nothing of interest in Colindale.