Not many roads in the UK get a book to themselves, but the main holiday route from London to the sunny southwest is an exception.
A303, Highway to the Sun by Matthew Fort is actually a good read, especially if it brings back childhood memories. One thing that comes out loud and clear, though, is the dearth of decent eateries on the road. So you need to head off the highway. And where better than the pretty little town of Somerton, ancient capital of Wessex but, more importantly, the birthplace of Diesel Car. If you fancy a real ale pub with decent food, the Halfway House at nearby Pitney has been CAMRA pub of the year, and in the town itself, the White Hart has gone from lacklustre to cool since its recent reincarnation as a country-chic gastropub. It can be hard to get an evening table, but lunchtimes are fine.
The makeover is well done and it’s a lovely place to relax in, with friendly staff. The old rooms have been opened up around the central bar, giving separate spaces with their own character – fireside sofas and armchairs, cosy bistro feel, or a larger, more restauranty room, plus a courtyard garden. There’s a good range of local beers and ciders (of course), plus out-of-the-ordinary soft drinks for drivers, but no cheap lunchtime deals: you’ll pay around £6 or a starter or pud, £12 to £20 for a main. That’s expensive for Somerset, and the food we had didn’t live up to the prices (undercooked tempura; overcooked crab cakes; drab ham, egg and fried mash), but others have praised it, so maybe it was the chef’s day off.
There’s on-street parking outside, or a free car park 100 yards away. The town is just four miles off the A303, which you leave at the Podimore roundabout near Ilchester – take the A372, then right onto the B3151 to Somerton.
The White Hart
Market Place, Somerton TA11 7LX
Telephone 01458 272273
Opening hours 9am to 11pm