The Outsider and family dropped in on friends in Farnham to see in the New Year, and to blow the cobwebs away we all went for a New Year’s Day walk around the Devil’s Punch Bowl (DPB). The DPB is a naturally occurring phenomenon, a dip and valley created long ago by a spring, now all but dried up. It’s a beautiful area but until recently was best known by drivers as a major bottleneck on the A3 at Hindhead. Not only was the road famous for traffic jams but it carved its way right around the lip of the DPB itself, a noisy and polluting eyesore for anyone who visited the area to wonder at the beauty of nature.
That all changed on 29th July 2011 when a four mile stretch of dual carriageway road was opened that bypassed both Hindhead and its notorious traffic-light controlled crossroads, and the DPB itself. The final solution wasn’t cheap, and the controversial decision to build a 1.2 mile tunnel with all the extra expense entailed, meant that both the time to take the decision and the time to build were long. But finished and open it now is, and what a change to the environment and to journeys along the A3.
Bypasses often get a bad press. When the A34 Newbury bypass was being built protesters camped out in trees and in tunnels they had dug themselves to try to stop construction. When the M3 Winchester bypass was being planned there were howls of complaint about the impact of carving a deep cutting through the chalk hills. My old home town of Salisbury has been waiting for a proper bypass for over 20 years and is no closer to having a route agreed. But the A3 Hindhead bypass looks to me to be a wonderful example of how it is possible to get things right. I’m not saying the bypass is without environmental impact, I’m sure there is some. But here’s a case where, in order to restore a natural area to nature, even the old road has been ploughed up and will be grassed over. The DPB itself is now peaceful, the only noise is that of families enjoying the countryside. And the National Trust (who own the land) are planning to restore grazing to the area too. So, 10/10 to the planners and road builders.
Whilst walking round the PWB I turned on Google Maps on the iPhone to see how the site looked. I thought that maybe it showed the bypass being built, so I could see where I was in comparison to the roadworks. What I was not prepared for was to be shown the old A3 still where it used to be, going round the lip of the DPB with not the slightest sign of the new(ish) bypass. Maybe it was a phone thing I thought. Maybe they just hadn’t updated the database for iPhone use. But on the web version it’s just the same (see left – link here but may have been updated now). Five months after the bypass was opened Google still haven’t caught up. And if you’re using the Google Android SatNav application, is that wrong too? If you want to navigate your way to Guildford, where will it try to take you – along the ploughed field?
For SatNav I use a TomTom stand-alone unit without the live updates, and I expect to have some roads that are out of date, after all I don’t pay money to download new versions very often. But we are normally spoon-fed with the mantra that using cloud-based apps is much better as the information is always kept up to date. I think companies making that claim need to deliver on the promise too!
p.s. Before Christmas I bought a new AA road atlas (2012 version) and guess what – it has the new road marked! Paper >> Google
p.p.s. Bing’s no better – see here