John Betjeman's poem "Meditation on the A30" is about a man who is fuming at his wife and driving recklessly. Everything described in the poem itself is fairly universal, could take place anywhere, so I'm wondering whether there's anything significant in the A30 specifically as the choice of setting.

The A30, also known as the Great South West Road, is the third longest road in Britain, the main route from London to the South West, to Cornwall, and ultimately all the way to Land's End. But why did Betjeman decide to use it in the title of his poem? Did this road have some particular significance in his life, perhaps?


1 Answer 1


Betjeman fell in love with Cornwall as a child and visited at least yearly until his death. As you say, the road links London and Cornwall: he spent a lot of his life on it.
The geography of Devon and Cornwall dictates transport routes: with coasts to north, south and west, the A30 is the main route in and out. When you live in such a place the main connector is something you develop quite a visceral love/hate relationship with. This is more pronounced before roads are upgraded to dual carriageway and motorway.

I live in the Highlands and can attest to this kind of relationship with the A9, it both connects us and divides us from the rest of the country, it is a character in our story. For the A9 this can be seen reflected in the role it plays in works by those who rely on it, Michel Faber in Under The Skin, Ian Rankin in Standing in Another Man’s Grave, Christopher Brookmyre in Boiling a Frog and in Black Widow.... and so I suspect it is with Betjeman and the A30, it is the road he knows like the back of his hand.

Interestingly he presumably wrote about it at least in passing before he meditated on it poetically.

The Shell Guides were developed by Betjeman and Jack Beddington, a friend who was publicity manager with Shell-Mex Ltd, to guide Britain's growing number of motorists around the counties of Britain and their historical sites. They were published by the Architectural Press and financed by Shell. By the start of World War II 13 had been published, of which Cornwall (1934) and Devon (1936) were written by Betjeman.

-- Wikipedia

  • Yep, I suspected it might be something like that. I've travelled up and down the A30 many times; the A38 and A303 give it a run for its money along much of its length, but in most of Cornwall it's definitely the major road. (I also know the A9 very well from my time in Scotland, including a couple of years in a house overlooking it.) Makes sense that a poet who travelled a lot between London and Cornwall would write about the A30 at some point.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 7, 2018 at 2:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.