Since this page was written, the A34 Newbury Bypass has opened (17 November 1998). An update will eventually be forthcoming. (Yeah, right - Ed.)
OK, so the A34 is technically Winchester to Preston , but after they opened the M40 around 1990, they renumbered the A34 from Oxford to Birmingham to death (A44, to Evesham, then A3400), and now it's not really the same. The Birmingham to Preston bit is more or less intact, but I don't know it. Exercise for the reader to review it!
The A34 starts at J9 of the M3 going towards London and runs north/south. The roundabout where it starts also has exits to the A31, and the A272. We then go into a 50 mph speed limit which nearly everyone ignores, and the road splits. You can go to Basingstoke (A33, M3) to the right, or Newbury and the Midlands to the left. Conversely, going south, the A33 merges with the A34. North of this, the A34 limit is the national speed limit.
South of Newbury, the road is not all that exciting. It's dualled nearly all the way. There is a bizarrely confusing junction with the A303 near Micheldever which manages to avoid the conventional roundabout layout. There is also Sutton Scotney services, with the overpriced petrol and even more overpriced food that you would expect. There used to be signs to Corley and Hilton Park (which are service stations on the M6) here, as if most drivers intended hack a hundred miles through Newbury along the A34. The signs have thankfully been removed.
The real "fun" starts in Newbury. Approaching from the south (having passed "Whitway, Burghclere, Highclere, Kingsclere"), the road narrows to single carriageway and goes to 50 mph limits. You drive through a place called Newtown with driveways to houses on both sides (it must be lethal for the people who live there since there isn't a roundabout at both ends). Then we have the first of five roundabouts - the A339 to Basingstoke. The A34 continues up a hill with two lanes going north and one going south. The next roundabout is the Greenham Common one. It is much too small and has no rush hour traffic lights, so the southbound traffic (which merges from two lanes two one at this point) snarls up severely, and everyone has to break the roundabout protocol. Between the Greenham roundabout and the next most northerly one, the road is dualled. The limit then drops to 30 mph, and you go over the railway bridge to the penultimate roundabout. Some idiot decided this would be a good place to have a Sainsbury's, so they put traffic lights on the roundabout, making the already laughably bad problem worse. The limit then goes to 40 mph to the last roundabout, which isn't really a roundabout since part of it is blocked off. This is where the A34 crosses the A4, which has virtually no traffic but gets about equal priority. Thanks. Hint: try not to live or work in Newbury. It is Gridlock City. And it isn't because there is an unreasonable amount of traffic! It's the road... Exercise for the environmentalists - try to go north-south through Newbury by train. That's right, you can't!
If your radiator hasn't exploded, you are now back on a reasonable road. Three miles north of here is Chieveley services, which is also Junction 13 of the M4, although the services aren't considered to be on the motorway. North of Chieveley, you can find a pointless petrol station on the southbound carriageway (inaccessible going the other way). I don't understand why they are still in business. Signs to look out for northbound are: "The Midlands, Oxford 19" and "Oxford 17" (both near junctions with no-left-turn signs); southbound look for "(M4) 3, Services 3, Newbury 7".
North of Newbury, the road passes from Berkshire into Oxfordshire at "The Ridgeway". The interchanges then start to acquire names. The southernmost of these is the Milton Interchange. This goes to Steventon, Drayton, Milton, Didcot (A4130) going north, and to Milton, Chilton, Didcot, Wantage (A4130 (A417)) going south. (OK, so one of the southbound signs has the first two names swapped.) Just north of this is a sign "A34, Oxford 12, The Midlands". The road passes the famous Didcot cooling towers. The next major interchange is the Marcham Interchange. Leave here for Abingdon (A415) or Wantage (A338). Going north, look out for the signs "A34 (M40) Oxford 8, The Midlands" (the first sign to the M40 going north, which got knocked down but they replaced it with an identical one) and "A34 (M40) Oxford 5, the Midlands" quickly followed by "For Oxford please use Park and Ride". Next comes the Hinksey Hill Interchange, where the A34 starts being part of the Oxford Ring Road, hence all the "R" signs. Leave here going south for A423, A40, M40, and going north for A4144 to Oxford. Staying on the A34, you go through the Botley Interchange, which now thankfully has the 50mph limit back on it. The road going south has a narrow lane joining it at right angles right next to a bus stop; formerly this was in a 70 limit, with people doing 70, round a bend. Leave here for the A420 (Oxford, Swindon, Bristol).
The road continues with its delusions of "R"-hood until the Peartree Interchange, where it meets the A44 and the A40. There is a service station on the roundabout but it's not very exciting considering how big it is. The road should conceptually continue on the A44, but instead it ignores this and continues up to the Wendlebury interchange on what used to be called the A43, but now isn't. The signs now count down the miles to the motorway, as you pass opportunities to go to Family Farm services (formerly the last services before Birmingham) and the curiously accessible Middleton Stoney. On the southbound side, there are two service stations at Weston-on-the-Green, and the second one has amazingly cheap petrol. The road then slows down to the elevated roundabout that is the Wendlebury Interchange, J9 of the M40. The other side is A41 (to Wendlebury and Bicester). Just south of the roundabout there are side roads for lorries to hang out in. And then pull out of, dangerously. Southbound, look out for the sign "Oxford 8, Newbury 37, Swindon 38, Cheltenham 45, Southampton 74", followed by other contradictory signs to the same places (the Southampton measurements must be wrong on some of them! Someone has put a cross on one or two, but nothing has been done about it). Also look out for the southbound sign telling you there is no stopping for 63 miles! Thus endeth the A34, as such. But there's a slip road to the northbound M40, with no give ways on it, if you want to go further.
I feel inclined to write a bit more about the A34 Kidsgrove to Manchester bit. Mostly up to Alderley Edge, it's pretty decent: good old fashioned country road. Congleton's a bit of a pain, but they have improved that a lot recently. [Time of writing: October 2003.]
It's the bit from Aldreley that I feel deserves mention, as it's such a shockingly terrible road. Tiny road through the village for a major route (the bypass is due for completion in... 2007 I believe - originally due in 1996 or something). So you come to a roundabout and TOTSO onto the Wilmslow Bypass. Dual carriageway, so you start to relax and think - finally a decent road. Then you come to the first badly aligned roundabout. Then you pass a couple more in quick succession (rush hour congestion is not so pleasant). All day traffic chaos is caused by Hanforth Dean shopping centre. The third roundabout is the one with the ill fated A555 Manchester Airport Eastern Link Road, currently linking to nowhere and certainly not the airport (due for completion in 2010 but they said it was due for completion in the 1980s...). Another awful roundabout to follow - this is the one for another shopping area at Stanley Green, involving a B&Q. The roundabout sports sets of lights for nonexistent pedestrians (and why was a bridge such a problem?) and a ludicrous 30 limit brings the 70 to an end. Another roundabout follows, then finally a bit of dual carriageway - at 50mph with cameras. You come to the only underpass on this road for Cheadle Royal - but in the rush hours you have already hit the queue for the Gatley Road traffic lights by now (only place where the road is not interrupted by a roundabout is a congestion hot zone anyway). Gatley Road lights cause a queue, but it does move. Then you get the crazy massive monster junction for the M60 (and M56 if you are coming from the other side). The limit is now 40mph.
The road improves after this, although the area round the Parrs Wood Entertainment complex is a bit busy, with 3 sets of lights in about 200 yards. After that, you go on to the Kingway stretch. You drive along the road for about 10 minutes, and it literally does not change. There's about 6 sets of lights, at least one of which you are sure to have to stop at. It's a good stretch of road but deadly boring. The houses are all the same, the areas round all the junctions seem to all contain secondary shops that are identical.
Then you come to another dangerous bit. You have to go left and right at a couple of roundabouts to get round the other side of the railway line. These roundabouts (as if we've not already had enough of these, with 9 in 20-odd miles) are both marked with lots of lanes, but there is just not enough room for them under the railway arch. The two lanes from Kingsway stretch of the A34 are then thumped onto a single track road - just wide enough for two lanes on each side but it's a bit tight with the cycle lanes, though the two lanes are needed in the morning. Now 30mph.
As you come into Rusholme you pass a park (surely no need for cycle lanes here as the cyclists are all in the park!). Then you hit a Manchester Council madness. The lights in Rusholme have been re-marked and realigned in a way so as to force people to not use two lanes. So it means that traffic has to come into one lane (involving lots of cutting up). Yeah, you might have got stuck behind a right turner before, but you could go straight ahead in both lanes, surely safer.
A nice - though narrow - stretch then as you go past masses of university halls and Manchester Royal Infirmary. Then you get a nice stretch of 3 lanes (2 in the opposite direction) - though still with the insane 30 restriction which is routinely ignored. This stretch is Upper Brook Street. As you come up to the mess that is the Mancunian Way you can go straight on up a blind sliproad to the Mancunian Way or straight ahead onto to a strange bit of road where you can loop round and come back to the A34 in the opposite direction, which allows you to turn onto Sackville St to go up to the Piccadilly region. To follow the A34 you have to go on to Oxford Road via Grosvenor Street. This takes you past near Manchester University and the RNCM, and also Manchester Metropolitan University where the A34 seems to peter out. The road becomes Oxford St and runs past the BBC and St Peter's Square and up to Deansgate.
A last bit of the A34 is seen at bridge St in Salford, where it meets the A6. Coming back towards the rest of the A34 proper, it crosses Deansgate (one junction higher up than Oxford St) and travels up John Dalton St to Princess St, where it comes back quite close to Oxford St where it crosses Fairfield St, but by this stage is one way heading out of Manchester (Oxford St being one way going in, thus the "other side" of the A34). The road comes very close to the UMIST campus (Manchester's other uni!) and meets the various lethal Mancunian way sliproads. One joins the A34 via a 180 degree loop, another gives you the option to join via another 180 degree loop. The other sliproad noticeable is the one that can be seen twenty feet up in the air ponting the wrong way up the one way Princess Street - perhaps the most lethal of all, though it has obviously been blocked off form traffic. It stops in mid-air!
We are now back at where we are made to turn off for Oxford St. if coming in the other direction. All in all, the A34 is a bit crazy.