The first crossing for the M4 motorway across the River Severn was opened in 1966. This bridge features heavily in my memories of travelling to Pembrokeshire as a child, as well as later visits to friends at university in Cardiff. Back then, I didn’t know the extent of the history of river crossings here.
Until the bridge was opened, travellers wishing to pass between England and Wales without making the 60-mile round trip via Gloucester used the Aust ferry, a historic crossing dating back to Roman times, when troops were en route to Caerleon (now Cardiff). The last version of the long-running ferry began in 1931, when the Old Passage Severn Ferry Company transported passengers between Beachley and Aust. The following photo, sourced via Wikimedia Commons, shows the Severn Princess in 1964, when the new bridge was under construction.
Traffic is light these days on what is now classified as the A48(M), since the newer and massive Second Severn Crossing was opened in 1996. I remember seeing it being built as I drove back and forth across the older bridge en route to Cardiff, thinking what a massive achievement is was – and still is – to bridge such a wide, dangerous and fast-moving tidal river. I still prefer to use the older route for sentimental reasons and if I have time, I walk up from the tiny and newer services building at Aust to the headland overlooking the river. The old motorway services building at Aust, which was a regular stopping-off point when I was a child, is now a privately owned office building.
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