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Route of the M50 A40 and A449

Between them, the M50, A40 and A449 form a single dual carriageway route connecting the West Midlands to South Wales — a key aspiration of the government at the time it first set about its national motorway programme in the 1950s. Given how important the connection between those industrial areas was supposed to be, it's rather a shame that only a part of this route is actually a motorway — the rest is a dual carriageway that borrows parts of the A40 and A449.

The M50 came first, and is a very old motorway, first opening in 1960. It's not enormously busy and it was built to an early set of motorway design standards that required only narrow hard shoulders that are discontinuous through bridges and very tiny junctions. As a result, a journey on the M50 doesn't feel much like a journey on a typical English motorway.

Its important-sounding number isn't the only delusion of grandeur held by the M50 though. Such was the perceived importance of the road from the Midlands to South Wales, it was mostly built and opened before the M5 in the area was even under construction. For several years afterwards, the M5 terminated on the M50, with all traffic bound for Bristol and the West Country exiting at junction 1 for the A38.

But there's something very lovely about the M50. It's virtually unchanged from the day it opened, so this is the best opportunity to see a motorway as it appeared in the early sixties. The only significant additions since 1961 have been some electronic message signs and crash barriers down the central reservation. It's also widely agreed to be one of the most scenic motorways there are.

The route that continues from Ross to Newport is partly A449 and partly A40. While the southernmost section, from Monmouth to Newport, is a smooth, fast road with very few junctions, and is very nearly a motorway in its own right, the middle part from Ross to Monmouth is a little more demanding to drive. There's several roundabouts at Ross, a number of side turnings and private accesses at Pencraig, and then — either the worst or the most interesting part of the route, depending on your perspective — the Monmouth Bypass.

At Monmouth there is not much room for a fast expressway, so the road stops for a roundabout and a set of traffic lights, squashed up between the town and the river. To access this narrow strip of land it also negotiates the Gibraltar Tunnel, a rare bit of heavy engineering in the gentle Welsh borders.

No matter its unusual history and its occasional stoppages — the M50, A40 and A449 route from Strensham to Newport is a reliably fast and scenic drive and, even if it took a long time to arrive and it's not all motorway, it does indeed get you from South Wales to the West Midlands in record time.

You're not looking at the whole M50 A40 and A449

This page only deals with the parts of the M50 A40 and A449 that are classed as motorway or that have motorway characteristics. Any other sections of this road won't be featured here and will not count towards the mileage shown below.

Factfile

Start Strensham (M5)
Finish Newport (M4)
Passes Ross on Wye, Monmouth
Length 52 miles
Connects to M4, M5

With thanks to Chris Bertram for information in this section.