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U3A Writing: A Bridge Over Untroubled Waters

Sheila Ford recalls the day when she was among the first to walk across the new Severn bridge.

One of the most notable events locally in recent years was the opening of the Second Severn Crossing on 19th June 1996. People on both sides of the river were invited to walk the bridge prior to its official opening, raising money for charity. The walk took place on Sunday 12th May 1996.

We had experienced difficulty in getting tickets, because demand was so high, but at the last minute we managed to obtain ten. Our money raising effort would be for St. David's Foundation.

The weather in the weeks prior to the walk was our usual late Spring mixture of rain, wind and cold! We planned to wear all our warmest, waterproof walking gear to protect us from all that elements could throw at us. In the event, the day dawned clear and calm with the promise of heat later on.

The following were my impressions of that unique day, written just a few days after the event.

Sunday 12th May has dawned. Up at 8am. Ugh! First thought, weather. Pull curtains, relief, it is a lovely morning, thank goodness. Great debate, 'are two pairs of socks enough?'

Over to Sudbrook for pick up at 9.30am. Queue at Broom's 20 minutes for the bus. We are on our way, anticipation rising. Well organised, or so we thought until we met friends later in the day, who waited over an hour there.

All was hustle, bustle and noise at the departure area. Look for the red flag. Bags searched, tickets please, get your cards stamped...there! All was provided - toilets, watering holes. Great excitement, flags flying and deafening pop music!

Up the ramp, on to the bridge - we have made it! For a moment I glance back along the road, silent, empty, snaking it's way to the West. Will never see it like that again. Right, best foot forward, get into one's stride. Gorgeous morning, sun shining, tide out. People waving from the banks.
Suddenly a flash of colour, the band returning, resplendent in red, sun glancing off brass. They look cheerful but hot and tired. What do they know that I don't? Keep going, we should soon be meeting friends who started earlier. No sooner said than done. "Hi how are you? Isn't great? Lovely day What's it like in foreign parts? Natives friendly?"

More people, balloons, tee - shirts, emblazoned 'I'm walking on water for....' Now, where have I read that before? If we keep stopping like this to chat, we will never get there. What's this? The Bristol Fire Brigade in full regalia and.....oxygen! I hope they are around on the way back, I may need it!

Hurrah!, we have reached the middle. Flags, photographs..and feet, ouch! Group photo's on the dais. Hope ours come out. A photographer has eight cameras on the ground, all different, one by one, 'say cheese!' I'm lost in admiration at his skill. For me idiot - proof it must be. Return Box Brownie, all is forgiven. I'm the sort of person who checks the calculator. Oh ye of little faith!

A sip of water, plod on. People chatting, laughing, having fun. Banners, placards, funny costumes. Disney eat your heart out. Long lost friends meeting, "Hullo, haven't seen you for ages, will ring"

Beauty, the towers piercing the sky, cables shimmering like silken threads in the sunlight, and the BEAST.....aargh!... oh! It's only the Welsh dragon smiling on us quite benignly. A kilt swinging, cadets marching, so straight, will they keep that up? People eating ice creams, aah, the end is in sight. Sink down on first bit of barrier. Two pairs of socks definitely not enough. Ice cream like water in the desert. Really hot now. Exchange socks, his are thicker than mine. (Sacrifice is good for...his soul!) Crowds milling around, hot dogs (no not my feet!), drinks, first aid. Look longingly at bus taking walkers back - get thee behind me temptation! Long queue for toilets. Decide to keep it in!

It's noon. Walkers still crowding on the bridge. If they can do it, I can. Set off. Momentary relief from thicker socks. Tie anorak around waist. Mop face, is it red? This is serious stuff now. Hear the tinkle of bells. Is the heat getting to me? No, it's the Morris Dancers...dancing.

Somehow get a spurt of energy, where from? TV cameras in the distance. Sigh, missed out again, I'll never be a star, what about that 15mins of fame everybody is entitled to? Here we are at the half way stage again. A sip of water. Here comes the Fire Brigade but where is the hose, my feet are about to burst into flames.

Roll up, roll up. Is that the tent where the cards are stamped. YES! That means I have made it. I have walked the Second Severn Crossing. I am almost overcome but one more thing to do, collect my certificate - there to the left. Make one last effort, feet on their last legs (oops). Stand there grinning idiotically, certificate clutched in hot little hand. Not bad eh? Look longingly at caravan where people are being interviewed. Don't they know I'm available? Ah, well just point me in the direction of the nearest hostelry. The carnival is over but not the memories. 18,000 walkers, 350 charities. What a day. People at their best, thinking of others. A day to remember when you are 90 and in the rocking chair.



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