In the historic town of Chepstow, often referred to as the “gateway to Wales,” a team of archaeologists recently made a remarkable discovery. Nestled beneath the shadow of a 950-year-old Norman castle and hidden within the muddy banks of the River Wye, this discovery has unveiled a fascinating piece of history that connects England and Wales in a unique way.
Chepstow, with its 12th-century Norman castle and rich history, is known for its strategic importance throughout various periods. The town’s historical significance goes beyond its medieval fortress, as archaeologists have previously uncovered evidence of prehistoric, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon fortifications within its borders.
Credit: CAS / Wales News Service
However, the most recent revelation has taken historians and archaeologists by surprise. During an “extreme low tide event,” researchers stumbled upon a remarkably preserved wooden bridge, believed to have been constructed by the Romans around 2,000 years ago. This ancient structure, hidden beneath layers of mud for centuries, served as a vital link between England and Wales long before the modern boundaries of these two countries existed.
Simon Maddison, a member of the Chepstow Archaeological Society (CAS), described the discovery, saying, “The team was able to locate upright timbers in a tidal pool on the location of the Roman crossing. Until the results come back, we won’t know for sure the period of the structure. We are thrilled with what we were able to achieve and await dating results with keen anticipation.”
Credit: CAS / Wales News Service
The wooden bridge’s existence suggests that it was a critical passageway for travelers between Wales and England for centuries, facilitating trade, communication, and cultural exchange during a time when modern transportation networks were nonexistent.
This discovery was made possible due to a fortuitous two-hour “extreme low tide event,” during which the upright timbers of the bridge became visible in a tidal pool just off the riverbed. The excavation process involved exposing substantial timbers and intricate joints, likely part of the original pier and cutwater structure. Researchers collected timber samples for dendrochronological and potential Carbon-14 dating, which will provide more precise information about the bridge’s age.
Assisting the CAS team during the excavation were members of the Severn Area Rescue Association (SARA), who played a crucial role in ensuring the safety of the researchers navigating the challenging and sticky mud of the riverbank. Simon Maddison expressed gratitude for SARA’s assistance, stating, “The mud was very dense and very sticky, and we frequently got stuck in it. Without SARA, it would have been impossibly dangerous.”
This remarkable crossing, predating the existing Monmouth and Chepstow bridges, offers a unique glimpse into the region’s ancient past. Interestingly, it was first discovered and partially excavated back in 1911 by Dr. Orville Owen, an early pioneer in the field of archaeology. Despite being recorded at the time and appearing on an old Ordnance Survey map, the bridge’s precise location remained a mystery, buried beneath layers of mud.
Chepstow’s rich history traces back to ancient times. Archaeological evidence indicates that the area was inhabited during the prehistoric period, featuring various ancient fortifications and settlements. During the Roman era, Chepstow was a significant settlement, serving as a key point along the Roman road network.
Subsequently, the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings left their mark on Chepstow before it was conquered by the Normans in the 11th century. The construction of Chepstow Castle by Norman lord William FitzOsbern marked the town’s transformation into a strategic stronghold, a legacy that endures to this day.