|Location Map ( geo)
|60.6 miles (97.5 km)
|M5, A46, A38, B4211, B4208, A449, B4216, B4214, A417, A4172, B4224, A465, B4359, A49, A4110, A480, B4230, A4111, B4350, B4351, B4350, A4079, A4078, A479, A470
|Old route now:
|B4077, A46, B4350, A470, B4602
|Route outline (key)
The A438 is a significant cross-country route, connecting several historic English and Welsh towns with the cathedral city of Hereford. It begins on the M5 at Ashchurch near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, and heads in a westerly direction to Ledbury in Herefordshire, before continuing on to Hereford itself. From there, it follows the course of the River Wye over the border into Wales, passing close to Hay-on-Wye before coming to an end on the A470 at Pont-y-bat, six miles short of Brecon.
Section 1: Tewkesbury – Hereford
The A438 currently begins life at the Ashchurch Interchange, J9 of the M5, to the east of Tewkesbury. As it heads west from the motorway, the road gives little impression of serving much purpose other than to carry traffic from the motorway to the town centre. Within a mile of the start, the route enters into an unusual and potentially confusing multiplex with the A38, as the recent eastern bypass of Tewkesbury arrives via a signal-controlled junction near the Morrisons supermarket. From here, the two roads share the same tarmac in a L-shape through the town centre; oddly, the A438 number takes precedence on the horizontal arm of the L (Barton Street), whereas the A38 number takes over on the vertical arm (High Street). The number changes right in the heart of the town, at a roundabout on which stands the local war memorial. The traveller could be forgiven for not noticing this discrepancy, however, as Tewkesbury is an extremely attractive town.
The High Street marks the original line of the A38, and the multiplex continues through a second roundabout onto Mythe Road. In the process, the signed A38 carries the unsigned A438 over the Avon, Tewkesbury being the point at which that river flows into the Severn. The A438 number returns at a T-junction, where we must turn left to cross River Severn and enter Worcestershire. Our route gains NSL for the first time just after the turn, which is a bit surprising considering that it immediately slims down for Mythe Bridge, which crosses the Severn subject to a 17T weight restriction, and which is controlled by signals allowing only single-file traffic.
Once over the Severn, the road runs straight for about half a mile, in which it is lined with drainage ditches, Tewkesbury being a town notoriously vulnerable to flooding. Once free from the ditches, we can enjoy the delightful 13-mile drive to Ledbury, along a largely unimproved rural single carriageway offering scenes of some beautiful countryside, as well as some excellent overtaking opportunities. At Long Green, the B4211 crosses over our route via a staggered crossroads, from which it is possible to turn north towards Upton-on-Severn or south towards Hartpury. Soon afterwards, we pass under the M50 but there is no opportunity to join here.
A couple of miles further on, the A438 arrives in Rye Cross, where it comes to an abrupt halt. Here, it is the A-road that gives way to the B-road through its own staggered crossroads, the signage even indicating that A438 number disappears for a few yards through the junction. After negotiating this brief indignity, the A438 enters Herefordshire, the county in which it spends most of its length. Now subject to a 50mph limit, the road passes Eastnor Castle and climbs into the foothills of the Malverns.
About half a mile short of Ledbury, the A438 meets the A449, which takes priority over our route in another multiplex leading into a town centre. It is at the picturesque crossroads in the middle of Ledbury, where owing to the narrowness of the A449 the traffic lights are set back somewhat, that the A438 resumes; while through traffic is directed to the left along the A449, the A438 regains its number by turning right here, and running along the S2 High Street before bearing left by the station and emerging at the northern end of the A417 Ledbury bypass. Here the A438 enters into yet another multiplex, although this time it is our road that features on the signposts at the expense of its partner, the A417. This perhaps reflects the fact that it is from this point onwards that the A438 becomes primary for the first time, a status that it will retain for the remainder of its length.
A glance to the right at the end of the bypass offers a good view of a long brick-arch railway viaduct carrying the Hereford and Worcester Line over the River Leadon. A further four miles of rural road brings us to the Trumpet crossroads, which takes its name not from its configuration, but from the eponymous pub at the side of the road. It is here that the A417 returns, heading north to meet its fate on the A49, whereas to the south the A4172 (which despite its number was never part of the A417) heads back towards the A449. The traffic signals look a little incongruous in the midst of the Herefordshire countryside, but the configuration of the junction makes it easy to see how it might well have been an accident blackspot before the signals were installed.
Our onward journey takes us through the hop fields, past places with such wonderful names as Tarrington, Stoke Edith and Bartestree. Traffic wishing to bypass Hereford would be well advised to turn right at Bartestree towards Whitestone, and take the A4103 route along the old Roman Road that runs to the north of the city, picking up the A438 again west of the city. However, the A438 takes us into Hereford, where we multiplex first with the A465 on its own (with the A438 number again dominant), and then with both the A465 and the A49, as those two north-south routes make their way towards the bridge over the River Wye. This short urban section of the route is the only dual-carriageway on the A438.
As the route departs from Hereford, it remains north of the river, turning right past Bulmer's cider mill and on towards White Cross, where you could turn onto the A4110, which offers an alternative route to the A49 towards Leominster and Ludlow. At Kings Acre, a right turn takes you onto the A480 towards Kington and mid-Wales; this is where you would have arrived, had you opted to bypass the city on the A4103.
Section 2: Hereford – Pont-y-bat
The A438 to the west of Hereford arcs as it approaches the Welsh border, leading first north-west and then south-west as it loyally follows the course of the River Wye. The road is on a reasonably good alignment of single-carriageway, and it passes sometimes close to the water as the river meanders down from mid-Wales.
The route remains overwhelmingly rural as it passes the small settlements of Byford, Staunton-on-Wye, and Letton. Some 13 miles from Hereford, the route TOTSOs left at a clearly signposted junction, from which the road ahead continues as the A4111 to Eardisley and Kington. The TOTSO occurs as the A438 reaches the crest in its arc around the Wye, and it continues to follow the river through Winforton and Whitney-on-Wye; at the latter location we hit a 30mmph speed limit, speed cameras, and lots of yellow signs and over-the-top road markings. A left turn onto the B4350 takes you over Whitney Bridge, an historic structure for which there is a toll to cross. This lies on the original alignment of the A438 (see History below), towards the famous book town of Hay-on-Wye. If you are heading for Hay, however, you do not need to pay the toll; it is just as quick to remain on the A438, and turn left onto the B4351 at Clyro.
At Rhydspence, the road reaches the Welsh border. Here we enter Radnorshire, and the standard of the road improves for a short while; there is a nice long straight where you can pass the tractor of whatever else you might have been stuck behind for the last few miles. The route then passes through Clyro, where that turning for Hay is located, and continues for a few more miles to eventually cross the River Wye into Brecknockshire at Glasbury. At this point, the road meets the B4350 again, and resumes on its original alignment with another TOTSO, the B-road from Hay taking the main line, as the A438 had to Give Way and turn right.
As our route nears its end, it enters an unusual tangle of A-roads clustered together into a space that is unusual considering the size of population in this rural area. Perhaps this is a sign that we will soon reach another major artery. At Three Cocks, there is a right turn onto the short A4079, which cuts off the corner to the A470 - the mighty north-south artery that links Cardiff to North Wales - and, shortly afterwards, a left turn for the A4078, another short link which would take you to Talgarth and the A479. This junction features a pleasingly traditional 'turning triangle'.
A short distance further on, the A438 bridges the Afon Llynfi, before reaching its final multiplex. On the approach to Bronllys, the route meets the northern leg of the A479, an important road which brings traffic down from the A470 and mid-Wales. With that road dominant, the multiplex leads onto the Bronllys bypass, and to a roundabout just over half a mile further on, where the southern leg of the A479 departs for to the A40 and Abergavenny. Here, the A438 regains its number by continuing ahead, although the presence of the '(A470)' shown in brackets on the signage is an inndication of our route's impending fate.
A second roundabout, with access to Bronllys Hospital, brings the bypass of the town to an end, and there is less than a mile to go before the A438 comes to an end. At its final junction, the Pont-y-bat crossroads, we meet the A470 itself, which joins via the northern arm, while the southern arm takes a minor unclassified road to Llanfilo. We can now see the reason for the collection of other A-roads providing short cuts between the major east-west and north-south routes in the area. From here, the A470 continues straight on from the A438, towards Brecon.
In 1935, the eastern end of the route was extended by about 4 miles, to meet the then-A46 at Toddington, taking over part of the B4077. So it remained until being cut back to Teddington Hands in 1988, its erstwhile extension reverting to its original B4077 number. Ultimately, with the A46 taking over lengthy sections of the A422 and A435 respectively, the short stretch of A438 between Teddington Hands and the M5 also became A46, resulting in the A438 being cut back to its present-day starting point.
On the 11-mile stretch between Whitney-on-Wye and Glasbury, the original course of the A438 ran over Whitney Bridge and through Hay-on-Wye, along the road now numbered B4350. During the 1960s these roads' numbers were swapped over, so that A-road traffic could avoid the toll bridge and the narrow streets of Hay.
At the western end, the extension of the A470 from Brecon all the way up to North Wales saw the A438 cut back from its original end point, losing 6 miles in the process, to its current terminus at the Pont-y-bat crossroads.