Some people live in a house with a railway line at the bottom of the garden. Some have homes under the flightpath of an airport. But try living under — literally under — a very busy four-lane motorway.
That might be many people’s idea of hell, but for a couple of Welsh families, it’s perfectly fine. For one mum, who’s lived there all her life, she would never consider living anywhere else.
Their homes were built many years ago, when there was no motorway, and the back gardens of the houses actually ran a good length right down a river. But since the 1960s they have sat under the vast 45ft tall pillars of the M4, which winds its way through the town of Port Talbot.
The huge flyover runs for several miles and is known locally as the “road on top of the town”. Among the residents whose rooftops can be seen by passing motorists, is Joanna Care, who is still in the house she lived in when she was a child, and which she now shares with husband Ritchie and their four-month old daughter Evelyn.
WalesOnline reports that when younger, Joanna, her sisters and their friends would spend their days playing under the flyovers, riding bikes and making ramps. Every Christmas Day, they would all meet under the flyover to compare their new bicycles and skateboards.
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“It’s never been a negative thing for me,” she said. Her parents lived there when the road was built and would have had to negotiate with the builders, who needed access to the garden at their property.
“I don’t think anybody would have been particularly happy about it. The garden at one point used to go down to the river,” she said. Although indoors the near-constant traffic is not so audible, outdoors it’s a different prospect.
Despite Joanna hardly noticing it, husband Ritchie says he finds living there a little more difficult, especially as he used to live in the more tranquil Sandfields area, near to the beach at Swansea Bay.
He said he found the noise of the traffic made it difficult to sleep properly and was awakened virtually every morning by the dawn chorus of lorries as they began to trundle by overhead.
“I grew up on a beach, where you’d have the outdoor space to play football or go surfing,” he said. “This is a far cry from what I’m used to. Even today, I can’t get used to the motorway in regards to the sounds. Four o’clock every morning, the lorries start doing their jaunt and then I wake up. Whether I go back to sleep or not is a different thing.
“I just can’t get used to the noise — whether the windows are double glazed or even triple glazed, it doesn’t matter. I’m just used to serenity. I didn’t realise I was so sensitive to noise until I started living here.”
Further along the road lives Gabrielle Gillings and her sons Lennox, 6, and Keane, 2. The healthcare support worker has lived there for six years and before that lived on the other side of the bridge in Felindre, where she grew up.
“I wouldn’t want to move away from here,” she said. “For me, this is just the norm and I enjoy living here. You don’t hear as much in the morning, but in the night you can still hear the traffic.”
When the road was built, around 200 homes had to be demolished along with three churches, but after it opened it helped cut down travelling time from Cardiff to Swansea by 20 minutes.
There are, of course, downsides. According to Joanna and Ritchie, behind the walls of their garden they have encountered issues such as fly tipping and antisocial behaviour, something that is of growing concern.
“It’s becoming a hotspot,” Joanna said. “It’s really sad when you want to go for a nice walk somewhere or even when you’re just nipping out, and you see all the fly tipping.
“It feels like nobody seems to care about the environment anymore and the impact it’s having on the environment. How are we supposed to teach my daughter to care when our generation don’t?”
However, what has stood the test of time and the test of motorway traffic is the local sense of community, something that existed long before the M4 flyover.
“Having good neighbours means an awful lot,” Ritchie said. “We have a fantastic bunch of neighbours. There is a strong sense of neighbourliness that you don’t see very much these days – we check in on each other, we make sure we are okay.”
Joanna added: “I have so many good memories here. My sister will come here sometimes and say this still feels like home. That’s the beauty of it — I’ve been able to keep our childhood home. It would be nice to stay, because we’ve had brilliant times here.”