Ironbridge to Bridgnorth
Day 7 Walking the River Severn.
The breakfast arrangement was in a hotel two houses along and we were pleased to be able to enjoy smoked haddock and poached eggs with spinach and toast. Noticably fortfied, we set off to look at the iron bridge. A very impressive structure, built in 1781 and the world’s first bridge made entirely of cast iron. This world famous monument of the industrial revolution gave its name to the town that grew up around it. In fact Ironbridge is a World Heritage Site with many interesting museums, which we will certainly come back to.
Walking across the bridge, we were amused by the toll sign giving the toll charges for all kinds of animals and carriages. We did wonder if any member of the Royal Family ever paid that toll.
Just a little further along, we passed the Jackfield Decorative Tile Production, which is now part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The design of this extremely long building was revolutionary at the time, allowing for the flow of production from ‘dust to dispatch’ . It is the oldest surviving purpose built tile factory in the world. Interestingly, the company Craven Dunnill & Co. Ltd (founded in 1872) still operates out of this building as well as another factory and is still known for being the leading manufacturer of traditionally-styled, decorative tiles for projects all over the World.
The Silicon Valley of the Industrial Revolution
Walking further along to Coalport, we were reminded of other industries which used to flourish here. Thanks to the valley’s abundant natural resources of iron ore and coal, as well as a river that provided transport, a new way of manufacturing iron was developed here. As a result, the first iron wheels, iron rails, and steam locomotive were made here, changing the world forever. In addition, there was also tile and china manufacture. People were innovating and experimenting with new materials and creating new products that they didn’t really know what they would be used for at the time, so very much the Silicon Valley of that time.
It was Abraham Darby I’s discovery in 1709 to use coke fuel rather than coal which made the iron ore processes in the furnaces more efficient and really sparked the industrial revolution. All of a sudden, it was possible to create large quantities of iron ore cheaply. Up till then the process using charcoal had been very long. It is hard to imagine just how much industry grew up around the Severn gorge but it must have been a significant amount and the amount of pollution was surely high. The river and the environment here must have experienced a lot of smoke, dirt and noise from such heavy industry.
Pleasant walking on to Bridgnorth
The pollution has long gone and nature has been restored, so with these thoughts we moved on walking along the disused railway track. The old track from Ironbridge to Bridgnorth has been turned into a path, which is lined by trees providing a wonderful shady path to walk along.
Irresponsibly, we tried several times to find the path directly by the river. You would have thought that by now we had learned ; each time it was impossible to fight our way through the undergrowth and so we resigned ourselves to walking along the trackbed. We did, however, manage a 20 minute break directly by the river, watching and thinking about everything our river had experienced up to that point.
Across the river, we saw Apley Hall. Originally built in 1811 by a local MP and since then it has been used as a boarding school, a retirement home and is now finally being used as several self-contained apartments. What a wonderful view those lucky people enjoy.
After just 16 km walking today, we arrived in Bridgnorth and what a lovely medieval market town it is. There is an upper town and lower town and we were looking forward to spending two nights in the Bassa Villa, directly by the river and having to explore the town.