After spending some 25 days between February 2008 and May 2011 walking in large circles first round Stafford and then round Swynnerton, followed by a smaller circle round Stone (which appears on this blog in three parts here, here and here) we were running out of places to go.
Francis suggested a series of circular walks around points of interest on or near our previous routes. I, somewhat whimsically, wanted to call them petal walks. Mike observed that they were roughly circular and scattered randomly about the map so should be dubbed ‘cowpat walks’. I hate it when somebody has a better idea than me, but here I nobly admit defeat: Cowpat Walks they are.
We gathered at Mike’s for bacon and oatcakes. Thus fortified, Mike drove us to and then round (or was it through?) Telford. Apparently 162 000 people live there but, like Milton Keynes, the other 1960s invention I drive through regularly, it is hard to tell if you are in the town or not. Where is Telford? What is it hiding?
Telford may be difficult to spot, but the same cannot be said of the Wrekin. This 400 m high pile of ancient and heavily weathered lava dominates northern Shropshire and can be seen from Swynnerton some 40 km north – and indeed from much further away. Little Wenlock sits at the foot of the Wrekin and we parked on the southern edge of the village. The last houses enjoy a spectacular view across the Severn valley to the Long Mynd, Caer Caradoc and Clee Hill. They should also be able to see the Wrekin, just a mile to the northeast, but today it was sulking beneath a bank of cloud.
We walked south over the small protuberance of Braggers Hill and down towards the Severn. We soon had an excellent view of Ironbridge power station. There were few spots on the walk where we could not see either the power station or the Wrekin (mist permitting) - or both. The current version of the power station has been generating electricity since 1967. It may be hard to believe, but it was designed to merge as seamlessly as possible into its natural surroundings. The concrete of the cooling towers has a red pigment, granite chippings decorate the turbine hall, and it hides round the corner of a cliff so as to be invisible from Ironbridge itself. Friends of the Earth claim it is the second most polluting power station in Britain per megawatt output. There are no plans to reduce its emissions to meet modern standards and it will close in 2015 [Update Dec 2015: It was converted to burning wood chips in 2013 and closed in November 2015].
|The Wrekin - somewhere inside that cloud.|
|Ironbridge B - a coal fired power station opened in 1967|
A long, straight, stony descent brought us to the river just east of Buildwas.
|Mike wears shorts in November|
|The constructors seemed pleased with their efforts|
|Moving swiftly with the current, River Severn|
Crossing the Severn valley from the Malverns to Breedon Hill had taken us a whole day (or more accurately two half days a year apart). Here, 60 km upstream, it took less than an hour. Crossing back at the Ironbridge gorge would take minutes.
Leaving the main road we struck off south west into low wooded hills. After some climbing, some contouring and some more climbing we emerged into an open meadow near the top of the hill.
|A nice picture of the stile which allowed us to 'emerge into an open meadow'|
|'In front of us the land dipped and rose....'|
|The power station chimney was there to guide our steps...|
As the cliff leaves the river it becomes wooded and less precipitous. We followed the Shropshire Way on its long descent across the face of this scarp. On the bank we could see clear signs of old workings, the first indication that there had once been industry here.
|Alison leads the descent|
|Brian and Alison would help with the route finding - but only Francis has a map|
The settlement of Ironbridge grew up around the bridge. Tourism started early and in 1784 the bridge’s owners built a hotel to accommodate visitors. We marched across the bridge and straight into that hotel in search of lunch. The less said about the sandwiches the better, but the Station Bitter, from the Stonehouse Brewery in Oswestry, was exceptionally good.
|The Iron Bridge|
|I'm doing heavy breathing on the phone AND trying to take a photograph -|
no wonder I'm lagging behind
Abraham Darby’s blast furnace was located in Coalbrookdale and fired by coal from drift mines in the surrounding valleys. Pedants might point out that the Industrial revolution did not start on one place, it involved a range of new ideas developed over a wide geographical area, but given the importance of cheap iron and the early date involved, Coalbrookdale has some justification for claiming to be the cradle of the industrial revolution.
In its pomp, Coalbrookdale looked more like hell than paradise, at least according to the 1801 painting ‘Coalbrookdale by Night’ by Philippe Jacques de Loutherburg, which now belongs to the Science Museum in London. I have shamelessly half-inched this image from Wikipedia.
|Coalbrookdale at Night|
|Furnace pond, Coalbrookdale|
We left Coalbrookdale along the Rope Walk, a long straight path above Leamhole Brook once used by ropemakers for stretching out and twisting together the strands of hemp. As the path left the village the surroundings became more wooded and the path became rougher. It rose gently and although we were quite deep in the valley, the brook was a long way below us.
|The Rope Walk, Coalbrookdale|
|Back to the top of Braggers Hill|
|Sunset over the mysterious hills of Shropshire|
|Down and then up to Little Wenlock|