Bridgnorth - The Town with Split Personality
"With its head up in heaven - its toes in the Severn" - Anon
Upon seeing Bridgnorth, Charles the First declared it, "the finest view in all my Kingdom", as he gazed, awestruck, from the top of this delightful town. Praise indeed but you can easily see why the King (prematurely) lost his head, for the view remains as stunning today as it was 350 years ago, with the High Town perching a hundred feet above the Low Town and the River Severn.
Whether you admire the view over the king's shoulder, from the sandstone cliff of Bridgnorth, or stand on the bridge below, (at the height of summer the Severn is almost covered by the flowers of water crowfoot) you won't have to look far to find a superlative in the Severn Valley.
Like the King, most visitors can't restrain themselves.
Actually, Bridgnorth is two towns: the High Town (good views down) and the Low Town (good views up). The Low town was once a thriving port along the banks of the River Severn; while others preferred to live around the castle and the churches, high on the cliffs above. Many of their 16th and 17th century houses still remain. From Low town, you can look up to the High town perched 100 above. See you at the top!
High and Low are connected by England's oldest (and steepest) inland Funicular railway, at 201 feet long and rising 110 feet it is easier than walking. “The two towns are connected by road and by a thrilling little railway, the steepest and shortest in England. You feel you are being lifted up to heaven.” wrote Betjeman about the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway.
The more energetic may prefer to take one of the seven ancient flights of steps up the sandstone cliffs or the steep old cartway, where goods were once hauled to market above. The carts are gone, but the markets remain. Antiques and local produce are particular specialities.
As you go look out for Bishop Percy's House (1580), former home of the cleric and poet who collected the ballads known as Percy's Reliques; and the cliff caves, which were inhabited until the 1850's. It was in one of these that Francis Moore - he of Old Moore's Almanac - was born.
The magpie buildings, markets, shops and inns of Bridgnorth have been welcoming and enchanting visitors for centuries. Bridgnorth town trail will take you round many of the fine buildings that grace the town.
By the time you reach the top, you'll probably need a sit down - and where better than the Bridgnorth Castle gardens? What's left of the castle leans at an alarming angle, even greater than the Tower of Pisa. The building was blown up by the Parliamentarians in the Civil War, who made their customary botched job of it.
Nearby an iron footbridge takes you to the Severn Valley Railway Station. Take a 16 mile journey along the River Severn valley to Kidderminster - plenty of walks from the stations along the way. Or why not join in some of their 1940's, or heavy horse, or Thomas the Tank Engine nostalgia weekends? And if you want to explore the beautiful Severn Gorge to the south, you should definitely let the steam train take the strain. The Severn Valley Railway also runs on time - there's a novelty for you!
With all that walking between High and Low towns you would expect the good gentlefolk of Bridgnorth to be permanently exhausted. Far from it - with apparently boundless energy, they preen, prune and plant every corner and fill their hanging baskets.
They do this so successfully that they have won both regional and national Britain in Bloom competitions and picked up an RHS Gold for their floral endeavours. (Blooming hard work!) Not content to rest on their perfectly trimmed laurels they're now taking on Europe - Tomorrow the world?
Explore north-west instead and you'll find the dramatic escarpment and fine walking country that is Wenlock Edge. A perfect backdrop to the Tales From The Edge, the world-famous international storytelling festival.
Bridgnorth hosts many other events throughout the year, in particular the Hayden Festival and regular street markets add to the towns colour.
On its gentler slope lies Bridgnorth's neighbour, the pretty little town of Much Wenlock where, in 1850, the modern Olympics were revived by the town doctor, William Penny Brookes - as an antidote to the local men's drinkig. Perhaps that's why the first Games included a wheelbarrow race; although the precise purpose behind the "Old Womans Race for a Pound Of Tea" remains obscure. The real Olympics are still held here every July - and, best of all, every year Britain actually tops the meadls table.
Outside of Bridgnorth is Daniel's Mill a picturesque working corn mill, there's also a Museum of Costume and Childhood and Dudmaston Hall with its impressive parklands and collections of modern art and sculpture.
Nearby and within easy reach are:-
The Royal Airforce Museum at Cosford with over 80 aircraft and a flight and fun interactive gallery.
Weston Park - ancestral home of the Earls of Bradford and venue for many events, concerts and the occasional world summit.
Rays Farm Country Matters - unusual farm animals, woodland walks and a sculpture trail.
Boscobel House - a 17th Century hunting lodge and site of the famous oak tree where Charles the 2nd hid to avoid capture.
Broseley Pipe Museum - a Victorian clay tobacco pipe works - get your very own Churchwarden.
Please click the link to view a street map of Bridgnorth town centre
For further details of what to see and do in the district, please click here