Due to circumstances beyond our control we had to cancel our summer break away in the caravan at Barmouth, hubby needed to go into work most days, so we decided to visit some of our local attractions to where we live. You know what it's like as you live there you never really get around to doing the tourist visits and Shropshire has a lot of wonderful countryside and places to visit.
We live around 1 mile out of Ironbridge and I have on many occasions in the past walked my dogs down to it, we have a walk called the Silken Way and it takes you through the estates and the green belt land right across Telford, it also takes you right into Ironbridge where it joins up to the Severn Way walk, which is a walk that follows the length of the River Severn which starts in Wales and goes out right through Ironbridge and onto Bristol. As Ironbridge is so close we did a little bit of it every day and visited the majority of its attractions which I want to tell you about in this review, some of them I will go into further details on separate reviews as some of these were brilliant and worthy of a longer review.
~~The Town of Ironbridge ~~
We visited here on the first day of our holiday and parked up on one of its 4 car parks, there are 2 at each end of the town; these are pay and display car parks, except for blue badge holders. We parked near to Dale End Park, this is a lovely park with benches where you can sit and look at the flowers, they have also created a children's play area with climbing frames and rope bridges etc, on the day of our visit it was closed, but it was open two days later and in full use by families even though it was a rainy day. You can walk along the river here at the park and visit the rear of a couple of hotels along the path like the Valley Hotel and the Meadow in, you can even go up and have a drink there or something to eat.
After a little walk around the park we headed back toward the town itself, but got side tracked again by one of its many museums and popped into one of them, this one was the Museum of the Gorge. We bought a passport which would take us to 10 different locations around Ironbridge and the surrounding villages to look at over our holiday, the passport is a fantastic idea as you get it at a cheaper rate and save a fortune if you go to each attraction; not only that you can go as many times as you like over a twelve month period which is fantastic if you have children and want to keep them entertained over the summer holidays. (I will discuss each attraction briefly further down in the review).
We took a lovely walk along the river path which took us to the Ironbridge itself, which is absolutely beautiful (and I will give you a little history on this shortly), the views from the bridge over the gorge are outstanding and well worth a visit, they do run boat rides along the river, but I have to say I did not see it in operation on our visit. As you go over the bridge you can visit the toll house and information centre as well.
The walk through Ironbridge is only about 1.5 miles, it really is not far at all, but a lot has been crammed in, on the one side of the road is the river and on the other side is a mixture of pubs, hotels, B&B's, cafe's, restaurants and shops, believe it or not there must be more than 10 places to eat in such a small area I haven't tried them all but I have been to a few and enjoyed what we have eaten, there is an Italian restaurant which I have heard good things about. The pubs do tend to get quite busy at the weekends; well the young ones simply get a taxi and have the lovely time by the river and enjoy a drink in the quite few pubs which are within walking distance of each other. One of the most famous shops down here is the Merrythoughts Teddy Bear shop and museum, where you can buy yourself a famous Merrythoughts teddy bear, you can't miss the shop as it has a 6ft Teddy bear dressed as a queen's guard outside.
The River Severn apparently is a great place to fish and you will find some fishermen sitting along its banks. There used to be a few little beach areas along the river edge but with the heavy amount of flooding and some corrosion, they have put big boulders there now where the beach used to be. The river can get very fast along this stretch depending on the weather we are having and how much rain there has been in Wales. I have seen many floods over the years of living here, the worst being a few years ago, but now they have new flood defences and the town gets closed when the river rises.
~~ History of the Gorge and the Ironbridge~~
After the Ice age a massive 15,000 years ago a deep chasm was carved through mountains by a lake that overflowed, it wore away layers of coal, iron-ore and other raw materials, this created The Severn Gorge. The Gorge allowed the river to flow from the Welsh Mountains right out to the Bristol Channel and with that in mind and all the coal and iron-ore in the area it became a very important industrial area. Materials were shipped from here and in 1709 Abraham Darby I, led the field in iron production by using coke as fuel instead of charcoal, this was done in coalbrookdale a couple of minutes up one of Ironbridge's many very steep hills, then it was carried out on boats along the River Severn. For years they used to ferry things from one side of the river to the other as the nearest bridge was approx 2 miles away and it was the medieval Buildwas Bridge. It was inevitable that eventually someone would need to build a new bridge and it was the local Ironmaster Abraham Darby III that was commissioned to build it and after some debates, and money raising, the work started in November 1777. The bridge consists of 378 tons of iron, which took one furnace over three months to produce; this was because the maximum one furnace could produce was 4 tonnes at a time. The bridge eventually cost £6,000 to build and put Darby into serious debt which he remained for the rest of his life; his wife cleared his debts after his death. The bridge officially opened on New Year's Day 1781 and you originally had to pay toll costs, for example carriages drawn by six horses, mares, geldings or mules would have to pay 2d to get across and for a calf, pig or sheep it would be 1/2d. This is the birth place of the Industrial Revolution.
One of the many hotels I mentioned earlier is called the Tontine Hotel this was build in 1784 to cater for the numerous visitors from around the world that came to see the 1st Iron bridge, today you can still see the different colouring in the bricks used to build the Tontine as it was expanded over the years. It is still run as a hotel today and I do hear that it has its own resident ghost as well.
During this time many homes were built and very steep and narrow roads as well, you will notice these as you visit Ironbridge, take the time to look at them see how close they are to each other and how they seem to be piled on top of each other as you look up one of the hills. They are all part of the history of the town and have been standing for many years and a lot have survived many floods. They have built new houses along the street and I will say they have done an excellent job with keeping them in the style of the town itself making them blend in.
~~What else can I do here~~
I have briefly mentioned the Museum of the Gorge, this was the first one we visited and it is in a lovely old building (which used to be a Gothic style warehouse)right on the edge of the river, you can still see the runway into the river for the boats to be launched. After buying our passport ticket to attractions and a guide book we went inside, this was interesting but a little disappointing if I am to be brutally honest, inside there were information boards on the walls and the odd artefact from days gone by, there was a 12m long model showing you what the gorge would have looked like during the industrial revolution, you could then go and listen and watch a 12 minute documentary on the history of the gorge and its importance; there also did not seem to be any interaction to get your children involved either. When you came out of the museum you were back in the gift shop where you could purchase some Ironbridge memorabilia.
Enginuity - this was a fantastic place to take your children to, I really loved it in here, your children and yourselves can learn and have lots of fun. It is a place where you can see how things work and get them to work by following simple instructions. For example you can follow some really simple instructions turn a wheel or pull a handle and make wind power, electricity, make balls float in the area, open a sluice door to bring the water out of the dam to another level. This is only a sample of what you can do here, I feel this place could keep you and your children entertained for most of the day, and there is even a little picnic area where you can stop for a break.
The Ironbridge and Toll House - The Ironbridge itself is free to go on and so is the tourist information centre in the toll house, inside the toll house you can see the exhibition of how and why the Ironbridge was built, you will also notice on the wall outside a board with the toll costs tariffs which were charged when it first opened. The exhibition is upstairs and there is no lift, but they do have all the information in a book for those that are unable to make the stairs and to be honest looking at the book is just as good as going upstairs as it is just information boards telling you about the history of the Ironbridge.
Darby Houses - These are two lovely houses which Abraham Derby built; one is called Rosehill House which has been restored to show it as it was around 1850. It contains the possessions of the Darby family like their china and furniture etc and this provides a view on the way of life for this Quaker family and their acquaintances. The other house is Dale House and this has been restored as a Quaker ironmaster's residence of about 1780, this one has been dressed to the period with the Darby family possessions so you can see what life was like. We visited here and I have to say we were both impressed with them and the guides working in them as they were extremely courteous and helpful. This had an area inside where you and your children could dress up in outfits that the Quakers wore.
Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron - This was a great place to visit, not only did it have a large car park (which you use to go here and you can then walk to Enqinuity and the Darby houses), but inside you have a lovely big gift shop and cafe as well as the museum. You have an introduction section on the ground floor which tells you about the making of Iron and how it started, and then you can take the stairs to two different floors, or if you have mobility problems you can use the lift. The first floor tells you the industry side of making Iron, the way that they display this is fantastic, apart from boards just telling you what happened you have scaled down models that actually work, they are all interactive and you can see how they would have worked in the olden days. On the second floor you had the great exhibition and you got to see some fantastic iron products young and old ones. So stop by and take a look at over 300yrs of the Iron industry and your children will enjoy it here as they can interact with the models and get them working.
Broseley Pipeworks - This was once a factory which was the home to clay tobacco pipe makers, who exported them all over the world. The factory was closed down in the 1950's and it still looks like they could start work again straight away, as it is just as it was left. This was opened as a museum in 1996, which is open to the public during the afternoons, we visited here as part of our week of seeing the tourist attractions local to us, especially those on the passport. The museum was not one of the best ones that are on the list, but you do get to go around the old factory (which is a family run business and relatively small), the flooring is a little uneven and you do need to take care when you walk around, you can some of the old machinery and also a short instructional video telling you how they may the clay pipes. There is a very narrow stairway that takes you to the next floor where you will find more displays, and a good few clay pipes to look at; as the stairs are very tight, you go up one way and come down at the other end of the building, these were too hard for me to attempt on the day of our visit so my hubby went up for me and took photos so that I could see what I had missed. There are information boards up telling you the history of the clay pipe and the factory; I do feel this is worth a visit if you have the passport, but I wouldn't go out of my way to visit if it was not included, as much as I love old buildings.
Jackfield Tile Museum - When you visit here I would suggest that you maybe take a little extra time, as you have the maws centre just down the road from it, which is little area of craft shops, it is a strange little uneven road that takes you down to it, part of it is wooden slats which cover the old tram lines, the road itself is terribly uneven as this area has many land shifts and once back in the 1950's a lot of Jackfield collapsed and fell into the River Severn. Even in recent years they have had to rebuild the roads and strengthen the sides of the rivers path to stop further subsidence, one year a while back the road peaked up in the middle and split, we went over this at less than 15 mph and it still sliced through my exhaust pipe on my car; it was nice to see that they have replaced these roads now and made things a lot better and stronger. Anyway, I digressed a little; the tile museum has a gift shop, a small cafe which is set in a very modern style, with lots of tiles either advising what is on offer or up for sale. The museum can be accessed by wheelchair users and people walking on foot. Once you have had your passport ticket punched, you go through the doors and look at a short film and some information on how a tile is made, this then leads you to the stairs, but if you cannot make the stairs, just turn around and go to the other side of the reception area and take the lift, you then go to another floor where you get to see exhibits of tiles throughout the ages, this is very well presented with music to match the exhibit, for example a church altar decorated with tiles, you have organ music. It does not stop here, as you enter a play area and more modern exhibits and then onto some workshops where you can see things being made. This is well worth a visit and most definitely in the top five places out of the ten. After Jackfield Tile Museum, you can pop across the road to Fusion which is a modern building that has a few craft places over two floors, where you can see people making their crafts and selling them. If you time your visit right you can drive around the corner and have lunch sitting by the river at a lovely pub called the Black Swan.
Tar Tunnel - This is not just any tunnel, this one actually oozes natural bitumen and in its day it oozed puddles of black thick tar, even today you can still see some oozing out of the bricks. You can find this just a short walk from Coalport China Museum. We neglected to visit this on the day we visited the Coalport China Museum so we went back on our last day to check it out, it is not accessible to wheel chair users as you can only get to it via a set of stairs, entry is through a little gift shop which is set behind a small cafe (which was closed on the day of our visit), you show them your passport and are given a hard hat to wear as you actually walk the length of tunnel which is not far approx 50yds if that to be honest, it is simply just a tunnel that leaks tar, which makes it look like the tunnel is bleeding as it is dark even with the lights that they provide; you need the hard hats because you do have to bend down, I am 5ft 4in and I had to dip my head for a while as it was that low, my dear hubby who is over 6ft tall was nearly bent double.
Coalport China Museum - This was a lovely place to visit, I have always loved china and porcelain so I really did look forward to seeing this; it has a large pay and display car park (like all the attractions really you have to pay and display unless you have a blue badge). There are two levels here to see the museum and also some workshops, but there is a lift if you have mobility problems. You enter and exit through the gift shop, first you have the museum which shows you old coalport designs and then you go down to the next level where there are lots of workshops that show you how some of the items are made or decorated etc. Some of these have people working and giving you a demonstration, they are happy to answer any of your questions. There are some workshops that let your children design their own plates etc, and there is also a children's play area which is also educational teaching them things about pottery etc. There is also a cafe when you have finished your visit to have a cuppa and a piece of cake before moving on to another attraction. If you visit here it would be ideal to do the tar tunnel as well, it is a short walk about 10mins at my pace, along the bank of the Shropshire Canal which is very green and has a large family of ducks living on it, towards tar tunnel, if you time your visit right you can turn left over and go over a bridge and enjoy a light lunch in the beer garden of the Boat Inn.
Blists Hill Victorian Town - This is a fantastic day out for all the family and if you do purchase a passport to visit all the places I would save this one for last as it is most definitely the best of all of the museums to look at. It is very family friendly and has access for wheelchair users around the site. You see people all around the town and working in shops and workshops in authentic Victorian costumes, you can even have your photograph taken in one of the shops in Victorian costumes (which we did during our visit). As you enter the town you need to visit the bank first so that you can change your 21st Century money for Victorian money like shillings, sixpences, Farthings etc; it makes it more fun as you go around the site and spend your old money, you can buy bread and pastries made in authentic Victorian kitchens, leather bracelets, carvings, cast iron gifts which are all made on site; or you could simply have fun on the Victorian fairground and coconut shy. At the end of the visit you have to go past the bank again to leave the site, you can then change back your pennies to 21st century money again or keep it as a souvenir of your visit here. There are also plenty of places where you can buy food and drinks for a break or you can bring your own picnic there is a little garden and some benches where you can have a rest and eat your lunch. I have only skimmed the surface of what is here, a fantastic day out for the family.
If you do decide to have a break in Ironbridge then the above 10 attractions are a must visit and they will be worth it I assure you, we have enjoyed seeing what is on our doorstep.
The ten museums are in an area of approx six square miles; you do need transport to get to them as they are not on the public transport routes. They do advise that you group them into 3 sections, Blists Hill Museums which comprises of Blists Hill Victorian Town, Coalport China Museum and Tar Tunnel (it is a fair walk but you can walk from one to the other); Ironbridge Museums which are The Iron Bridge, the Tollhouse, Museum of the Gorge, Jackfield Tile Museum and Broseley Pipeworks (again there is a fair walk to cover them all, but it can be done), you can get public transport into Ironbridge itself; finally the third group is Coalbrookdale Museums which is Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, Darby Houses and Enqinuity, these are all fairly close to each other and there are signs to show you where to walk. On occasions they do offer a free bus service to take you from one attraction to the other so you just park up and then hop on a bus to the next one, it may be worth your while asking when you purchase your tickets. I personally think it is better to spread the visits over a few days as there is a lot to take in, some of the places you will only want to be there a matter of minutes as little as 15 minutes in some cases, where others you will want to spend more than a couple of hours, maybe even a full morning to an afternoon, on a couple I feel you could spend most the day depending on your likes and how much your children get involved, especially in the Enginuity centre and Blists Hill Museum.
~~How to get there~~
Take junction 4 from the M54 and follow the brown signs for the Ironbridge Gorge, all ten attractions are sign posted around the area. If you are using a sat nav, I have the postcodes for each of the attractions to get you there.
Blists Hill Victorian Town - TF7 5DU
Coalport China Museum - TF8 7HT
Tar Tunnel - TF8 7HT
Museum of Iron - TF8 7DQ
Darby Houses - TF8 7DQ
Enginuity - TF8 7DQ
Ironbridge and Tollhouse - TF8 7JP
Museum of the Gorge - TF8 7NH
Jackfield Tile Museum - TF8 7LJ
Broseley Pipe Works - TF12 5LX
I have always loved Ironbridge and I think it is lovely to have such a beautiful place on my doorstep, I am actually glad that we did not get to have our couple of weeks in Barmouth as we have now had chance to appreciate the beautiful area we live in and what it has to offer, I would most definitely recommend a visit here if you are passing it is well worth taking a look. The people are quite friendly and more than happy to welcome tourists even the local ones. I also remember the lovely long walks I used to have with my daughter and my first dog Bonnie (who we sadly lost 4 yrs ago now), we often walked through the countryside and into ironbridge; once during the floods we went down to see how it looked when the River Severn burst its banks and she wanted to chase a duck that was paddling where the road used to be. It is a beautiful and historical place to visit, but be aware to weather watch as when the flood defences have to go up some of the town does get closed. If you do decide to have a holiday in this area, not only are you spoilt for choice with hotels as not only does Ironbridge have a few, but so does Telford you also get lots of other places to visit just outside of Ironbridge as well, like Telford town centre and its famous frog clock, the town park and wonderland, Buildwas Abbey, Shrewsbury town only 20 minutes down the road with its Tudor style building. Walks along the Severn Way along the river which can take you the whole length of it if you wish to walk that far, whatever you like you will find something to entertain you and the children for a holiday, we even have an Ice Rink and Bowling Alley nearby as well.
Many thanks for reading