Bridgnorth has one in all England’s oldest cliff railways, a vacation cottage with a hidden cave and a tower that leans greater than Pisa’s. But I’ve been drawn to south-east Shropshire by the prospect of bracing winter hikes, pleasant pubs and a journey to the sights of Shrewsbury. I arrive in Bridgnorth by bus from Wolverhampton (£3.90). The steep, atmospheric cliff railway (£2 return) carries me as much as the High Town simply as a rainbow arcs throughout the valley beneath.
There are views throughout the River Severn to wooded purple cliffs from close by Castle Walk, which ends up in the 18th-century church of Saint Mary Magdalen, designed by bridge-builder and engineer Thomas Telford. The sandstone citadel subsequent to it was blown up by Roundheads and now leans at 15 levels – 4 occasions the angle of the tower of Pisa – amongst vibrant beds of begonias.
The impression of color and eccentric angles continues as I step off steep, curving Railway Street into the Alice-in-Wonderland sitting room of Dracup’s Cottage, the place I’m staying. There’s a patchwork couch, a crooked mirror and a clock that runs backwards, however this room is merely quirky. The remainder of the cottage is a masterclass in idiosyncrasy, from the steampunk lavatory to the surreal murals in one upstairs room: it’s a Hieronymus-Bosch-style Bridgnorth panorama with contortionists, bare hot-air ballooners and a big carnivorous chameleon.
The cliff railway at Bridgnorth. Photograph: Jon Sparks/Alamy
The artist Antony Dracup lived in this previous railway cottage for many years; Karolina and Jason Harte purchased it in 2019 and have spent two years doing it up. I open a door in the back of the cottage to seek out medieval music taking part in in a gothic pillared vault lit by flickering candles. Dracup chiselled this house out of the sandstone hillside and used the excavated sand to create bricks for the supporting arches.
The station-themed kitchen in Dracup’s Cottage, Bridgnorth. Photograph: TOM CLUNN 2020
The station-themed kitchen is impressed by the Severn Valley Railway, a few steps down the hill. The full-size, largely steam-hauled line runs for 16 miles between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster. It’s nice for linear walks alongside the long-distance Severn Way. I’ve hit a seasonal lull in the prepare timetable so catch bus 297 as an alternative, passing by way of the woods round Dudmaston Hall. I get off in the village of Alveley and stroll down Chapel Lane into the Severn Valley nation park.
I spend the day striding on historic stony tracks alongside the limestone cliff of Wenlock Edge by way of flaming gold beeches
There are clear views of the Clee Hills, together with Shropshire’s highest peaks, topped with iron age forts or radar scanners. Until 1969, the park was a mine, producing 300,000 tons of coal a yr at its peak. A brand new historical past path, opened in 2020, passes traces of ropeways, spoil heaps and miners’ cottages. Today the wooded paths are thick with birds and berries: I spot a rust-red-slate-grey chaffinch and a flock of long-tailed tits. There are wreaths of orange bryony twisted by way of yellow hedges spangled with neon-pink spindle berries. I comply with the paths to a footbridge over the rain-swollen Severn.
Bridgnorth is eight miles upstream and the riverside path is grassy and alluring, with mossy hawthorn bushes and large gaggles of mallards. There are indicators of fierce flooding: bundles of reeds are lodged in higher branches, and snagged and ragged sheets of polythene flap in the racing present like Halloween ghosts. At the hamlet of Lower Forge, midway to Bridgnorth, you possibly can depart the river and catch bus 125, passing Eardington nature reserve, as soon as a sand and gravel quarry, and Daniel’s Mill, a working 18th-century watermill close to the Severn Valley Railway viaduct.
Bridgnorth Castle gardens. Photograph: travellinglight/Alamy
For supper, I am going to the Royle, a half-timbered pub and restaurant on Bridgnorth’s High Street. It’s a weeknight however the place is buzzing. Landlords Chris and Anna Walsh constructed up a following throughout their years on the King’s Head over the highway. At the Royle, Chris is each affable pub landlord and knowledgable restaurant host. The meals is tough to fault: three crisp and delicate bhajis below cucumber ribbons and coriander leaves and a wealthy salmon wellington with a layer of shallots and mushrooms.
Bridgnorth’s friendliness is outstanding. As I’m having breakfast outdoors Coffee at d’Arcy’s subsequent morning, a number of passing strangers say whats up. I meet Sally Themans, founding father of group group Love Bridgnorth, to speak in regards to the city’s thriving excessive avenue. She’s simply come from the opening of a new artisan jewellery shop. The streets close by are fizzing with eco-friendly, unbiased outlets: you possibly can fill your individual pot with nuts or lentils at Room for Refills, or head to Roobarb over the highway for a bobble hat with its fleecy lining recycled from previous plastic bottles.
I catch bus 436 to Much Wenlock (£2.70 single) and spend the day striding on historic stony tracks alongside the limestone cliff of Wenlock Edge by way of flaming gold beeches and yellowing hazel bushes. The identical bus, subsequent morning, carries me all the best way to Shrewsbury previous views of the remoted Wrekin. Shropshire’s river-circled county city has a lot of choices for all-weather sightseeing, together with a good market. You can stash bags on the Premier Inn close to the station for £6.
The long-distance footpath alongside the Severn Way. Photograph: David Martyn Hughes/Alamy
Simon Jenkins names three Shrewsbury church buildings in his England’s Thousand Best Churches and I duly admire the octagonal tower and round nave of Georgian Saint Chads and the Norman doorway of the purple sandstone abbey with its mixture of home windows above. “Seven lights rise to Perpendicular panel tracery, fracturing into Decorated reticulation,” Jenkins writes. Sure, however is there a cafe? Saint Mary’s, a hovering town-centre magnificence, caters for each soul and physique. I’ve a espresso and watch multicoloured mild pour by way of six centuries of stained glass on to Victorian ground tiles below a carved oak ceiling.
Next up is the city’s free museum and artwork gallery, a neoclassical former live performance corridor that counts Telford’s measuring wheel amongst its treasures. Natural photos recur by way of the millennia: flowers on a silver Roman mirror, ravens on a carved Tudor four-poster, butterflies on nice Caughley porcelain. Nearby Okra, a vegan cafe opened in October 2019, does salads and noodle bowls. My heat flatbread (£7) is sliced by way of, revealing a contemporary rainbow of inexperienced leaves, carrot, purple cabbage, roasted aubergine, chickpeas and chutney.
The entrance to Dingle backyard, Shrewsbury. Photograph: Phoebe Taplin
After lunch, I stroll by way of the Dingle, a bench-lined backyard in a former quarry, down an avenue of lime bushes, and over the disconcertingly bouncy Port Hill suspension footbridge. The Boathouse pub, on the far facet of the Severn, serves Darwin’s Origin copper ale from the Salopian Brewery. (Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury). It takes quarter-hour to stagger from right here alongside the river to the station, previous a Darwin-inspired riverside archway referred to as Quantum Leap. The trains residence run easily whereas a pink sundown glows and fades to black outdoors the home windows.
Train journey to Wolverhampton was offered by Avanti West Coast (advance tickets from £10.80). Accommodation was offered by Dracup’s Cottage (sleeps two from £125 a evening, two-nights minimal, dracupscottage.co.uk). More data at visitshropshire.co.uk