This industrial powerhouse and idyllic green valley in the Midlands province of Telford is known the world over for its striking 18th-century cast iron bridge, the world’s first. But Ironbridge Gorge, known as the Valley of Invention, also treats visitors to miles of recreational waterways and walking trails, immersive museums and workshops, and a tight-knit community of designers and artisans preserving and promoting Telford’s unique creative spirit. Here are six things to do in Telford.
Arching proudly above the River Severn in the town of Ironbridge, is the very landmark that gave the region its industrial symbol: The Iron Bridge. Erected in 1779 using cast iron, an unbeknown material at the time first smelted by Abraham Darby in nearby Coalbrookdale, this world-famous monument pioneered the future of English engineering and construction, so much that it’s thought to have been the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution. Cross the famed red bridge for the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, which is where you’ll see the original furnace on which Darby perfected his spearheading smelting technique. You can also learn how iron from this gorge changed the world, and enjoy wondrous vistas from the museum’s rooftop.
There are 11 award-winning museums and landmarks peppered within a six-square-mile radius that, together, form the UNESCO-listed Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site — think decorative tiles, fine china exhibits and the original factories that once produced clay tobacco pipes. Leave time for a visit to the interactive Blists Hill Victorian Town for a fun afternoon heading back in time and walking in the shoes of a 19th-century local.
Follow in JRR Tolkien’s footsteps at The Wrekin: a 1,350ft hill, which is also an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty — and inspired Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings. The Wrekin hill was formed by ancient Uriconian volcanic rocks and provides a 3.8-mile circular walk fringed by woodland, grassland and heathland. Take the 20-minute stroll along the Ironbridge Coracle Trail to learn about the centuries-old wooden boats crafted in Ironbridge.
Telford’s pioneering past lives on through its creative makers whose work spans glass and stone masonry to metal and woodwork. In fact, Ironbridge Gorge was once the tile-making centre of the world and even made the tiles for the London Underground. Merrythought is home to the UK’s finest handmade teddy bears, and Maws Crafts Centre is the perfect base to meet local makers, artists and crafters.
The River Severn offers ample opportunities for water-based activities. Shropshire Raft Tours operates along a 7-mile stretch of the river, between Coalport and Bridgnorth, where mini rafts, kayaks and canoes can be hired, while mega stand-up paddleboards are perfect for the entire family. Away from the water, it’s easy to tackle parts of the largely flat and traffic-free Telford and Ironbridge Circular cycling route, too.
Unique places to stay
For a great base for your trip, check into the Telford Hotel, Golf & Spa Resort: its relaxing rooms and wellness facilities are ideal after a day at the Gorge. Several historic pubs like the White Hart in Ironbridge offer a comfortable night’s stay, but for something truly unique, consider a luxury getaway in a converted 1940s train wagon at Scouts Meadow. Nestled in its own little secret garden, it’s kitted out with a wood-fired hot tub, fire pit and veranda.
Telford is located in the heart of England, just a 45-minute direct train ride from Birmingham New Street and a little over two hours from London Euston (via Birmingham). For more information, go to visittelford.co.uk