John Gillham

Award-winning travel/outdoor writer, illustrator and photographer

Telford and Wrekin

I’ve been getting a Toyota Hiace converted to a campervan at G&P in Stafford this year so Nicola and I have been spending some time in the West Midlands while we made visits to check on the van’s progress - Cannock Chase, Church Stretton and Telford were on the itinerary. The hills around here may be tiddlers but what tiddlers: we were gobsmacked how beautiful they were and it was lovely to see so many broad-leaved trees as well as the crags.

    Sometimes you have to forget about hills though - it’s difficult for me - and the Telford area is just such a place to do it. Telford itself is a strange sort of place. It didn’t exist before the 1960s and was designed to be a dormitory town for Birmingham. The planners were not starting from scratch; they just filled the gaps between Wellington, Madeley and Dawley with a shopping centre and lots of hotels. But don’t let me put you off for Telford has lots of lovely spaces with woodland, streams and a wealth of history. Ironbridge, along with Coalbrookdale, claims to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and this has been recognised by its World Heritage Site status.

    In September 2011 they had their 25th anniversary celebrations and Nicola and I took our shiny new campervan to see them. Our day began with a walk down to the bike hire centre in Jackfield. There’s an old railway track that goes all the way down the Severn Gorge to Bridgnorth. Old railway tracks and small wooded hills offer many good bike rides around here.  In the evening the anniversary celebrations were to include  bands playing  in the local pubs and in the square above the bridge. Highlight of this was a local country singer-made-good Raymond Froggatt. In the background the old iron bridge designed by Thomas Pritchard, glowed in the night sky with ever-changing purple, green, yellow and blue floodlights, which were soon enlivened by a fireworks display.

    Visitors to the area must buy a passport to see the ten museums of the Ironbridge Gorge. The most fascinating is the village of Blists Hill, where they recreate a Victorian community with real shops and working factories. ‘Villagers’ dressed in Victorian costumes mill around the streets and serve in the local shops. You can even buy real fish and chips in paper and take refreshment in an authentic pub. Other museums include a tar tunnel, pipe works, and a tile factory - tiles from here went all around the world, including all the old London Underground favourites. A frequent shuttle-bus links all ten museums and if you miss one out for lack of time your passport allows you to revisit within 12 months.

    Just to the south west of Telford lies the Wrekin a steep-sided  hill clothed in attractive mixed woodland. The rocks near the top are dark and clearly volcanic, being made up of lava flows - rhyolites and tuffs. A summit view indicator shows you what you can see - a panorama across a dozen counties, where patchwork fields lead to the bold outlines of Brown Clee Hill, Caer Caradog, the Long Mynd and the Berwyn Mountains of Wales.

     You must go.

Photos: Top, the River Severn flows right by the village of Ironbridge in the south of Telford. Centre: the Wrekin is splendid hill, overlooking the Severn Valley and Telford. Left: the Iron Bridge is lit up for the 25th anniversary of  the region becoming a World heritage Site.