With the lifting of Covid restrictions, the world is our oyster again. Travel is tempting but there is plenty to see and do nearer to home, too. Neil Thomas reports.
The clocks move forward an hour on March 27, heralding the arrival of Spring with its promise of warmer days and lighter evenings.
Spirits invariably rise with the temperature and the feelgood factor brings with it a desire to be out and about. Fortunately, Shropshire and its borders offers plenty to see and do.
We have no shortage of stellar attractions, whether you wish to visit a historic stately home, take a ride on a heritage railway, visit a world class museum or stroll around beautiful parkland.
Shropshire has some wonderful market towns, too, for those who enjoy nothing more than a leisurely stroll around fascinating independent shops with a pub lunch or afternoon tea thrown in.
Bridgnorth is one such town, of course, boasting superb period architecture and a range of attractive amenities, designed on two levels beside one of Britain’s most majestic rivers.
It is also home to one of the UK’s most popular heritage railways, drawing in 250,000 visitors a year from all over the country.
Severn Valley Railway (SVR) is one of Shropshire’s tourism flag-bearers.
Old-fashioned carriages, some with compartments, are pulled by steam or early diesel locomotives, with several journeys per day along the 16-mile single track from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster and back.
“The SVR appeals to all ages, with a feeling of nostalgia for the older passengers and a sense of adventure for the children,” explains SVR marketing manager Dan Shorthouse. “A lot of people who visit are very passionate about the history of it.”
That history incorporates the Victorian heyday of railway travel. Opened in 1862 after a nine-year building project, it was originally part of the much longer line from Shrewsbury to Hartlebury, just under four miles south of Kidderminster. Initially there were 15 stations, with the Bewdley to Kidderminster loop added in 1878.
Rail travel declined in the postwar years in favour of the car and the line was eventually closed in 1963. Almost immediately, the campaign to reopen it as a heritage line was launched and by 1970 it had achieved its goal, thanks to the efforts of the Severn Valley Railway Society, which invested more than £25,000 (nearly half a million in today’s money) and thousands of hours of voluntary labour.
The attraction initially had four locomotives, including The Flying Pig 43106, which still runs today.
“The SVR appeals to all ages, with a feeling of nostalgia for the older passengers and a sense of adventure for the children,”
Over the past 52 years, the line has been extended, the rolling stock expanded, stations developed and many crowd-drawing events organized.
It is a mammoth enterprise – just as well that the SVR’s army of volunteers today stands at 1,700.
They have been busy in recent weeks, during the attraction’s winter hibernation, preparing for the new season, which starts on April 2 with the resumption of standard services.
The first event of the year is the Spring Steam Gala, from April 21 to 24. It is a festival of the best engines from the home-fleet plus special guests.
The Spring Diesel Festival follows, May 19 to 22, with a variety of classes and traction types roaring through the Shropshire and Worcestershire countryside.
The immensely popular 1940s weekends – a staple of the SVR calendar for more than 20 years – are scheduled for June 25 and 26 and July 2 and 3.
Visitors are invited to dress in 1940s fashions as the SVR turns the clock back to celebrate the best of Britain on the home front.
“This is one of our most popular events of the year with a variety of interactive displays, attractions and re-enactors. It aims to entertain and educate,” Dan adds.
“The organising committee is working hard to restore the carnival to its former pre-pandemic glory.”
Lots of us love a carnival, the chance for the community to get together, enjoy a day of family fun and let its hair down a little.
So, it’s great news that Bridgnorth Town Carnival is back on this year, following the disruptions of the pandemic.
Friday June 3 is the date for your diary, when the event will be part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
The organising committee is working hard to restore the carnival to its former pre-pandemic glory. Planned attractions include a floats and walking procession along High Street, starting from the livestock market. It will finish on Severn Park, where an array of stalls, attractions and live entertainment will carry the festivities through to the evening.
“The emphasis will be on local – any local community or sports clubs looking to take part in the procession, either with a float or a walking entry, can also opt in for a complementary stall down on Severn Park afterwards,” says committee spokeswoman Nicky Gough.
The first event of the 135th Wenlock Olympian Games is the Live Arts Festival which takes place on Saturday 12th, Sunday 13th and Sunday 20th March.
Entries are open to all young people aged 18 and under. This year there will be three full days of dance competition at the Edge Arts Centre (William Brookes School), and on Saturday 12th March competitions in Music (instrumental and vocal) and in Choral Speaking will be held at Holy Trinity Church, Much Wenlock and at the Edge Arts Centre.
Gold, Silver and Bronze Wenlock Olympian Medals are awarded to winners in each class and each competitor is awarded a participation certificate.
“After being unable to hold the festival last year, due to the pandemic, the Wenlock Olympian Society is looking forward to providing a showcase for young people to perform in public once again,” says Live Arts Committee chair, Sue Hayward.
“The events are open to the public and all are welcome to come and enjoy the performances of the talented young people taking part.”
Nothing captures the colourful heritage of Shropshire rural life quite like a ploughing contest.
So, Morville Countryside Club’s Annual Ploughing Match, on Sunday 13th March, is bound to be a big draw.
Venue is The Common Farm, Newton, Bridgnorth, courtesy of Edward Foster, with plough starting at 10am. Classes include Open Trailed, Novice Trailed, Open Mounted, Novice Mounted, Beginners, Classic, Horticultural, Crawler and Best Club Member. The event is in aid of Midland Air Ambulance.
The fascination of farming from a bygone age is similarly evoked by the Annual Shropshire Vintage Tractor Run, which this year is on Sunday 3rd April. It will start from and finish at Lower Cockshutt Farm, near Chetton, Bridgnorth, courtesy of Roy Millington of Millington Race Engines.
The event is organised by Bridgnorth Vintage Machinery Club, which has been running since 1986. Chairman and secretary is David Spruce, who is now in his 23rd year as organiser of the Tractor Run.
He explains, “Over the years we have moved around south Shropshire to provide a different route each year. The run is usually between 25 and 30 miles and this year we will be coming into Bridgnorth High St for the lunchtime break, where people will be able look at the tractors and talk with the owners.
“We are expecting around 100 tractors to take part. The tractors and drivers come from all around, with some travelling more than 100 miles to take part and they often come back every year.
“Nothing captures the colourful heritage of Shropshire rural life quite like a ploughing contest. “
“The aim of the run is to get vintage tractors out and used and give the owners a lovely ride around our area and at the same time raise much needed funds for Midland Air Ambulance.”
Our area boasts a wealth of historic architecture and magnificent gardens and grounds.
Prominent amongst these is Weston Park, the stately home near Shifnal.
It offers 1,000 acres of parkland for people to explore, with woodland walks, wildlife and stunning views. Visitors can relax in the beautiful gardens surrounding the House while, for children, there is the Woodland Adventure playground with its ground level trampolines, climbing walls, swings and one of the country’s longest double zip lines.
The miniature railway, with its station near the playground, takes passengers around Temple Wood.
The Forest Friends attraction offers fun tasks for families to complete which teach children about nature, bushcraft and the environment.
“The Forest Friends of Weston Park app opens up a magical world where children can find each character, turn themselves into a fox or rabbit with fabulous filters and take selfies with their new found friends,” explains Andrea Webster, Marketing Manager at Weston Park.
“The Forest Friends can be found in various locations across the estate and all of them play a different role in maintaining a fantastic environment fo
r plants and animals to thrive.”
Weston will host the AGBO Stages Rally on 20th March, with 75 cars taking on 10 stages over 30-plus miles, all within the confines of the park.
A celebration of Mother’s Day on 27th March will see Afternoon Tea, crafted by Head Chef Anna Moore, served in the historic Dining Room by Head Butler Barry Fairhurst and his team.
On 23rd April, Weston hosts Firework Champions, when some of the top fireworks companies compete against each other to find the best display set to music.
“The Forest Friends attraction offers fun tasks for families to complete which teach children about nature, bushcraft and the environment.”
Weston’s Walled Garden and Granary Art Gallery are open daily and are free to enter. People can wander round the orchards and see where produce is grown to be used in the kitchens across the estate. The Gallery displays arts exhibitions which change monthly.
In addition to Weston, there is a string of estates run by the National Trust. Dudmaston Hall, Benthall Hall, Attingham Park and Sunnycroft at Wellington attract thousands of visitors every year – a trend that looks sure to resume this year after the Covid disruptions of 2020 and 2021.
Popular English Heritage sites like Wenlock Priory, Stokesay Castle and Haughmond Abbey offer more wonderful relics of Shropshire’s colourful history in which to immerse yourself this Spring.
If it’s history you are after, how about England’s oldest and steepest inland electric funicular railway? Bridgnorth Cliff Railway is one of the town’s most colourful attractions. Opened in July 1892, it has been transporting passengers up and down the 111ft sandstone cliffs that separate High Town from Low Town for nearly 130 years.
One of our area’s biggest amenities is Telford Town Park, a superb green space and entertainment hub at the heart of the town. Aside from being a great place for a stroll – or jog, depending on how fit you feel – it is also the venue for many organised events throughout the year.
One such is Sky Reach Adventures, which promises to thrill visitors from 9th to 24th April.
You can set off on a journey through the town woods at ‘squirrel height’. There is a 10m high climbing wall, a rope course through the Town Park woods and a quick jump which allows you to feel the sensation of free falling. You will be challenged to reach, balance, and pull your way from tree to tree to reach the end. The Tree Course is four metres high, while the skyline course has a height of 11 metres. You can create your own adventure, move at your own speed and choose your own course. There will be a safety briefing and harness fitting prior to the activity.
One of Shropshire’s biggest attractions is the collection of museums at Ironbridge Gorge which includes Blists Hill Victorian Town, Enginuity, Jackfield Tile Museum, Coalport China Museum, Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron and, of course, the famous Iron Bridge after which the town takes its name.
The recreated Victorian Town offers not only a family fun day out but an educational insight into every-day life in 19th century Britain. It is a chance to meet characters in Victorian dress in shops and cottages that reflect the period. You can buy curious goods from a bygone era, watch tradespeople in action in their atmospheric workshops and factories, check out weird Victorian remedies in the Pharmacy, see the printing press in action or the climb aboard the little train and head into the Blists Hill mine.
The Victorian Town also includes The Madeley Wood Co. Outdoor Adventure, an outdoor family attraction named after the company that historically ran mine operations on the site. There are elevated walkways above the woodland floor, a log style basket swing, seesaws, a zipline, coal chute slide and themed buildings, plus a separate toddler zone.
Enginuity also combines fun and learning. This is a science and engineering centre, with a range of interactive experiences like discovering how a blast furnace works, understanding the use of water in generating energy, and what you need to pull a loco along a track.
“The recreated Victorian Town offers not only a family fun day out but an educational insight into every-day life in 19th century Britain.”
Enginuity has a range of tabletop experiments and a chance to use your imagination as part of the Fairytale Adventure Challenge. You can also take time out in the book corner and read about engineers, bridges, and scientists.
Jackfield Tile Museum celebrates the fact that the village was once at the heart of British tile production. You can walk amongst the very best examples of tiles at a recreated pub, tube station, church and other settings. There are stunning friezes, epic story-telling panels and a world-class gallery dedicated to British tiles.
The Victorians loved tea, so no wonder they made such exquisite China cups and pots. Some of these spectacular treasures are on show in the quirky buildings in which they were manufactured, at Coalport China Museum. From statuesque vases to hand-painted miniatures, there is ware made for royalty and the wealthy. There are traditional riverside workshops, a family gallery and interactive Teacup Trail.
Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron shows how iron changed the world. Exhibits range from exquisite art castings to functional cookware, all made from iron.
An imposing Eagle-Slayer statue, life-sized dogs on the impressive Deerhound Table plus exhibits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, are amongst the attractions.
Shropshire boasts one of the world’s great bridges. The iron bridge, that dominates the small town that takes its name, is a beautiful monument to the Industrial Revolution. Tourists have flocked to marvel at this extraordinary structure since its construction in 1779. Visitors can also check out the original tollhouse which, along with the bridge and all the museums mentioned above, is managed by Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
April 18 is an important date for Ironbridge Gorge, as one of the UK’s first designated World Heritage Sites. It is World Heritage Day – and this year it celebrates 50 years since UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) started designating World Heritage Sites.
To celebrate, partner organisations, residents and volunteers, will talk about what makes Ironbridge Gorge, designated in 1986, of Outstanding Universal Value. It is known throughout the world as the symbol and birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. The site contains all the elements of progress that contributed to the rapid development of the industrial region in the 18th century, from mines to railway lines.
Fun and education go hand-in-hand at all of Ironbridge’s museums and the same can be said of Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre at Craven Arms, with its Shropshire Mammoth displays and nature areas.
The RAF Museum at Cosford also makes learning fun, with its spectacular display of military aircraft and associated memorabilia from across the decades stretching back to the Second World War.
Visitors can expect to see all the big favourites this year including the Cosford Food Festival, Large Model Air Show and the Spitfire 10K, as well as the famous Cosford Air Show, scheduled for 12th June.
Additions to the events calendar this year include Pilot Training for youngsters over the Easter bank holiday weekend and a Battle of Britain Proms in August.
Aviation photography and art workshops are available for those who want to get up close to the aircraft collection. The Museum’s younger fans are also catered for with youth groups invited to a sleepover and an evening of activities nestled amongst the aircraft on 19th March.
The Museum is open daily from 10am with free admission. However, visitors are asked to pre-book their arrival time online at rafmuseum.org.
Another of Shropshire’s great attractions is Ludlow Food Festival, which draws visitors from across the region in September.
First, though, is its sister event, Ludlow Spring Festival, which returns on the 13th to 15th May, after a two-year break because of the pandemic.
Ludlow Castle is the venue for the festival, which brings together the very best regional beer, food and music, as well as classic cars.
This is a beer festival and so much more, with over 200 superb ales from more than 60 local brewers available to taste over the weekend. For those not so keen on beer, there will also be ciders, perry, fruit-flavoured liqueurs and local wines.
There will be plenty of artisan food producers too. It’s a chance to meet them, hear about their stories and learn why they make their products.
As always, the beer and food are accompanied by a wealth of music, from jazz and blues, to Latin and folk. There’s also the Marches Transport Festival where you can see all sorts of classic cars, from pre-war gems right through to classics of the 70s and 80s.
The festival runs over Saturday and Sunday, with a special preview evening on the Friday, 5-9pm, when visitors can ‘Meet the Brewer’. It’s an opportunity to talk to brewers about their beers and sample the full selection.
Even if you are not heading to a particular e
zvent, there is so much pleasure to be had just visiting one of our attractive market towns, with their wealth of historic architecture, range of independent businesses and sense of community. Places such as Bridgnorth, Much Wenlock, Ironbridge, Broseley, Shifnal, Ludlow and Shrewsbury never fail to delight.
“This is a beer festival and so much more, with over 200 superb ales from more than 60 local brewers available to taste over the weekend.”
If it is pure country air that you’re after, instead, then there is an abundance of rural splendour in which you can leave behind the cares of the world to commune with nature. The Long Mynd, Wenlock Edge – the 18-mile limestone escarpment from Craven Arms to Much Wenlock – and the Shropshire Way all offer that alluring combination of exercise and escapism.
So much happens in our region – there is an extraordinary amount to see and do – that this article can only provide a sample, a cross section of what is available on your doorstep.
There is much more out there, from fairs, fetes and festivals to fascinating places and fun attractions.
And all within easy reach. . .
Our comprehensive What’s What diary of events, a centrepiece of every issue, will keep you fully in the picture, as 2022 unfolds.