- Mr B awaits the bus -
So here we have it, the fourth in our quartet of Ironbridge adventures and a trip that in some ways echoes the first of that mini-series (last September's Blists Hill original). A few things have changed over the intervening period however, most notably the Arriva bus network which no longer directly connects Wolverhampton with Telford. Our trusty number 9 route now only runs as far as Bridgnorth so we have to catch the train instead, then navigate our way through Telford Town Centre building sites in order to catch the number 2 at the town's new(ish) bus station.
- Silly hat season in the Goods Shed -
The ride on the 2 is an interesting one, weaving through Malinslee, Dawley (where the former Lord Hill pub is now a takeaway), Little Dawley and Aqueduct (spotting the village surgery and pharmacy). We alight in Sutton Hill for the short walk to Blists Hill, presenting our passports and then stepping back in time to the age of Victoria circa 1900. We soon get into the spirit of things by sampling the selfie station in the Goods Shed - give us the chance to try on a few hats and we're instantly happy!
- The Coalbrookdale Locomotive -
Other initial Blists Hill curiosities include McClure's Drapers (selling millinery for ladies of distinction), the Bates & Hunt Chemists (purveyors of medicinal tinctures and embrocations) plus the Boys Brigade hut (scene of candle dipping activities). We're also pleased to see the Coalbrookdale locomotive in action - this particular engine is a working replica built at GKN in 1989/90 that brings back to life an original 1802 design by the steam pioneer Richard Trevithick.
- Inspecting the Hay Incline -
One of my most memorable moments from going to Blists Hill last year was walking along the old canal and seeing the Hay Inclined Plane, so this time around the rest of the Chip Foundation chaps join me in taking a closer look - the tracks are where cradles with tub boats were transported up and down the hillside for over a century. Back below in the main village we attend an appointment in the doctor's surgery (with its stark and ominous waiting room) before checking out the locksmiths, Stephen resisting the temptation to apply for their 7-year apprenticeship.
- Vintage petrol pump (with eager attendant) -
Mr B Senior meanwhile makes the acquaintance of Casey the pony (dropping his camera in the process), but with several notices about public floggings on show we think its wise to move on for our own safety! The All Nations is our unanimous choice for the first pint of the day (Hobson's Old Prickly proving popular here) before we descend the Silkin Way footpath into Coalport. The Brewery Inn's mid-afternoon closing once again thwarts my hopes of a drink but at least we can spot a rusty relic of a petrol pump to keep the photos flowing.
- Coalport Tar Tunnel -
Coalport is home to two museum attractions, one of which is the Tar Tunnel tucked away below the village shop. This is where 18th century miners unexpectedly struck a spring of natural bitumen when digging into the hillside, and the tar still seeps through amidst the brickwork today. The site is only partially accessible at the moment so we have to make do with the view from the tunnel entrance; when fully operational, visitors can don hard hats and venture deeper inside. It's strange to think that the tunnel was almost forgotten about for years until being rediscovered in 1965.
- A Ceramic Octopus -
The village's other major attraction is of course Coalport China Museum, housed within the former factory buildings and showcasing exquisite examples of bone china and decorative ceramics. Some of the porcelain looks very intricate, especially the miniatures, and there is a demonstration area where we can witness the artistic skill required in producing such wares. The Social History gallery offers us an insight into historic working conditions and emphasises the importance of river, rail and canal for transporting the finished goods.
- Inside the bottle kiln -
Continuing through the museum, we enjoy exploring the insides of a bottle kiln whereby Stephen is intrigued to discover a 'wicket' is the technical name for the entrance to the oven - something tells me Mr B still prefers the word in its cricketing context! The Caughley Collection then presents some early Shropshire porcelain for our delectation; the firm was active from around 1775 to 1799 producing tea and dinner services plus other everyday objects.
- The Shakespeare Inn -
With our passports punched and the museums all mused, the remainder of the trip is dedicated to pubgoing so the Shakespeare Inn becomes our next target by the foot of the inclined plane. There is a distinct dining emphasis here although the main bar area is quite appealing with a sturdy tiled floor. Stephen is dispatched to find us a table and picks one in the conservatory, our setting for a check on the Wolves score (a highly creditable 1-1 draw against Manchester City) and a chat about forthcoming cricket getaways.
- The Half Moon, Jackfield -
Two additional watering holes await over the river in Jackfield. The Boat can be found barely a stone's throw from the Memorial footbridge with flood level markers recorded on the front door - I think I'm the only one of us tall enough to have kept my head above water! The building has a quaint riverside charm even though the Banks's Mild is a tad iffy; we follow that with a wander to the Half Moon which also has an enviable position beside the River Severn. As the sister pub to the Shakespeare this is also food-led but we can't deny it's rather nice sitting outside supping Joules' Pale Ale or Sharp's Atlantic.
- Euston Way, Telford Central -
The final word should be for the birthday boy himself, Nick now being 61 years young. After the 8 returns us from Jackfield to Telford, we make use of the number 4 bus as our railway station shuttle then raise a further glass in HRH's honour. The venue for our final half is the Euston Way Beefeater outlet just across the driveway from Telford Central station, not the most thrilling of pub experiences admittedly but handy enough for Doom Bar or Hobgoblin when waiting for the train. There concludes our quartet of Ironbridge investigations albeit we still have the option of doing Broseley Pipeworks and returning to the Tar Tunnel at our leisure - cheers!