- Coracle Contemplation -
Friday 20th April 2018 and there's no need for my train ticket today as I join a five-strong Chip contingent for the number 9 bus from Wolverhampton to Ironbridge (via Bridgnorth). Ken, Nick and I have bad memories of Broseley's tight turns but we make it through unscathed, alighting at the Wharfage car park where the Museum of the Gorge awaits. This particular attraction provides a general introduction to the history of Ironbridge Gorge with examples of coracles, Coalport china and dramatic flood levels - we can also find out about Captain Matthew Webb from Dawley, the first person to swim the English Channel unaided.
- A Merrythought Moment -
Our visit to the Museum of the Gorge means we've accounted for another location off our annual passport tickets - hopefully we'll have got around all ten come September. Back across the car park is the Merrythought Village, an arts and antiques emporium which includes the Merrythought Teddy Bear Shop. This family firm have been making teddies the traditional way here since 1930 and we can't resist posing with one of their larger specimens outside the shop, Mr B Senior doing the honours for the purposes of the blog photo.
- The Tontine Hotel -
Pubs are always an integral part of Chip Foundation proceedings and our opening choice on this occasion is the Tontine Hotel, situated slap bang opposite the Iron Bridge itself (which is still encased in protective cladding as restoration work continues). Judging by the gallery of vintage photos in the public bar, the Tontine has been a fixture of the local community for many years - the hotel opened in 1784 and is reputedly one of Shropshire's most haunted buildings. Admittedly we don't detect any paranormal activity (unless my rapidly disappearing pint of Three Tuns XXX counts) but we do ponder a proposed cure for baldness involving onions, honey and - in extreme cases - electrification!
- On the Iron Bridge -
The full spectacle of the Iron Bridge may be hidden from view at the moment but we can still enjoy a stroll across this most seminal of structures. A mid-span group photograph makes the most of the sunshine before we consider the site of the old Ironbridge & Broseley railway station; this was part of the Severn Valley line when it linked Kidderminster and Shrewsbury but closed in 1963 (a decision made prior to the Beeching Report). There aren't any surviving remnants of the station to be seen so we concentrate instead on the Iron Bridge Tollhouse, educating ourselves on how the bridge came to be constructed and what levels of toll charges would have historically been applicable.
- The Golden Ball -
Lunchtime means it's chips all round as we convene at a riverside bench just below the war memorial, certainly a nice spot to watch the world go by. Time for another pub and we can work off those chip-induced calories by clambering up the Madeley Road where - despite some heckling from the back - I correctly navigate our way to the Golden Ball on Newbridge Road. This cottagey free house offers a range of ales so I partake of Butcombe Original while Nick and Ken grapple with the Holy Grail (we didn't expect to find that in deepest Shropshire). Further entertainment comes in the form of Mr B Senior's childhood memories; we suspect a name-check for Ronnie Corbett might have been a slip of the tongue.
- Jackfield Sidings -
The descent back down the hill is slightly less onerous albeit Newbridge Road is still steep in places, emerging beside the Bird in Hand on the approach to Jackfield Bridge. We would have done the Bird had it been open but Ye Olde Robin Hood is always a safe bet for quality Holden's, both the Golden Glow and Black Country Mild meeting with considerable approval. Venturing next across the modern bridge, we take a closer look at Jackfield where the former sidings site off Lloyds Head gives Nick his fix of railway remains; some short lengths of track have stayed in situ here along with crossing gates and a signal mount.
- Jackfield Tile Museum -
The sidings would no doubt have been used by the major local industry, that of tile manufacturing whereby Jackfield was at the epicentre of production with the Benthall Works of Maw & Co being the largest tileworks in the world. Nowadays the Jackfield Tile Museum pays tribute to this heritage by featuring galleries of ceramic creations along with the recreated interiors of a butcher's shop, a pub and a tube station (Covent Garden). We secure our third Gorge passport tick of the day by perusing the decorative collections with Stephen on the lookout for any cricket-themed designs. The homeward 9 bus is due at 16:25, giving us just enough time for photos of the St Mary the Virgin Church and the village hall, plus some final moments of reflection by the river. With that we board the bus and the day is done but there are more museums for us to meet before our passes expire so... watch this space!