Airport Rating N/A
Reception of locals *****
An area of outstanding natural beauty
Shropshire is one of the smallest counties in the UK by population but covers an area of over 1000 miles squared making it one of the most sparsely populated counties. It's home to the Shropshire Hills which are designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by the UK Government, as well as the Ironbridge Gorge which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With a population of just under 15,000 Bridgnorth is a small town, but in rural Shropshire it's the fourth largest, located about 25 minutes west of the Black Country and about 25 minutes south of Telford. More importantly, it's one of the more beautiful towns in the Midlands.
The name derives from a second bridge that was built to traverse the River Severn, the longest river in the UK, unsurprisingly a little north of the first bridge. The river beautifully runs through the middle of Bridgnorth, separating the town in two. The river is more than just a body of water running through the town but is also a centre of activity, and you can go kayaking, canoeing and paddle-boarding on the water,
The town lies in a valley with steep inclines on either side giving the town a bit of an isolated feel. The two different parts of Bridgnorth are the High Town and the Low Town. I spent my time in the High Town and that's certainly the more visually appealing side of Bridgnorth. The difference in incline between the High Town and the Low Town is about 40 metres on average, enough to create some great views but not enough to be problematic to get around.
The Bridge and the River Severn
The bridge separating the two towns is a good place to start exploring as it provides a panoramic view of the High Town bookended by the Church of St. Mary'Magdalene on one side and St. Leonard's Church on the other.
While a bridge has been at the current location since the early 12th century, the current bridge dates to around 1812. The picturesque stone bridge with its understated design fits perfectly into its surroundings and a walk along the river in either direction of the bridge on a nice day is enjoyable.
Luckily, I visited on a very nice day and took a half an hour walk along the river. Small breaks in the riverbank allow you to walk right to edge of the water, and even on a warm day it wasn't too busy. The riverbank on the High Town side alternates between narrow passageways and open green spaces so there's a lot of different scenery.
Castle Hill Cliff Railway
The most popular attraction in the town is the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway, a type of funicular railway that connects the High Town and the Low Town. Funicular railways are connected using cables, and as one side goes up the other comes down.
I've seen funicular railways before (in Snowdon) and even been on a few (in Hong Kong, Lisbon and Naples). The Cliff Railway in Bridgnorth is one of a handful of working funicular railways still operating in the UK and holds records for being the oldest, shortest and steepest.
In its length and steepness it's more like an outdoor lift than a railway and so the £2 cost for a return trip seems a little much, especially when there are a variety of ways to get up the hill on foot and it isn't too far or tiresome, but I suppose that money keeps the train running.
The carriage has a retro cool design that hasn't changed much over the century it has been in operation and has windows that enable you to see outside the carriage during the 30 second journey. Rising above the station you are immediately greeted with spectacular views across the Low Town and the way the landscape zooms out below you as you head up the hill reminded me of the Pfaffenthal Lift that I took in Luxembourg City.
£2 can be a lot if you are travelling with a young family, and so this might not be for everyone, especially as there are free ways of getting up and down the hill, but I enjoyed the short ride and if you can afford it, it's a fun thing to do.
There are 10 different sets up steps that take you between the High Town and the Low Town so there's no shortage of options if you decide not to take the funicular railway.
The Stoneway Steps are my favourite, it's the longest route but also the shallowest as it was built to allow donkeys carrying goods to get between the two towns. It's also home to the 'Theatre on the Steps', a famously intimate theatre renowned across the UK.
Other steps like St. Leonard's provide better views across the Low Town while steps like Ebenezer and St. Mary's wind through the back gardens of houses. In some respects they reminded me a little of the steps to the Piazza Dante in Naples, although the views weren't quite as an impressive.
The High Town
The steps, or the Cliff Railway, lead up to the High Town proper. and it's a small beautiful town that wouldn't feel out of place in Brittany or other parts of rural continental Europe. Many of the buildings date back hundreds of years, including the final surviving town gate which dates back to 1740, although a gate has existed on that site for over half a millennia.
When built, it was one of just five gates, but most were demolished during the English Civil War by Parliamentary forces. Today, the gate is a museum although it was closed when I visited.
A short walk from the Northgate is the Town Hall. a grade II listed Tudor style building constructed in 1652. It's hard to miss as it's located in the middle of the High Street, and when I say the middle, I mean literally in the middle of the road. While the location might be a little strange, the building is absolutely beautiful.
The half-timbered top layer is studded with beautiful stained glass windows that were refurbished during the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in the 19th century, while the bottom layer has large arches that hold the building up. Amazingly, the Town Hall is used for council meetings even today.
The rest of the town, while small, is very pretty. Narrow passageways are framed by small independent shops, while buildings in different styles tell the story of a town developed over hundreds of years.
Bridgnorth Castle and gardens
Located on the High Town, Bridgnorth Castle is over 900 years old, although not much of it remains now. During the English Civil War the town was a Royalist stronghold but was attacked and taken by the Parliamentary Army in 1646. The ruined remains were largely taken and used to repair damaged buildings in the town and all that remains today is part of the great tower.
The castle is surrounded by gardens that have been beautifully cultivated and are a good place to sit and relax. The perimeter of the gardens overlooks the river and the Low Town, and it reminded me of some of the gardens I visited in northern France. It also overlooks the Severn Valley steam railway, a 16-mile heritage railway that runs through Shropshire and neighbouring Worcestershire.
The carriages are hauled by steam locomotives and the smoking chimney of the locomotive looks beautiful passing through the countryside. I didn't ride the locomotive and at £50 for a return journey it isn't cheap either. Bridgnorth is the northern terminus for the railway and perhaps one day I'll be lucky enough to take that trip.
The castle and gardens are next to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Built in the late 18th-century, the church today stands on land that has been a church since the 13th century. The present building is still used as a church and is over 100 feet high tall with a green dome crowning the tower. I've driven past Bridgnorth on many occasions and always see the green dome from the nearby bypass road and it is beautiful up close.
On the other side of the High Town is St Leonard's, a grade II listed building completed in 1878. While originally built as a church, it serves today as a community centre, although from the outside it still very much looks like a church. On the edge of the church are some very beautiful houses built in different styles, all in keeping with the style of the town. A number of Bridgnorth's famous 10 steps lead from this area down to the Low Town.
On the edge of the Low Town at the bottom of the Cannon Steps is Lavington's Hole which dates back to the Civil War. The 'hole' is actually a 69 metre tunnel that was dug by Parliamentary forces led by Colonel Lavington with the aim of tunnelling under St. Mary's Church and blowing it up as it was used to store the Royalist's gunpowder.
The Royalists surrendered before the plan was completed so it was pretty much for nothing in the end, but it still exists today. Near the tunnel are small caves which were used as housing for the advancing Parliamentary forces.
Today, while you can see them from the outside, you can't actually enter the tunnel or caves for health and safety reasons. It makes sense, but it also means what you see is nothing more than a gated entrance to a dark hole. It's a nice a bit of history, but there's not actually much to see.
Is it worth visiting Bridgnorth?
If you're in the Midlands then it's a great town to visit. It has a lot of history and the High Town is beautiful to walk around so it makes for a great day out. Attractions like the Cliff Railway, the castle gardens and the independent shops means there's a fair few things to do and walks along the river are relaxing.
Is Bridgnorth worth visiting if you're not in the Midlands? I'm not entirely sure. The thing I've learned about the UK is that there are towns and villages up and down the country that are beautiful and have interesting histories too. The thing that makes Bridgnorth special is that it's surrounded by places like Ludlow, Ironbridge, Worcester and Stourport which are all worth visiting. It's also next to the Black Country and Wolverhampton which are areas with a large Panjabi population so it's a place where the community can easily visit, and I saw a small number of Singhs while I was there.
More broadly, as a town that gets a lot of day trippers, there shouldn't be any issues visiting as a Sikh. It's definitely a very culturally homogenous place, but it's also located in the Midlands which has one of the largest Sikh populations outside of the subcontinent. There were no issues at all for me while I visited.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.