Could the Shropshire town of Bridgnorth be the most underrated in the UK? You may not have heard much about it, but there’s enough quirkiness and charm to make it a perfect daytrip or as part of a laid-back countryside break.
Like the capital of Hungary, Bridgnorth comprises two settlements either side of a river – in this case, High Town and Low Town straddling the Severn as opposed to Buda, Pest and the Danube.
The similarities don’t end there – High Town, like Buda, can be reached by a funicular train. The Bridgnorth Railway Company has been operating this quirky feat of Victorian engineering which carries people 111-feet up the sandstone cliff-face and back for £1.20 (children under six go free).
Its claim to fame is that it is the oldest and steepest inland funicular in England, and it has been saving legwork and shoe-leather since 1892 giving locals a way to avoid having to walk the 200 steps from Low Town to High Town.
High Town has more sights, shops and pubs so is where you’ll want to spend most of your time. Start off with a stroll around the castle gardens – just turn left when you get off the funicular. The castle was destroyed in the English Civil War and all that remains is Bridgnorth’s very own Leaning Tower of Pisa, as the castle ruins are crazily inclined at an angle of 15°.
From the castle grounds you can enjoy cracking views of Low Town and the Severn Valley.
If you fancy a tea-break, there is no shortage of refreshment stops for a town with a population of just 12,000. There seems to be a disproportionate number of pubs, many of which are traditional English pubs (not too many chains here) with beer gardens overlooking the river.
There are tea-rooms aplenty too. We stopped at The Winding House (6 Castle Terrace; www.thewindinghouse.com) right next to the funicular station at the top of the cliff. This is quite literally a tea-room, with a menu of 30 different teas served in proper china pots and cups. We sat on the terrace, watching the train climb and descend, sharing a pot of Shropshire Brew – a blend specially made to suit the Shropshire water.
Although there aren’t too many chain stores, Bridgnorth is big on independent shops. We bought a few knick-knacks for the house before stocking up with cheese at the Bridgnorth Delicatessen (45 High Street; www.delicatessen.tv). The area is famous for its delicious, creamy Shropshire Blue, and being a cheese addict I regretted taking just 200g home with me (which lasted two days).
It was market day on High Street when we were in town, so the streets were blocked-off to cars and packed with covered stalls selling jam, cakes, jewellery and local wine. High Street is dominated by the black and white timbered, arched Town Hall building in the middle of the street, which was covered in scaffolding while we were there, but looks like this (below) without it.
Before taking the funicular back down the cliff to the car park, we paid a visit to the impressive Church of St. Mary Magdalene. It’s green-domed clocktower stands 120-feet high and can be seen from all over Bridgnorth – High Town and Low Town – and wouldn’t look out of place in Edinburgh.
We thoroughly enjoyed our mini adventure in Bridgnorth – a town we knew nothing about before our visit. Combined with a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site at Ironbridge, and a ride on the old-fashioned heritage line, the Severn Valley Railway, this really should be a renowned tourist town. It would make a memorable and quirky stop-off for foreign tourists to the UK making their way between London and York.
Bridgnorth Tourist Board – it’s time to up your game!
Bridgnorth is not connected to the UK’s rail network, but Wolverhampton (15 miles to the east) is. Wolverhampton is about 1 hour 45 minutes from London Euston or 1 hour 10 minutes from Manchester Piccadilly. Once there, the number 890 bus gets you to Bridgnorth in around 40 minutes.
If you fancy driving yourself, there’s a big pay and display car park on the banks of the River Severn at Severn Park, a nice 20 minute walk to the funicular station.