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A World First at Ironbridge

The world's first iron bridge, cast in 1779, still graces the Severn Gorge below Benthall Edge.

Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 426ft (130m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Mostly excellent, muddy in places, lots of steps (down only), 1 short stretch is narrow and eroded, 5 stiles

Landscape Wooded hills and mixed farmland above Severn Gorge

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 242 Telford, Ironbridge & The Wrekin

Start/finish SJ 672033

Dog friendliness Will love woods, but keep under control in fields

Parking Bridge Car Park at south end of Iron Bridge

Public toilets In The Square at Ironbridge

1 Without crossing into Ironbridge, and with your back to the bridge, turn right into Benthall Edge Wood, taking a track that passes under a disused railway bridge. When the track comes to an end, cross over a stile on the left and turn left, going uphill to arrive at a major path junction.

2 Turn right here and stay on the main path, ignoring branches from it. The path runs through damp, jungly woodland, climbing steadily. When it emerges into the open at one point, care is required as it's narrow and eroded. So don't get too carried away with the view of The Wrekin (or the power station) that you forget to watch where you're putting your feet. The path improves as you return to the wood and soon after this it merges with a track coming from below and then with another from the left. Keep on in much the same direction, forking left uphill a few paces further on, along a tree-lined path above a forest road. When you get to the edge of the woods, cross a stile and continue along the edge of meadows on the Shropshire Way, soon bearing a little left to pass a house, joining a track to a lane. Turn left and then, after 400yds (366m), join a path at a gate on the left where a sign requests you to keep your dog on a lead.

3 The path runs by the right-hand hedge along the edges of three fields, then straight across a fourth to a gate at the far side. Keep going by field edges to meet a track by Benthall Hall Farm. Turn right, then left on to a lane by St Bartholomew's Church, an interesting building and worth a visit - just check out that sun dial! - and adjacent Benthall Hall

4 Continue down the lane a few paces to find a footpath which crosses a field in front of the hall. Go through a gate at the far side, after which the path continues along a field edge, meeting a track at the far side. Turn right and at a junction carry straight on along a lane. Approaching another junction, turn left into Workhouse Wood (owned by the Woodland Trust).

5 The path soon forks - carry straight on here. At the next junction turn right, then left at a T-junction, and straight on at two subsequent junctions. As you approach the far side of the wood, turn right on a path that runs along its edge at first. Before long, as you return to Benthall Edge Wood, you'll come to the first of several flights of wooden steps, interspersed with boardwalks, all of which makes the steep descent easier, if rather over-civilised. At a boardwalk junction turn right, down more steps, then left. Keep going down until you come to a waymarked junction; turn right here on a path that leads out of the wood to a lane. Cross over, then descend to the iron bridge.

The little town of Ironbridge is built of mellow brick, its attractive buildings clinging in tiers to the north side of the gorge, overlooking the River Severn. Though it is part of a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site and a major tourist centre, it has not lost its charm, retaining a maze of steep, narrow streets, which mingle with patches of woodland, open to the public and managed by the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust.

The iron bridge itself was built by Abraham Darby III, grandson of the man who started it all by smelting iron ore with coke , and it's a supremely graceful structure. Do take the time to explore the bridge - walk across it, gaze down from its parapet, walk underneath it, admire it from the steep streets to the north. But do all that later, otherwise you might not be able to tear yourself away from Ironbridge to get on with the walk.

This mansion was built of stone in the 16th century presents a stunning face to the world. It's quite something inside as well, and as it's owned by the National Trust you can have a look round. There are plaster ceilings and lots of carved oak. Mr and Mrs Benthall still live there so it's a real home, with a warmer feel than many National Trust properties.

Where to eat and drink

You'll be spoilt for choice in Ironbridge. Possibilities include the Tontine Hotel opposite the bridge and the Station Hotel by the car park, both with outside tables. Ironbridge Tea Room welcomes dogs and also does takeaways. Peacocks Pantry is a very welcoming tea room, with a children's play area.

While you're there

A good starting point for understanding Ironbridge is the Museum of the Gorge, in a Gothic warehouse built in the 1830s by the Coalbrookdale Company. The displays concentrate on the history of the gorge and include a huge scale model showing it as it was in 1796.

What to look for

Benthall Edge Wood is a real jungly tangle of trees, shrubs and ferns. You'd never guess this was once the scene of frenetic industry, but look more closely and you'll spot the clues. The hummocky nature of the ground and the presence of deep pits point to the fact that Benthall Edge Wood was mined and quarried for coal and limestone from the 13th century onwards. In the 19th century it was almost cleared of trees, so it's heartening to look at the natural regeneration that has occurred since industry ceased.


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