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Revolution at Coalbrookdale

An absorbing walk in the wooded hills and valleys where the Industrial Revolution began.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 770ft (235m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Woodland paths, lots of steps (mostly descending), may be fallen trees at Strethill, 2 stiles, some paths very overgrown

Landscape Wooded hills of Severn Gorge

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

Start/finish SJ 664037

Dog friendliness Excellent, but keep under strict control at Strethill (sheep)

Parking Dale End Riverside Park, just west of Museum of the Gorge

Public toilets In Museum of the Gorge car park

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1 Follow the River Severn upstream, using the Severn Way, and pass under two bridges. After the second one, bear away from the river towards Buildwas Road. At the road, turn left for a few paces, then cross to a footpath that ascends through woodland. Keep close to the edge until a waymarker directs you obliquely right.

2 Cross a stile and continue in the same direction over pastureland. Pass under a pylon, then join a farm track and turn left through a gate. Follow the hawthorn hedge on your right to a junction, turn left on a bridleway and follow it along field edges, then across the middle of a meadow to a lane. Turn left.

3 Leave the lane when it bridges a road, turning right on a farm access track (Shropshire Way). Go through a gate on the right, just before Leasows Farm, then downfield to enter Lydebrook Dingle. A path descends through the wood, beyond which you continue along a path called Rope Walk.

4 Descend some steps on the left into Loamhole Dingle. Cross Loamhole Brook at a footbridge and climb steps on the other side to a T-junction. Turn right on what is mostly boardwalk and, when you reach Upper Furnace Pool, cross it on a footbridge to meet the road.

5 Your onward route is to the left, but a short detour right leads to the Darby Houses, Tea Kettle Row and the Quaker Burial Ground. Resuming the walk, go down to Darby Road and turn right beside the viaduct and the Museum of Iron. Turn left under the viaduct at a junction with Coach Road. Follow the road past the museum and Coalbrookdale Works to a junction.

6 Cross to Church Road, turn left after the Wesleyan chapel on the corner and enter Dale Coppice. Follow signs for Church Road at the first two junctions, but at the third ignore the Church Road sign and keep straight on. Leave the wood to enter grassland and go forward a few paces to meet a track. Turn left, then shortly fork right, staying on the track. Go left at another junction, then right at the next two. Dale Coppice is on your right, a cemetery on your left.

7 A gate accesses Dale Coppice. Turn right, then soon left, going downhill to a junction marked by a bench. Turn right, then left when a sign indicates Church Road, and left again beside the road.

8 Turn right into Lincoln Hill Wood and follow signs for the Rotunda, soon arriving at a viewpoint where the Rotunda formerly stood. Descend a very steep flight of steps to a junction. Turn right, then left down more steps and left again, signposted to Lincoln Hill Road. Cross the road to a footpath opposite, that descends to the Wharfage. Turn right past Lincoln Hill lime kilns and the Swan to Dale End Riverside Park.

People have been smelting iron for many centuries, but production was originally small scale because smelting was dependent on timber which first had to be made into charcoal - a slow and laborious process. All that changed at Coalbrookdale in 1709 when Abraham Darby I perfected a method of smelting iron with coke instead of charcoal. It may sound a small thing, but it sparked a revolution that changed the world. At long last iron could be made cheaply in large quantities and it came to be increasingly used in many areas of engineering.

By 1785 the Coalbrookdale district had become the foremost industrial area in the world. It was particularly celebrated for its innovations: the first iron bridge, the first iron boat, the first iron rails and the first steam locomotive. Tourists came from far and wide to see the sights, and artists came to paint it all - furnaces lighting up the night sky was a favourite subject. Decline eventually set in due to competition from the Black Country and South Wales and the area fell into decay. Since the 1960s, the surviving industrial relics have been transformed into a fascinating collection of museums and the gorge has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Perhaps even more remarkable than the industrial heritage is the way nature has reclaimed sites of industrial despoilation and made them beautiful again. These regenerated woods and meadows are managed by the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust and are accessible to the public.

The ironmasters were paternalistic types who built decent houses for their workers and took an interest in their moral well-being. When you walk through Dale Coppice and Lincoln Hill Woods you will be using the Sabbath Walks, designed by Richard Reynolds to provide healthy Sunday recreation for his workers. The idea was that this would keep them from drinking, gambling and sexual promiscuity. A rotunda was erected at one viewpoint, but has since been demolished, though you can still enjoy the view. It's mostly woodland now, but you will see the remains of a great quarry that bit deep into Lincoln Hill. It extends so far underground that tours of its limestone caverns were popular with 19th-century day-trippers. Bands played in the illuminated caverns and thousands came on excursion trains from the Black Country and Birmingham.

While you're there

The Museum of Iron brings the Darbys' achievements to life. It includes the Darby Furnace where it all began and it has much to say about the lives of those who lived and worked in the area during this period of momentous change. Equally fascinating are the ironmasters' homes near by (known as the Darby Houses) and the charming terrace of workers' houses at Tea Kettle Row.

Where to eat and drink

There is lots of choice, such as the Swan, a very attractive place which is open all day. Well-behaved dogs and children are welcome in the bar area, but no dogs where food is served. There's a special children's menu. Almost next door (the other side of Lincoln Hill limekilns), the Malthouse is equally attractive and also welcomes children, and dogs in the bar or outside.

What to look for

Upper Furnace Pool in Loamhole Dingle is the pool that powered the bellows that blew the furnace where Abraham Darby first smelted iron with coke. The area of open water has been reduced by a profuse growth of marsh horsetail. This primeval-looking species is the evolutionary successor to the giant tree-like horsetails that were a major element in the swamp vegetation that 300 million years ago formed the coal measures.

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