Gorge on industrial history

Paul Bloomfield on the birthplace of a different kind of heavy metal

For a spot renowned as the birthplace of England's Industrial Revolution – where, three centuries ago, blast furnaces smoked, factories clanked and the white heat of innovation burned brightest – Ironbridge Gorge is a remarkably pretty destination.

Yet the steep-sided, tree-lined valley carved by the Severn through Coalbrookdale isn't just aesthetically appealing: the availability of wood along its banks, along with rich seams of iron and coal, created the ideal environment for innovative metallurgists to perfect their new smelting techniques. It was here, in 1709, that Abraham Darby I developed the coke-fuelled blast furnace, revolutionising the production of pig iron and transforming industry – and society.

Today, the biggest reminder of that era is the iconic Iron Bridge – the world's first, constructed in 1779 – that still spans the Gorge. But dotted around the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site are 10 museums telling the region's story with tactile, immersive exhibits.

The Gorge is the centrepiece of a wider region melding the urban energy of the Midlands with the rural delights of Shropshire, with outdoor attractions and unique places to stay for a great-value family break that also inspires a fascination with England's industrial heritage.

Shop and ore

The Industrial Revolution redefined our economy and culture – and at Blists Hill Victorian Town you can step into the shoes of 19th-century locals to experience everyday life in that new era. Watch demonstrations at the Candle Factory or Tinsmiths, tuck into fish and chips at the Fried Fish Dealer or a pint of ale at the New Inn, or spend your shillings and pennies on sugary treats from jars in the sweet shop. With regular family events throughout spring and summer, youngsters absorb Key Stage 1 and 2 themes by happy osmosis. Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (01952 433424; www.ironbridge.org.uk; Annual Passport Tickets adult £27.50, child £16.50, family £50-£68; individual tickets also available; museums open daily)

Tech tonic

There's more hands-on action at Enginuity, another part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, where children join school holiday design and build workshops to create buggies, pneumatic rockets or wind turbines – an involving introduction to science, design and technology. At nearby Jackfield Tile Museum, youngsters can decorate tiles using traditional tube-lining techniques on certain days. Meanwhile, the Gorge itself charms walkers with its Walkers are Welcome status, riverside and woodland trails.

Air time

More than 70 aircraft are exhibited at Royal Air Force Museum Cosford, a vast site covering the history of the RAF and all aspects of aviation, from early prop-powered planes to modern jump-jets and experimental aircraft.

There are more opportunities to get airborne at Telford Town Park, where the High Ropes Course takes children into the treetops through vertiginous traverses and zipwires. The park also has play areas, adventure golf, fishing ponds and cycling trails; the Silkin Way passes through on its route to Blists Hill and the Iron Bridge.

Royal Air Force Museum Cosford (01902 376200; rafmuseum.org.uk; free; open daily) Download walking and cycling maps for the Telford area from visitironbridge.co.uk


Getting there

Ironbridge Gorge is 30 minutes' drive from the M6 via the M54, and 3 hours from London. Rail connections are available from Birmingham, 40-45 minutes away.


Staying there

Coalport Station Holidays (01952 885674; coalportstation.com) Four-night rental from £350. Sleeps 4-6. More self-catering options available from Eleys of Ironbridge (0845-268 0763; ironbridgeholidaycottage.co.uk) and Ironbridge Holiday Cottages (0800-633 5181; ironbridgeholidaycottages.co.uk).  The Calcutts House (01952 882631; calcuttshouse.co.uk) Doubles start at £55. Best Western Valley Hotel (01952 432247; thevalleyhotel.co.uk) Doubles start at £89.


More information




Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas