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

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

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

visitironbridge.co.uk

VisitEngland.com/morehistory

 

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Life and Style
Customers look at the new iPhones on display at the launch of the new Apple iPhone 6 and iphone 6 plus at the Apple IFC store in Hong Kong
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week