Travel / The Things I've Seen: Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

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The Independent Travel
I WENT by steam train along the Severn Valley to Bridgnorth. There, at the foot of Castle Hill between some buildings, I came to a tiny ticket office. Above me, rising 111 feet at an angle of 33 degrees, ran the only inland cliff railway in Britain.

There are sheer red sandstone cliffs beside the River Severn in the town. At the top are the Royalist castle and the High Town, down below the Low Town. Over the centuries, seven sets of steps were built into the cliffs at different locations. There was also a steep old road known as Cartway. In 1892 the Castle Hill Railway was opened and a public holiday proclaimed.

Propulsion was by gravity: each of the two cars had a 2,000-gallon water ballast tank. The tank was filled when the car was at the top, then emptied at the bottom; the descending car hauled the other one back up. Each car weighed two and a half tons and had its own brakeman. In 1944 the water-powered system was replaced by electricity. The railway is still in use.

It is operated by a roster of elderly ladies: one at the top selling tickets and working the electric motor, one at the bottom just selling tickets. They run a strict regime: no doors to be left open, no half-fares for children, and return tickets (30p) compulsory. I had planned to ride up and walk down; I wondered if they would compel me to ride down again. A bell rang impatiently from above and I was herded with some other people into the 'up' car. When we got to the top I asked the motor operator how long she had been doing the job. 'Thirty years,' she replied. Another bell rang impatiently from below.

The Bridgnorth Cliff Railway is at Ordnance Survey grid reference SO 717930.

(Photograph omitted)

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