First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Bridgnorth hangs over the River Severn, crowned by a pinnacled church tower, its buildings piled one above another like an Italian hill town. But there the resemblance ends. These three-storey red brick river warehouses, gable-end advertisements for ancient seed merchants and beamy pubs belong to England alone.
The old Shropshire river port is chock full of character. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the tangled hilly streets packed high with houses, but as the clock chimed midday we set out along the Severn Way footpath that clings closely to the west bank of the river.
There was a strength and power to the Severn today, the water gleaming with a bronzy sheen and exuding that unmistakable riverine smell of muddy vegetation. Tender new green leaves poked out on weeping willows, and bushes of comfrey along the bank were hung with white and pink flower bells.
A man in a yellow singlet sculled a long racing shell upriver, easily overtaking us with powerful strokes against the current. We threaded a golf course margin past the ochre and grey sandstone cliff of High Rock, then followed the path at the edge of clover leys and ploughed fields of dark red earth scattered with last year’s wrinkled remnants of beets and potatoes.
A goldfinch skimmed away with a swooping flight. A dozen swallows perched chirping in a hawthorn, and a gang of blue tits tinkled and bounced from branch to branch of a sycamore half in and half out of the river. Floods had pulled some trees down to water level; others tottered precariously, barely clinging to the bank with roots exposed.
Two men were building a flight of steps for fishermen into the bank. ‘Hard work,’ one grunted. ‘See them molehills? Can you tell the moles to come down here and give us a hand?’
We crossed a stile and turned along the line of the old Severn Valley Railway, now the Mercian Way multi-user path. On a rise of ground above the far bank, the enormous Gothic Revival façade of Apley Hall looked out over the Severn. Thomas Whitmore, owner of the Apley Estate, bitterly opposed the building of the railway across his land and through his sightline in the 1850s. He was appeased with a payoff of £14,000 – about £2 million today – and the building of a special station at Linley (now a private house) where he could hail up trains for a personal pick-up.
We passed Linley Station’s flowery platform and walked on through mossy sandstone cuttings lined with cowslips and wild garlic, the Severn never more than a field away, till railway and river reconnected for the last mile into Jackfield.
How hard is it? 8½ miles; easy; riverside and railway path
Start: Riverside car park, Bridgnorth WV16 4BH (OS ref SO 719931). Limited parking; other all-day car parks available in Bridgnorth.
Getting there: Bus 8 (Telford – Bridgnorth)
Road: Bridgnorth is on A442 from Telford (M54 Jct 4)
Walk (OS Explorer 218, 242): Follow road upstream beside river, then Severn Way to Jackfield.
Alternative: in 3 miles, where Severn Way and old railway run close together (721974), left over stile onto Mercian Way multi-user path and turn right. In 1¼ miles, just past Linley Station (705983), pass notice forbidding traffic and cycles, and continue. In another 2¾ miles at Coalport Station (702019), sharp right along road; opposite Woodbridge Inn, left along Severn Valley Way to Jackfield.
Return to Bridgnorth by Bus 8, Telford-Bridgnorth.
Lunch: Woodbridge Inn, Coalport TF8 7JF (01952-882054, brunningandprice.co.uk) – very friendly, welcoming pub.
Accommodation: Falcon Hotel, St John’s Street, Bridgnorth WV15 6AG (01746-763134)