Tracing King Charles Footsteps

PUBLISHED: 17:03 01 December 2010 | UPDATED: 15:23 20 February 2013

That's what King Charles I said of the view of Bridgnorth. Dave Hancock traces his Royal footsteps and has a fine old time too....

That's what King Charles I said of the view of Bridgnorth. Dave Hancock traces his Royal footsteps and has a fine old time too

Last month, you read that Quatford got its name from being a ford on the River Severn near Quatt. Later, a bridge would be built further north, in what is now Northbridge. Oops, that's wrong. I mean Bridgnorth (the 'e' having been mislaid).
It could have been Nord-Brcke. One of the town's less auspicious claims to fame is that Hitler may have been considering it for his headquarters in Britain. Fortunately, Bridgnorth qualifies for A-list status in many other ways. It was Britain's first Fairtrade town. It has a view which Charles I said was: "the finest in all my kingdom". It has the steepest inland funicular railway in Britain - joining High and Low Towns. It has the Severn Valley Steam Railway. Its 12th Century tower is more inclined than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It hosts the Haydn Festival. And it has seven sets of steps ascending its 100-foot sandstone cliffs.
Wander around Bridgnorth's streets and you'll discover the inhabitants are welcoming too. Most of them, that is. Some just look and walk right through you. The ghost of the chambermaid at the Crown, for example. Her ghoulish colleagues frequent the Acton Arms and the Hollyhead Hotel too. And the Lady in Black is often seen walking the High Street at night.
No less spirited is Emma Peeler in Looking Glass in Bank Street. This is a haunt all ladies (in black or otherwise) should haunt. It specialises in costumes - frocks, hats and jewellery, mainly of the '30s, '40s and '50s, much of it modern reproduction but some authentic. There's no need to exhort you to try on the beaded dance dresses - you'll want to anyway.
Another high spot, architecturally and above sea level-wise, is St Leonard's Church. Another 250mm added to the width and it would match St Paul's in London. As it is, St Leonard's is probably the broadest parish church in Britain. An extensive Victorian restoration of a medieval church, it has four unusual cast-iron monuments dating from 1692 to 1707. It's one of nine churches in Shropshire under the aegis of The Churches Conservation Trust, to whom Shropshire Life is grateful for permission to take photographs.
St Leonard's Close resembles a cathedral close and includes the house of the 'learned and eloquent' Richard Baxter, the renowned 17th Century preacher. Pass the almshouses in Church Street and on the High Street is the Burgesses Hall, situated in a building which spans the roadway and forms the arch of the Northgate. It is the last of five gatehouses to survive and houses the town museum which, in turn, houses more than 4,000 artefacts.
Beside the steps to the museum, you can metaphorically step across the Atlantic in to Americalicious. Here, you can find all the American foods you have read about or seen in the cinema: Hershey bars, genuine Oreos, Jell-O, Milk Duds, Jelly Belly beans. You can buy a mix for Jambalaya or Aunt Jemima's Corn Bread. Proprietor, Daniel Joseph, is the fount of all knowledge when it comes to American foodstuffs.
In the middle, literally, of High Street is the black and white Town Hall, erected in 1650. Markets are held beneath it on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Bridgnorth has a small indoor market too. If you're inclined (and your head is), visit The Book Passage where David Lamont has "About 15,000, I only count them once a year", secondhand volumes for sale.
For a similarly extensive choice of cheeses, there's the Bridgnorth Delicatessen. I purchased some Bridgnorth Cave-Aged Smoked Cheddar from assistant, Lauren Harris, and can vouch for it being jolly tasty. A customer also vouched that this shop is the best place to buy lunch in Bridgnorth.
If you don't fancy picnicking, go to the Castle Tea Rooms, which has on display works by local artist, Beverley Fry, who will feature in a forthcoming issue. If you fancy an Uncle Joe's Mint Ball, a Gray's Herbal Tablet or a stick of Bridgnorth Rock, Ye Old Terrace Sweet Shop is for you.
Now for the tiny streets and many steps near the Cliff Railway. One set of descending treads passes where they tread the boards in Bridgnorth's unique Theatre on the Steps. Several others will take you alongside the River Severn and near the caves in the sandstone cliff. Alternatively, a 111-feet funicular descent (and ascent) is a bargain at 90p.
Remain in High Town and Castle Hill Walk leads to the Church of St Mary Magdalene. A Thomas Telford church, it's full of light and offers many views. From one of the windows you can see Bridgnorth Castle, or what remains of it.
Further along Castle Hill Walk is the view much admired by Charles I but now sadly encumbered with houses and roads. In the Castle Gardens, a war memorial is crowned by an infantryman hurling a grenade towards another extensive view. Across the valley is Panpudding Hill, from where Civil War Parliamentary forces bombarded the castle - what's left of it is precariously balanced.
Bridgnorth suffers no such insecurity and remains (in the words of that well-known writer, Anon) With its head up in heaven - its toes in the Severn.


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September highlights

A bespoke website www.visitsv.co.uk has been created to provide general information on events and festivals in Bridgnorth and the Severn Valley and information on attractions.
There is also a leaflet highlighting events and festivals which runs until the end of October. The leaflet can be downloaded as a PDF on the site. Go to the request leaflet of events section.
Recommended places to visit this summer include Daniel's Mill in Bridgnorth which has recently re-opened this month following extensive renovation. The Mill is Shropshire's only remaining working watermill and England's largest waterwheel and provides an interesting and stimulating visitor experience and preserves an activity rarely seen in today's modern world. Visitors can see the waterwheel at work and wheat being turned into flour by heavy millstones. There is also an exhibition of old country tools and you can sample scones made from the mill's flour.
Daniels Mill is open until the end of September on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am - 4pm. Tel: 01746 762753.
Severn Valley Railway runs traditional steam engines through 16 miles of countryside. The railway also hosts a comprehensive events programme including the Autumn Steam Gala from September 19 to 21. There is also a new Engine House museum at Highley which houses old locomotives complete with sound effects.

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