Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Beginning of the End?

 Last weekend we immersed ourselves in Shropshire's industrial heritage.  After learning that human caused climate change made last week's record-breaking heatwave at least 10 times more likely, we headed to Ironbridge.  It's now something of a bitter pill to swallow that the long celebrated town, named after the world's first iron bridge erected over the River Severn at Coalbrookdale in 1779 and its spectacular wooded gorge, together formed the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, but also set the world on a dangerous trajectory.  It's also ironic that thousands of tourists add to their carbon footprints every year by flying in to visit the very place responsible for one of the world's most pressing issues.

I didn't photograph the bridge.  I'm sure it's familiar to most.  Instead, I opted to focus on the little details on our walk from Jackfield Tile Museum..

...along a well trodden path in the gloriously cool shade of the old railway track, such as the fragrant honeysuckle claiming the iron railings....

... past a cottage or two untroubled by time.

Here's the lesser known Jackfield Bridge, half a mile downstream from Ironbridge.  The old free Jackfield Bridge was build in 1909 to avoid tolls on the Iron Bridge and Coalport Bridge further downstream.  It deteriorated over time and in 1993 was demolished and replaced by this striking structure, built by Alfred McAlpine.

On Sunday, we were greeted by warm winds and drizzle, perfect conditions to explore the creepily atmospheric location of Titterstone Clee in Shropshire - a dramatic winding climb to 533 meters above sea level.  It is the third highest hill in Shropshire.

The Shropshire hills are renowned for their wild beauty, valleys and quaint market towns, but less so for the industrial relics clinging on close to the summit of Titterstone.  In medieval times, ironstone and later coal were mined, in particular from bell pits (shallow workings)  Over the years, large numbers of quarries were opened up on Titterstone Clee to exploit the dolerite or "dhu stone" named after the Welsh word for black.  Incidentally, nearby Ludlow was once the capital of Wales.  All but one are now abandoned...and abandoned places are a magnet to someone like me.

Conditions can change rapidly on Clee Hill.  I can certainly vouch for this.  Some years ago, I worked at my employer's Ludlow office for four months; an hour long commute which took me over the top of Clee Hill.  One evening, I was forced to pull into a layby in my little Mini when the thickest fog I have ever seen swept dramatically up and over the hillside, engulfing everything in its path.  

It was therefore unsurprising that there were only two other crazy people up close to the windswept summit last Sunday.   One was safely ensconced inside the van.  The other was taking in the moonscape that was the car park.

There is in fact evidence of human activity stretching back to the Bronze Age on this bleak and barren hill, but conditions restricted us to a wander around the weirdly brutal concrete and brick relics of a century of quarrying and stone processing.  I'm not a shrinking violet, but I have to say, I would not want to be stranded here alone.  For a more vibrant visual tour, scroll down for my sinister little video edit.

A little further and within spitting distance of the summit, is the Radar and Communications station with a footpath running around the perimeter.

You can just pick out the harsh geometric lines of the station's infrastructure poking through the mist.

As the weather grew increasingly inclement with buffeting wind and the discovery that my raincoat wasn't fit for purpose, we headed back to the safety of the car.

A windscreen shot of the sheep searching for shelter.

A truly fascinating place.  So there you go, the origins of industry and a post apocalyptic landscape in one cheery little blog post.


  1. A fascinating and creepy place indeed and your photos are suitably spooky. I would definitely not like to be stranded there on my own, and your story of being caught there in impenetrable fog made the hair on the back of my head stand up. I'd only recently seen some photos of Titterstone Clee and its eerie industrial ruins on a Facebook page called For the Love of Shropshire, and I was suitably intrigued, so thank you for sharing your atmospheric adventure! xxx

    1. I'm impressed with your knowledge of Shropshire Ann. I know a number of local people who remain unaware of Titterstone! xxx

  2. thank you for that thoughtful post! you´r so right with the bow from world first´s ironbridge to the malaise we´r in right now.
    not many people understand the complex interrelationships on our planet - although i don't know for sure whether it's a can't or a don't want to......
    titterstone clee feels not as creepy to me - i did grow up in an old mining & industrial town up on the "erzgebirge" dreary, foggy, rainy weather was the usual and in late GDR ruins or almost ruins were everywhere - the whole country looked like a lost place.
    smokey smelling hug! xxxx

    1. Thanks Beate. Yes, I can imagine how such places would have been the norm for you. There's beauty in everything though. Hope you're a little less smoky, I really do. xxx

  3. Goodness me, what a bleak and foreboding place! Your photos are brilliant.
    I've only visited Ironbridge twice and it rained torrentially on both occasions. xxx

  4. I love those old houses! Are they still tenanted? Is someone fixing up that car, it looks a little too shiny to be abandoned!

    That mountain was so spooky and atmospheric!

    1. Hi Laura, Yes, the houses are still occupied, although businesses and properties close to the river are often under threat from flooding. I think someone is fixing up the car....finally. It's been there for some years in a state of disrepair. I always think it looks like an art installation! Titterstone is a very bleak place, but fascinating! xxx

  5. Hello Claire, the irony about Iron Bridge you mention is true irony, not Alanis Morissette style 'irony', that's actually just unfortunate :0 I just love your moody shots of Clee Hill and can just picture them as stills from a Zombie movie, where some poor soul has to go and fix the transmission tower for an emergency radio broadcast! Thank you, you have just reminded me in your post there is a weird site local to me I have been meaning to visit this summer - I shall let you know if I make it ! :) xXx

    1. Bless Alanis Morissette! Were it not for the royalties, I bet she sometimes regrets ever putting that song out into the world. :-D Clee Hill is definitely a zombie hot spot - your transmission tower fixing story has just sent chills down my spine! Ooh, now I'm intrigued about your local weirdness! xxx


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