Folded into the steep Severn Valley, Bridgnorth is a historic market town with High and Low areas on the valley side.
The Low Town is by the river, at the foot of a sandstone cliff while the once impenetrable High Town is crested by two churches and the ruins of Bridgnorth Castle.
This was laid to waste after a three-week siege in 1646, an event that has left traces all over the town.
The easy way up to the High Town is the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway, a funicular that shoots up the 64% gradient.
Beautiful country houses in the local countryside open their doors in the summer, while the Severn Valley Railway is the ultimate steam train journey and stops at Bridgnorth’s preserved railway station from 1862.
1. Bridgnorth Cliff Railway
Linking the Low Town on the Severn with the High Town and castle, the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway is believed to hold a few records.
This is the oldest, shortest and steepest electric funicular railway in the country, shuttling up and down the vertiginous sandstone cliffs.
The gradient has a maximum steepness of 64%, while the line is little more than 60 metres long.
It dates back to 1891 and since that time has been operated by the same company, The Bridgnorth Castle Railway Company.
The funicular’s cars are on parallel lines and counterbalance each other via a steel rope.
Initially they were powered by a water balance system, but an electric winding engine was installed in 1943-44, while the current car design is form 1955. Services run 363 days a year and as of March 2019 tickets were just £1.60 for a return.
2. Bridgnorth Castle
In neat gardens atop the hill you’ll discover the twisted remains of Bridgnorth Castle.
The castle goes back to 1101, while the main surviving fragment, the square great tower, was raised in the second half of the 12th century during the reign of Henry II.
In the English Civil War Bridgnorth was a key Royalist stronghold, holding many troops in 1642. The castle was besieged by the Parliamentarians over three weeks in 1646 and was demolished soon after so it couldn’t be reused.
The site was quarried for its valuable stone, but a big shard of the great tower remains.
This has a dramatic lean of 15°, four times more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
3. Dudmaston Estate
In the Wolryche or the Wolryche-Whitmore family since 1403, the Dudmaston Estate is a National Trust property composed of a 17th-century William and Mary house and 3,000 acres of gardens, woodland and parkland.
Still occupied by a branch of the Wolryche-Whitmores, the house is open April to September when you can look around a few rooms enriched with 18th-century panelling and stuccowork.
In the 20th century several rooms were converted into gallery space for an awesome modern art collection that features pieces by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.
The grounds, cascading down the slope from the house, were landscaped by William Shetstone and are a standout example of the Picturesque style.
They are open for walks by pools, conifer plantations and ancient woodland at any time of year, while the garden is dotted with sculpture and the quaint Orchard Tearoom serves coffee and treats from Sunday to Thursday.
4. Upton Cressett Hall
In remote countryside four miles west of Bridgnorth’s High Town, Upton Cressett Hall is another splendid country house.
This Elizabethan manor was built for the Cressett family between 1540 and 1580. They remained here for 200 years after which the hall became a farmhouse and went into a slow decline.
It was bought by the MP for Stone, Sir William Cash in 1969 (father of the current owner) and following a restoration has welcomed the public on open days since the 1970s.
The house is distinguished by its towering 16th-century chimneys, and has an aisled, timber Great Hall from the 1400s, predating the rest of the building.
The fine turreted gatehouse is also from the 16th century, and over the last 500 years has been stayed in by kings, princes, and more recently Margaret Thatcher, Boris Johnson and Elizabeth Hurley.
Consult the website for open days and invitations to view, including a tour, tea and home-made cake.
5. Daniels Mill
In a very idyllic location, Daniels Mill is a working water mill.
This has the largest waterwheel powering a corn mill and still functioning in the country today.
The facility’s roots reach back to the late 15th century, and has been adapted over time.
The current whitewashed buildings are mostly from the 1700s and are bedded in a tight wooded valley crossed by a 19th-century brick viaduct carrying the Severn Valley Railway on its way to Bridgnorth.
Daniels Mill has been in the same family for more than 250 years and opens between April and October, when you can soak up the nostalgic scenery and find out how wheat and other grains are turned into flour.
You can buy a bag of this stone-ground 100% wholemeal flour from the gift shop, along with recipes.
6. Bridgnorth Town Hall
Unavoidable on Bridgnorth’s charming High Street is the half-timbered Town Hall, built in 1650 and resting on an arcaded brick base.
The space underneath the Town Hall was for the public wool market and still hosts Bridgnorth’s weekly Charter Market.
You can go inside this monument all year.
In summer it is open every day except Thursday while the opening times are 11:00-15:00 Friday to Sunday in winter.
You’ll take a little tour given by the curator, checking out the fabulous stained glass windows in the Council Chamber, and pausing in the former waiting room for a cup of tea.
7. St Leonard’s Church
When you contemplate Bridgnorth’s High Town from the east bank of the Severn, two churches stand out across the river.
One of these is the redundant St Leonard’s Church, which is made from the local red sandstone and has stood here since the 12th century, integrating hidden stonework from much older Anglo-Saxon and Norman buildings.
St Leonard’s has come through a few calamities, the most destructive being a fire that destroyed most of the High Town during the Parliamentarian siege in 1646 during the Civil War.
The magnificent hammerbeam roof in the nave dates from the reconstruction in 1662, while nearly all the fixtures (choir stalls, stained glass, pulpit and reredos) were installed during or after a thorough restoration in the mid-19th century.
The church was declared redundant in the 1970s and today is open to visitors and holds concerts and exhibitions all year round.
8. St Mary’s Church
Completed in 1795, this Renaissance Revival church was designed by Thomas Telford, a Scottish architect and civil engineer.
His contribution to Shropshire’s early industrial infrastructure was so great that a whole new town was named after him in 1968 (Telford). The current St Mary’s was constructed over a Medieval church and is a Grade II* monument.
At an elevation of 35 metres, the copper-clad cupola stands out for miles and towers above a portico raised on Doric columns.
9. Northgate Museum
Even if it has changed a lot since Medieval times, Northgate is the last of the five gates that controlled the way into Bridgnorth.
This structure was rebuilt in brick in the 1740s and was then embattled and clad with rusticated sandstone in the 1910s.
The free museum inside was set up in 1951 and can be visited on weekends, bank holidays and Wednesday afternoons in summer.
What you get is a riveting jumble of artefacts like an Edwardian cash till, Roman coins, Civil War-era clay pipes, a scale model of Richard Trevithick’s stationary steam engine (1802), a 17th-century turret clock and prehistoric axe-heads and flint scrapers.
10. Severn Valley Railway
Bridgnorth is the northern terminus for a romantic steam railway coursing through the Severn Valley for 16 miles.
One of the best-loved heritage lines in the UK, the Severn Valley Railway was laid between 1858 and 1862, calling at historic stations and crossing the valley over viaducts and monumental bridges like the Victoria Bridge, which was Britain’s longest single span cast iron bridge.
With services from early May to the end of October the Severn Valley Railway also has one of the country’s largest collections of working steam locomotives and carriages, with some pieces dating back more than a century.
What’s great about the station at Bridgnorth is that you can see the line’s collection being serviced and restored from the footbridge over locomotive yard (access only on open days). The station is also noteworthy, opening with the line in 1862 and mostly unchanged since then.
11. Rays Farm
A fun rural outing if you’re in Bridgnorth with younger children, Rays Farm has friendly domestic animals, paths in ancient woodland and soft play areas.
To name a small few of the farm’s residents, there are badger-faced sheep, pygmy goats, miniature Shetland ponies, rabbits, red deer, reindeer, alpacas, as many as 25 owls, a donkey and a llama.
The farm is delightful in the spring months when there are new lambs and goat kids to fawn over.
There are activities at regular intervals throughout the day feeding the sheep and introducing you to the owls.
The farm’s two woodland walks are strewn with sculptures of creatures from folklore and fairytales, like dragons, gnomes, trolls and a giant caterpillar, while the play areas include a “mini beach”, while there are scramble nets and climbing ropes in the woodland for bigger kids.
12. Lavington’s Hole
Knowing that the defending Royalist forces stored their gunpowder in St Leonard’s Church in the High Town, the besieging Parliamentarians devised an audacious plan to tunnel through the underlying sandstone to detonate the building from below.
You can find the entrance to this 20-metre tunnel at the Quayside in the Low Tunnel.
After withstanding the siege for three weeks, the Royalists surrendered on 1 April 1646, before the tunnel could be completed.
Next to the tunnel’s entrance are more man-made hollows in the sandstone, remnants of former cave dwellings.
13. Eardington Nature Reserve
A couple of miles south of Bridgnorth is a gorgeous 17-acre nature reserve in what used to be a sand and gravel quarry.
The sand and gravel banks around a temporary wetland provide a rare habitat for orchids, unusual bee species, great-crested newts and jack snipes.
Quarrying only stopped in the mid-1990s and the last occupant was a concrete plant that departed in 2010. With the help of a local community group, nature has been allowed to take hold once more.
Take a pair of binoculars and see what you can spot, while you can use the reserve as a jumping off point for a walk in the delightful Severn-side Eardington parish.
14. Old Mill Antiques Centre
On Mill Street in the Low Town is an antiques centre in a building attached to an auction house with more than 170 years of history.
The last ever Perry & Phillips auction was held in October 2018, but the antiques centre will stay open into the future.
It offers trading space to more than 90 dealers, set across four floors in an elegant period setting.
Just to paint a picture you can browse ceramics, collectibles, furniture, antique weapons, toys, paintings, timepieces, glassware and all kinds of other arts and crafts, both original and reproduction.
15. Charter Market
On Fridays and Saturdays you can drop by the Charter Market, which trades under the old wooden beams of the 17th-century Town Hall.
Fitting into this, the Charter Market isn’t huge, but it has a very diverse offering that features local fruit and vegetables, a butcher, cut flowers, jewellery, confectionery, handbags, products for pets and all sorts of arts and crafts.
On the Saturday there’s another market extending along the High Street, while twice a month on Sundays the Bridgnorth Sunday Handmade Market also sets up under the Town Hall.
In spring and summer this coincides with special events like a beer festival in May, Bridgnorth’s Street Fest in July and the Music and Arts Festival at the end of August.