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May 21, 2002
Ironbridge Gorge (Russell)

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The Iron Bridge: constructed in 1779, and the symbol of the Industrial Age

On May 20th we left Cymru, drove east, and re-entered England in the Severn River Valley.  Here, two hundred and fifty years ago, the Industrial Revolution was born.  Thanks to the valley's abundant natural resources of iron ore and coal, as well as a river that provided transport, a new way of manufacturing iron was developed here.  As a result, the first iron wheels, iron rails, and steam locomotive were made here, changing the world forever.  In a way, Severn River Valley was the "Silicon Valley" of the previous "Age" of industry.  Today, it's yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We spent just one night here, outside of the main town of Ironbridge at the Coalbrookdale Villa.  June Ashdown, the proprietress, is described by Rick Steves as "jolly;" we found her downright hilarious.  With her dry English wit, she should have been a stand-up comedienne; we even got a late start checking out the next day because we were having such a fun time chatting with her.  Joss was also pleased to meet yet another cat, this one named "Twiggy" -- although as June remarked, "Thesse days, he looks more like a "Loggy."  (The Coalbrookdale Villa is supposedly haunted.  June says that after 15 years of ownership, nothing strange had ever happened.  Now that the Villa has been up for sale for the past three months, they have suddenly had four unexplainable occurrences.)

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Coalbrookdale Villa: is it haunted?

On our way into Ironbridge, we stopped to spend the afternoon at Blists Hill Victorian Town, where several authentic factories, shops, and cottages are set up on 50 acres.  Much more than a field museum, this is a working town -- everything from the printing press to the candle maker are run using equipment and methods from more than a hundred and fifty years ago (there are even several retired people who do nothing but walk around in authentic garb to create a "town" feeling).  After lunching in the local pub, we tagged along with several school field trips to watch the craftspeople demonstrate their trades.

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At Blists Hill Victorian Town: a replica of the world's first steam locomotive

We also found Cameron a new stick to replace his broken bow.  (Every time we passed local schoolchildren, they would exclaim, "Cool!  They've got bows and arrows!"  "Wicked!  They've got bows and arrows!"  "Killer!  They've got bows and arrows!")

We had dinner in Ironbridge at The Malt House, a popular local restaurant.  We have to say that this is one of the best meals that we've have eaten in our entire year trip.  Of course, we haven't eaten out that much, but both the food and its presentation were absolutely superb.  Dinner alone made us wish that we had stayed here for more than one night.

May 21st was Russell's birthday, and he celebrated it by going to the doctor.  The rash on his neck was not going away, and he was concerned that he had picked up some kind of infection.  Fortunately, the doctor said it was probably just an allergic reaction -- nothing serious -- and wrote him a prescription.  Even more fortunately, the cost of the doctor's visit was covered by NHS -- love that socialized medicine!

(Cameron also celebrated Russell's birthday by making him an elaborate card that depicted all of our year's adventures so far in comic book form.  Joss had made a card way back in Australia and Gail had been carrying it around as a surprise for Russell for months.  Russell was then devastated to learn that Joss threw it away in Ironbridge, deciding that he didn't like it anymore.)

For the rest of the morning, we visited more of the local sights.  At the Museum of the Gorge, we learned the history of the region and the development of the iron industry (we were looking forward to a film there, but it turned out to be a very long tourism commercial).  The Iron Bridge itself was the first cast-iron bridge in the world, constructed way back in 1779 -- ironically, when America was undergoing a very different kind of revolution an ocean away.  (Although we had bought a citywide pass, we didn't have time to visit any of the other museums, including the Museum of Iron, the China Museum, Tile Museum, etc.)

We had come to this area with very different expectations.  What we had expected was a very industrial-looking town, something like the steel towns that Gail grew up with outside of Detroit in Michigan.  What we found instead was a very peaceful and quiet area, surrounded by nature and woodlands, and barely disturbed by tourists.  The name "Ironbridge" is very misleading -- June says that the valley is unintentionally one of the best-kept secrets in the United Kingdom.  We hope that we have done our part to highlight this beautiful area.

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The River Severn: once laden with industrial barges and pollution, it now provides a beautiful natural backdrop

 

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