Bridgnorth and Bishop’s Castle
In March 2022 we paid a short visit to Shropshire with overnight stops in Bridgnorth and Bishop’s Castle. Th choice was made because (apart from not having been there before) both seemed to have a good selection of pubs and the nerd in Steve wanted to visit the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway. So we packed the rucky and headed by train to Wolverhampton.
There was time for a lunchtime pint in the Hogshead, a town centre pub with plenty of beers, pleasant enough but we suspected it could get busy and loud later on. Then it was time to catch the bus to Bridgnorth. We headed out of Wolverhampton past the Banks’ brewery through well-heeled suburbs such as Compton and eventually into more open country. This area is definitely home to well-off commuters and retirees – the settlements have plenty of large houses, there is a plethora of garden centres and most of the roadside pub-cum-restaurants were open and doing a good trade.
The final stretch is downhill into Bridgnorth, on the River Severn, with a population today of about 12,000. On the east bank of the river is Low Town, on a broad flat waterside area beneath Hermitage Hill. Across the bridge on the west bank is the main part of town – High Town – which sits on top of a cliff. The road crosses the bridge wanders around the hillside, climbs past the Severn Valley Railway station and eventually into the town centre where the bus expires outside Sainsbury’s.
After walking through the Northgate and checking in to the Golden Lion, an old coaching inn on the High Street, we went for a wander through town, which still retains plenty of historic buildings and independent shops, to the site of the castle, unsurprisingly situated on the top of Castle hill – there’s not a lot of castle left but the site provides good views over the Severn valley.
Then we took our trip on the Cliff Railway which links the High Town with the bridge to Low Town. It is a funicular, opened in 1892 to avoid the 200-step climb and still much the same. It is only 61 metres long but drops 34metres in height and the journey takes 1 minute 15 seconds. On our journeys down and up just before it closed for the evening, Ted and I were the only passengers though the railway remains an integral part of the public transport system. At £2 return – bears go free- it is cheaper, sets off when you turn up and is much quicker than catching the bus. It is driverless but you are ushered in and out by the ticket office person at each end. Highly recommended.
Then there were the pubs. From the foot of the Cliff Railway we visited the Black Boy on the old track down the cliff side. It was unspoilt and fairly busy early doors with people finishing work. Back in High Town the Shakespeare which, though refurbished, still has several rooms, a log burner and sells excellent Joules beers. Across the road the White Lion is the tap for Hop and Stagger beers, which also had a good selection of beer. We finished our wander back at the Golden Lion which has a fine small public bar, sells Holden Beers and had a friendly crowd.
After a late breakfast we set off by bus to Shrewsbury. The countryside was much more rural than yesterday and the bus was busy with people heading in to Shrewsbury for the day. There were several boarded-up pubs along the way – so not as well-heeled an area as yesterday. The main settlement along the way was Much Wenlock – an attractive little place though you don’t see much from the bus. At Harley Hill the road heads over Wenlock Edge and drops about 100 metres into the Severn valley once more. Finally we entered Shrewsbury past the Shire Hall and across the river into the city centre which lies in a loop of the Severn.
Shrewsbury was only a lunchtime stop on this occasion. We wandered through town, tried to ignore the smell of muckspreading drifting in from the countryside, tried to visit the Castle but it is closed on Thursdays, then explored the various levels of the shopping centre (built on the side of a hill and difficult for the novice to negotiate the levels) and stocked up on some food for the rest of the trip. There was still time for a pint before we caught the bus – for bladder reasons we kept it down to one (the bus to Bishop’s Castle takes an hour). Our choice was the Castle Vaults, near the rail and bus stations, where the beer was fine.
From Shrewsbury another busy bus took us out of town through the suburb of Copthorne, called at the hospital then through a string of larger commuter villages such as Hanwood, Pontesbury and Minsterley. The second half of the journey felt much more remote. We trundled along the narrow Hope Valley with the bus bouncing off the cats eyes in the middle of the road. By now it was a proper rural bus service with people getting off at various isolated road ends. At one point we entered Wales for a few metres, as we passed by a house called Welsh Lodge.
Finally, we arrived in Bishop’s Castle. Somehow, we missed the bus stop at the top of the town, nearest to our accommodation and ended up at the bottom of town. The town is only 1.5 miles from the Welsh border, in the middle of nowhere, which means that it’s a self-contained place, able to maintain a good range of shops, restaurants and services. It also has a slightly alternative feel and is well-looked after, though even here there is a local food bank. After climbing the hill and checking into the Poppy House we did a little bit more exploring – once again we visited the castle remains, of which there are even less than Bridgnorth.
Then it was time for a few beers. We wanted to visit the Three Tuns brewery and pub. When the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was founded 50 years ago there were only four pubs left which brewed their own ale. We’ve previously visited three of them and the Three Tuns completed the pack. It’s been a brewery since 1642 and the present buildings date from the late nineteenth century. Though it has been extended to the rear, at the front is the traditional public bar where its impossible not to chat to people or to overhear some of the town gossip – we were soon aware of a couple of ongoing local scandals.
Back down at the foot of the village (living in Bishop’s Castle would keep you fit) is the Six Bells. It is a fine boozer which no longer brews its own beer but today has a good selection. We also visited the Kings Head, more of a standard pub but the beer was fine. Around town there were various properties (including our accommodation) with little plaques revealing them to be former pubs – there’s about 10 of them (today there are four plus a hotel bar for a population of less than 2000.
And that was the trip. After a sound sleep and a good breakfast in the morning we caught the bus back to Shrewsbury and from there it was home by train.
…and the rest of Shropshire
There is plenty more to Shropshire. Over the past thirty years we’ve visited the county several times mainly for work purposes though we found some time to explore. Shrewsbury is a pleasant town for a day or two though my main memory is spending my 50th birthday at an industrial tribunal. Telford New Town is what you would expect but nearby is Ironbridge, promoted as ‘cradle of the industrial revolution’. The bridge itself dates from 1778. Also nearby is the Blists Hill Victorian Town Museum and the All Nations, another of the Famous Four Pubs. We paid a brief visit to Much Wenlock through involvement in a project to insulate the village hall and recollect a picturesque place. As a social event linked to a conference in Telford we had a trip out on the steam trains of the Severn Valley Railway, though we didn’t see anything of Bridgnorth. Back in 1995 we spend a weekend in Ludlow. I can remember there were decent pubs in the town, visiting Church Stretton and walking on the Long Mynd.
In Bridgnorth we stayed at the Golden Lion Inn, 83 High St. There are a selection of other places in the town. In Bishop’s Castle we stayed at the Poppy House B&B, 20 Market Square The other option is the Castle Hotel which looks good but is expensive. Both rooms were comfortable, the owners were friendly and the breakfasts were good. They were booked via www.booking.com
The buses from Wolverhampton to Bridgnorth (No 9) and Bridgnorth to Shrewsbury (No 436) are operated by Arriva. Both are approximately hourly Mon-Sat daytimes. This would allow a short visit to Much Wenlock en route. The Shrewsbury to Bishops Castle route (No 553) is operated by Minsterley Motors. There are 4-6 journeys a day Mon-Sat and the timetable is at www.minsterleymotors.co.uk
Black Boy, 58 Cartway WV16 4BG
Golden Lion, 83 High Street, WV16 4DS
Shakespeare, West Castle St, WV16 4AD
White Lion, 3 West Castle St, WV16 4AB (when we checked this page in late April 2022, prior to uploading it, the White Lion appears to be closed, hopefully temporarily – it was doing good business when we visited).
Kings Head, 48 Church St, SY9 5AA
Six Bells, Church St, SY9 5AA
Three Tuns, Salop St, SY9 5BW
Photos: All photos are by Steve Gillon, apart from the Minsterley Motors bus, from the Shropshire Star, sourced via Google images.
Copyright: All text and photos (exceot for the above are Copyright (c) Steve Gillon, 2022.