A day in Shropshire

There are heavy clouds riding slowly across the blue sky and the sun breaks through only to disappear again for a while, usually as you are about to press the shutter release.

This little building at Euston station always intrigues me
This little building at Euston station always intrigues me

Tigger went off bright and early and we have been keeping in touch as she goes. She has changed trains at Birmingham and is now on the second leg to Telford.

Before leaving home, I decided to lengthen my new bracelet and wear it today. Everything went well and it seemed the right size. Then it broke, scattering the beads…

I am now sitting in the Sloe Bar at Euston Station with a black coffee, while my train, the 10:23 for Wolverhampton, climbs slowly up the the departures board. Reserved seats from London to Birmingham were obligatory but unless the train is full I will choose any seat that appeals to me.

Somebody apparently likes this Paolozzi enough to have left a bouquet on it
Somebody apparently likes this Paolozzi enough to have left a bouquet on it

We were given about 15 minutes to board. When I reached the barrier there was already a gaggle ahead of me—the British seem to have lost their famous love of orderly queueing. As tickets were checked we trickled through the gate like sand grains through an egg-timer.

As the train seemed fairly crowded, I made for my reserved seat to be on the safe side. I have the inner seat of a pair, without a window, possibly the worst seat in the house. Once things settle down and we get moving, I will prospect for a better place.

Tigger tells me she has reached the target and made the drop, well within the deadline. Another triumph for our intrepid courier. I hope she will find interesting things to do while I am still on my way.

The sky has greyed over and rain is streaking the windows. Let’s hope we run out from underneath the rain clouds. We have had enough rain over the last few days, mostly in cloud bursts rather than the gentle rain that does the most good.

The sky has greyed over
The sky has greyed over

My companion left his seat and I took the opportunity to go for a walk. I found a pair of unoccupied unreserved seats with a window. Owned! The rain has ceased for now (or we have left it behind) and although there are two layers of clouds moving at different speeds, causing the sky to do the Dance of Seven Veils, the sun shines through from time to time, brightening the beautiful English countryside that it is such a joy to contemplate and which we often sadly ignore.

It always lifts my heart to see a vista of fields, perhaps dotted with cattle and decorated with water and trees, limned by distant hills, and lit by warm sunlight. Today, the clouds, piled up like white and grey mountains, add drama to the scene. I could not wish to be anywhere else than in this beautiful land.

Trevithick's 1803 locomotive
Trevithick’s 1803 locomotive
full scale replica, Telford Central Station

Shortly after changing trains at Birmingham, we stopped at Sandwell & Dudley where Tigger and I had come on a previous adventure.

This journey is now feeling very long but Tigger assures me that I will soon be at Telford. I hope we will be rewarded with a good lunch!

When I finally reached Telford, Tigger had already worked out the buses. The plan was to visit the Blists Hill Museum, also called the Victorian Town.

We stopped on the way at Madeley, expecting to find lunch there. We failed. Madeley seems to be one big building site. It has a shopping centre most of whose shops were closed and a High Street in which nothing seemed to be open. I’m prepared to believe that Madeley is not at its best at present but it presented a pretty bleak impression. We wasted valuable time in this dead-alive place with nothing to show for it.

Madeley: In with the new...
Madeley: In with the new…
...and out with the old
…and out with the old

At last!
At last!

We eventually found our way to somewhere near the museum and discovered a sign saying to follow the path which would take us there in 10 minutes. Quite untrue: even sprinting, you couldn’t do it in 10 minutes. Moreover, the path soon presents alternatives with no indication as to which one we should follow. You might almost think they didn’t want you to find their museum.

A street in the Victorian town
A street in the Victorian town

We waved to an approaching bus and even though we were not at a stop, the driver kindly stopped to take us aboard and then dropped us right at the museum gate. Without this kindness, we would have taken much longer to arrive and felt much more frustrated by the poor signage.

Natural monochrome: grey pigs in grey mud
Natural monochrome: grey pigs in grey mud

We paid our entrance fees and asked about food. We were told the cafe nearest the entrance served meals. It didn’t (or maybe meal service had ended). An assistant directed us to the next cafe saying they definitely served meals there but when we arrived, the meal service had ended and there were only snacks. To make matters worse, we received off-hand and indifferent service. We had to ask for everything as the staff member couldn’t be bothered to tell us what was available.

The fairground
The fairground

Remains of blast furnaces
Remains of blast furnaces, originally sited here

To tell the truth, we were feeling pretty irritable by now. I can accept that the meal service ends at a certain time but what with the poor signage that made it difficult to find the museum in the first place and the indifferent service received once we were there, we began to feel that the museum wasn’t interested in receiving visitors. I would suggest that they ought to look as these issues with a view to improving their image. With entrance fees set at £20 per head (though this provides admission to all the Ironbridge Museums for a year), I think they can afford to be a little more considerate of paying visitors.

Victorian cottage
Victorian cottage

The museum itself was fascinating but I don’t think we saw it at its best. Museums like this rely heavily on volunteers to dress up and play their part. (It’s rather amusing to see ladies dressed demurely in Victorian dresses but with walkie-talkies tucked into their waistbands!) If the volunteer is not there, then the house or business that he or she operates and guides you through is either closed or left in look-only mode.

The bakery and baker's shop
The bakery and baker’s shop

Many places in the village were closed. This may have been because it was late afternoon, but this fact did not console us after the struggle to get there and the skimpy lunch we managed to obtain.

We made a couple of visits where we enjoyed lengthy and instructive conversations with the people. The first was a Victorian cottage where the “inhabitants” entertained us with a long and amenable conversation on a range of topics (not necessarily ancient!).

The wood turner
The wood turner

The second, possibly my favourite, was the wood turner in his workshop. The latter makes beautiful hand-carved rocking horses and other artifacts and he entertained us with many interesting facts about his work and other things.

It is worth pointing out, that the trades and industries in the town, such as the wood turner, the iron foundry, the bakery and the candle maker, do make genuine products that are offered for sale.

Miniature rocking horses also on sale
Miniature rocking horses also on sale

There is so much to see on this huge site (especially if everything were working) that you could not do it all justice in the couple of hours we had to spare or even a whole day. This is where the “passport” type of ticket comes in useful: we are thinking of staying overnight one weekend so as to spend a couple of days exploring the village and all the industries it contains.

The candle-maker's
The candle-maker’s

We had become thoroughly absorbed, as much with the animals as with the people and premises, but suddenly we realized it was getting late. In order for our train tickets to be valid, we had to travel on specific trains. In view of the late hour it seemed unlikely we would make Telford Central station in time for our train. We would in that case have to pay for new tickets at full fare.

Cart horse Sleeping pigs Horse twins
Four-footed friends

We thought that our best chance of getting a bus was to walk to the main road, about 20 minutes away. Just as we were in sight of the bus stop, the number 44 came… and swept past, adding to our gloom.

The druggist's
The druggist’s

A couple of minutes later, the 72 appeared. The driver said he went to Telford bus station, not the train station, but that at least got us going in the right direction. When the bus reached Madeley, the driver pointed out that the 44 was waiting at the stand, so we transferred.

The outfitter's
The outfitter’s

The 44 driver reckoned he would reach Telford station at 18:10, too late for our train. But at Telford bus station, by asking the right questions, Tigger found that the 33 would get us to the train station sooner than the 44. We transferred and reached Telford station with 3 minutes to spare…

…Only to find that the Birmingham trains were delayed because of a lorry hitting a bridge. We ended up taking a delayed earlier train which, all being well, should get us to Birmingham in time to meet our connection. (This is the one we mustn’t miss.)

We arrived at Birmingham New Street with 20 minutes to spare. Panic over. We are now safely aboard the 19:10 Virgin service to Euston. When the ticket inspector comes, we will ask what time we expect to reach Euston and then phone ahead to Spices to see if they can reserve us a table. Let’s end the day in style!

The train reached Euston at 8:30 and we dodged through the crowds as best we could to the bus stands. It was hard to believe that it was only this very morning that I had come to Euston and photographed the Paolozzi. A 73 carried us up the road to home, where we transferred our photos to the computer before setting out again, this time for Spices in Chapel Market where we had reserved a table for 9:30.

What better way is there to end a round trip of 301 miles (road distance, according to the AA) than with a good Indian dinner?


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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