diamond geezer

 Friday, August 06, 2010

<00> The number 39 bus rattles past the last outpost of lowrise council estate. This is Telford, a new town with few redeeming features. You have to pity poor old Thomas, the engineering genius, being lumbered with a namesake like this. I bet they'd never have named Basildon after Churchill.

<01> The bus heads down a wooded slope into a different world. We enter the Ironbridge Gorge - crucible of the Industrial Revolution, and the spot where global warming began. Today there are no soot-black coke smelters on site, but there is a teddy bear gift shop and a Thai restaurant.

<02> The High Street's a bit narrow, so it's lucky we haven't met anything big coming the other way. Oh my word, it's the bridge. THE iron bridge. The first iron bridge in the entire world, right there beside us through the splotchy window. I wasn't expecting to get quite that close, not on a bus journey.

The Iron Bridge, Ironbridge

<03> Further up the gorge my view of the bridge is even better - all metal elegance and leafy drop. The river's a lot higher than last week, says Beryl on the front seat to her Freedom Pass friend, although it doesn't look like anything deeper than a toy boat would be able to pass downstream.

<04> Our bus swings round the car park, past the toilet block, and opens its doors. I should get off because I've never been to Shropshire's World Heritage Site before and this is an opportunity too good to miss. But the next bus to Much Wenlock isn't for another two hours, so I daren't. Nobody gets off. Nobody gets on.

<05> We retrace our route back up the High Street. I swap seats to get a better view of the bridge on the return pass. The other four passengers give me a funny look. To them Ironbridge is a pointless detour on an everyday journey home, not an amazingly brief sightseeing opportunity.

<06> I have one more chance to take a decent photo, but at the crucial moment a near-retired couple in matching grey waterproofs stop on the pavement to admire the historic structure, and I snap them instead. Then a row of parked cars gets in the way, and then the bridge is gone.

<07> This time the bus follows the river at the bottom of the hill, nipping between the estate agent and the delicatessen. There are several fascinating museums scattered around the gorge and its environs but we won't be stopping at those. Beryl's glad, because she's got a big bag of shopping to unload before it defrosts.

<08> Finally we cross the Severn over the Jackfield Bridge - a strikingly modern counterpoint to Abraham Darby's ground-breaker upstream. I can't believe I've come all this way and spent only eight minutes in Ironbridge. It's like flying via Hong Kong and never leaving the airport. Next time I'll get off and cross on foot.

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