A piece I wrote about a perfect day in Shropshire
The sun sparkles on the Severn. Rushing waters fetched down from the Welsh mountains shimmer as they twist and turn beneath us. We’re standing on the Ironbridge built in 1779. The industrial revolution began right here in Shropshire with Abraham Darby. We walk a muddy trail past abandoned workings through Benthall Woods. Industry has given way to heritage and nature. These days the only smoke is the drift of grilling bacon that draws us to breakfast at Darby’s, named for the great man.
Ironbridge has some fascinating museums – tiles and science and engines and Victorian shops and streets – but Joe and Jake have visited on recent school trips so, fortified with tea and full English, we decide to swap industry for royalty.
Boscobel House lies close to the Shropshire/Staffordshire border, surrounded by woods and farm fields. It’s a timber-brick house full of hidey-holes and most famous for being the place where a king hid up an oak tree.
Sometimes when we visit historical houses there are too many plaques and Joe and Jake’s attention drifts. We spend the next two hours keeping them away from wobbling candlesticks and precious vases.
But Boscobel keeps us busy with a ramble over to that famous oak (or at least its descendant) and a beautiful mile-long walk down to the ancient ruins of White Ladies Priory.
Most important of all for young Cavaliers the history is wrapped in activities and the scariest game of high stakes hide-and-seek imaginable.
When King Charles II fled after defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 he arrived in a desperate state – exhausted and soaked through with shoes full of gravel and feet ‘not only extremely dirty, but much galled by travel.’
As the search closed in the King took to the woods with a local Royalist officer. They spent the day in a thick, bushy oak tree as soldiers hurried beneath them searching the woods.
When the soldiers had gone the King returned to the house to hide in the attic. We crept up the same stairs and the boys pressed their noses to a glass plate covering a tiny, cramped space between the floorboards.
Charles would have hidden here and watched anxiously for signs of Cromwell’s militia. Another hidey-hole is reached beyond wood-panelling and down through a hatch. A wooden box is carved with a tiny Royal face peeking through the branches of a lush oak. The boys loved finding those faces and symbols.
Those surprised to find industry or kings hiding in trees may also wonder that Shropshire has lakes. Ellesmere is a beautiful and tranquil spot to finish our day. The mere is a legacy of the last ice age and a popular haunt of day-trippers forming snaking queues for farmhouse ice cream.
We grab the last table and take a delicious cream tea as ducks waddle past in search of crumbs. One decision remains: Shall we take the boat onto the mere or the horse and trap along the shore?