After arriving back to our new home in the second week of November we threw ourselves into decorating and renovations, and also shopping for all the items we had either sold, given to charity or taken to the tip a few months previously. There has been a few items with hindsight we wish we had kept but who knew at the time that we would be back in a house within a year. Having disposed of every stick of furniture we owned it has been great fun discovering the many antique and pre-loved shops in our area finding pieces suitable for a 19th century cottage. We are very well placed in Shropshire with Ironbridge, Bridgnorth, Ludlow, Church Stretton and Shrewsbury on our doorstep to make the most of all that’s available.
The place isn’t very big and there wasn’t too much that needed doing, so once the tasks we could tackle ourselves had been accomplished we started to plan the bigger changes we wanted to make, like replacing the bathroom and adding a downstairs wc and cloakroom. Creating the new cloakroom would end up leaving the kitchen too small so an extension was then going to be needed to remedy that. Oh and while we were at it why not build a front porch and change the external doors for ones more aesthetically suited to the property. Ambitious plans costing alot of money and requiring planning permission unfortunately. Not to mention that we are also situated in a conservation area so negotiating with the local Heritage Planning Dept was going to need some time and patience. The bathroom replacement was a quick win so that was planned in to start when we leave the cottage to return to site at the end of February. Albeit it is then going to be sitting there unused until November it is going to be easier to carry out the work without us being there.
Through November the weather was mostly dry with sunny blue skies so we took days out combined with antique shop browsing to the surrounding towns and villages. Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge are 10 minutes away and we must admit to visiting several times for breakfast in a cafe along the River front. They do the best scrambled egg on toast. We park in the large pay and display by the Visitors Centre and walk up alongside the River Severn to the Bridge then browse the bookshops and gift shops before inevitably ending up in the Antique centre back by the carpark, with a few exciting finds having been purchased from here so far. The iconic bridge was built by Abraham Darby III in 1779 and was the world’s first bridge constructed from iron. Ironbridge Gorge is home to several museums and heritage sites preserving it’s national importance of being the roots of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. The Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage site covers 5.5kmsq and it was in Coalbrookdale in 1709 that Abraham Darby I developed the production technique of smelting iron with coke ( not of the cola kind!) which began the Great 18th century iron revolution. During the next century associated works and foundries sprung up in the surrounding areas benefitting from this new industry, and consequently dwellings appeared on Horsehay Common probably built by squatters drawn to the area by work, one of which is ours.
Right on our doorstep we are finding walks and discovering the history of the area along the way. The Coalbrookdale Company needed additional furnaces and Horsehay Pool provided a sufficient water supply and land for lease. The furnace at Horsehay first came into blast on 5 May 1755. A railway from Horsehay to the nearby Severn wharves was built and the first waggon of ‘pigs’ (iron) was shipped down through Coalbrookdale and on to the wharves almost within sight of the Ironbridge that was to be completed 24 years later. The Coalbrookdale Company further developed the area, constructing brickworks and later a pottery in 1838.
Shrewsbury is our nearest big market town, again set on the River Severn it is the county town of Shropshire and only 9 miles from the Welsh border. The town centre still boasts a medieval layout, has 660 listed buildings some timber framed dating back to the 15th century and is the birthplace of Charles Darwin. Its windy back streets and passages house many interesting independent shops, our favourites being an antiquarian bookshop and traditional ironmongers.
Bridgnorth, a town just along the River Severn, has also yielded a few choice pieces for the cottage from its many interesting shops. Built up on the hillside of the fast flowing River there is a Low Town and High Town. Also it is the main station for the Severn Valley Railway, a 16 mile heritage steam line running along the Severn Valley Gorge. A ruined castle stands on the hill and a cliff railway (when in use) can take you between Low and High town giving far reaching views across the Shropshire countryside.
As Christmas approached we put the DIY on hold and decorated the cottage ready for the festive season. The family were glad we had now got an oven big enough to take the turkey and that the task of cooking Christmas Dinner was safely back in Mom’s hands and her kitchen! I really don’t think any of them were relishing the thought of eating a barbecued chicken leg sitting in a draughty awning – they haven’t as yet fully embraced the caravan lifestyle.
However the week before Christmas things took an unexpected turn with my Dad who was 101 having a fall at his home and breaking his hip. Christmas and New Year was fitted in around hospital visiting hours but despite putting up a brave fight, fraility and old age took its toll and he lost his battle for recovery in mid January. The following weeks were taken up with organising his affairs and arranging the funeral. Two months short of reaching 102 he still looked forward to every new day and what he could learn from it, never looking or acting his ripe old age he was a true inspiration to us all.
Time was now marching on and with only two weeks left at home our thoughts needed to be focusing on getting back to work. It was a tall order as there was still so much we wanted to do in and around the cottage, still so many places to visit and many days to spend just sitting by the fire, reading and dozing. In reality our winter at home and our 4 months (nearly) off work had come to an end and our other life was now beckoning.
Catch up with us next time as we leave our winter home and return to our summer home on site.