Of Rivers Running Backwards And Looping The Loop


Last week I took you on a walk along Wenlock Edge behind our house, and talked about the melting ice fields of the last Ice Age (around 15,000 years ago), and how the River Severn that once flowed north, started to back up against the limestone ridge of Wenlock Edge and so formed Lake Lapworth. And then I said how the expanding melt waters worked their way through the rock wall, and so formed the Severn Gorge, and at the same time created a whole new southerly course for Britain’s longest river.  Well, this is where it all happened – at the northerly end of Wenlock Edge.

Off to the left of the photo, and out of shot, is the old Ironbridge Power Station. It’s coming up next in a ‘zoomed in’ shot.


The power station stands on the riverbank at the entrance of the Gorge, and below Benthall Edge, and thus marks the spot where the Severn first headed south. And just to orientate you further, dead ahead to the left of the power station is Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale, and to the right, and below the power station is the road to Much Wenlock. You can just see the house roofs along it. Benthall Edge is thus a southerly spur striking off from Wenlock Edge.

Like Wenlock Edge, Benthall Edge is also composed of limestone strata formed around 400 million years ago when both Edges were part of the Silurian Sea. From the early 1200s the monks of nearby Buildwas Abbey had the rights from Lord Benthall to quarry the limestone, which they burned in kilns to make fertilizer for their farm fields, and lime mortar for building. They also cropped the woodland along Benthall Edge to make charcoal.

In later centuries the Benthall limestone was used in local blast furnaces, tipped in with ironstone, and when fired,  acted as a flux which drew impurities from the metal. This was tapped off as slag, and the resulting molten iron cast into ‘pigs’ on the furnace floor. The pig iron was then shipped on to the forge to be worked further into wrought iron, a more durable product than cast iron, which has a tendency to fracture. So now, if you can picture it,  see that little stretch of the Gorge by the power station thick with sulphurous smoke, and hear the whole place banging and clanging with forge hammers.

These days Benthall Edge is a tranquil place of hanging woodland and winding paths, although you can still spot the remains of old quarries among the trees. The ‘Lime Trail’ information leaflet of the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust provides an extraordinary statistic about the quarrying. It says that over a period of 750 years an estimated 1.2 million cubic metres of limestone was removed from the Edge. So there we have it: landscape formed both by human and natural agencies – though I’m wondering how that piece of man-made intervention was calculated.

But now to get back to the other feature of note at this spot – the River Severn’s meanders between the villages of Buildwas and Leighton.


I’ve not really done it justice, this looping riverscape formed by silting on the one hand, and erosion on the other; an oxbow lake in the making. I think I probably needed to climb a tree to achieve a better panorama:


It is  of course a favourite viewpoint for geography fieldtrippers, and a very fine place to linger, although not for too long on a winter’s afternoon, however bright and beautiful.

As we headed home, the December sun was lighting up cascades of Old Man’s Beard along the roadside; the trailing seed heads of wild clematis making their own festive streamers. Caught here through the car windscreen. (I wasn’t driving).


34 thoughts on “Of Rivers Running Backwards And Looping The Loop

  1. I remember oxbow lakes from Geography lessons long ago and your palaeontological opening paragraph is so informative but a step too far for my imagination! Still it was a joy to meander along this lovely river though especially as did not know this particular spot

    1. Geological time is pretty confounding, I find too. Not only that, Shropshire was in the Indian Ocean off the Comoros Islands at the time. Too much shift for comfort.

  2. I have pretty much the same photos as you have here Tish, but although I have searched my blogs I cannot see that I have posted them (I felt sure I had). You need a drone!!

    1. Definitely better than tree climbing, and no branches to push out of the vista either. The only problem is, having such an appliance might give my nosiness too much leeway.

  3. I think I could linger for quite some time on that section of the River Severn. The cool temps make it sound even more inviting as I sit here trying to stay cool in humid equatorial latitudes. I think that Jude is spot on when she suggests a drone to capture an ariel view of the ‘ox-bow lake in the making’ rather than climbing a tree :-). And that power station is HUGE.

    1. The power station, yes it is huge, and no longer functioning. There’s another earlier version behind it too. It’s one of the man-problems that we don’t seem to have resolved well – what to do with left-over, dirty technology? I’d like a bit of your equatorial heat though. Happy travels!

      1. I kind of thought it looked like a good place for a sci-fi or horror movie, but that would only put it to use for a short while. Perhaps transforming it into an art space?!?

      2. How nice. You’re here in real time! It might just happen as an art space. The Gorge behind it is a world heritage site, and much of the area is in the care of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, so there are plenty of visitors. In 1979 when the bicentenary of the world’s first iron bridge was being celebrated, just upstream, the cooling towers were lit up at night. They looked fantastic, if eerie, and so proved very thought-provoking too. I’m rather fascinated by them anyway.

  4. The more you share about the countryside that you call home, the easier it is to see why you’ve chosen this spot to live. It’s really beautiful, Tish, and it’s history will keep the inquisitive mind occupied for several lifetimes.

    1. Unravelling the landscape could indeed take over my mind completely if I let it. I like the cookie cutter approach of taking a defined area and peeling back the layers within it. Thanks for your company, John.

  5. The cascading Old Man’s Beard is a delight. It is an invasive weed here so we are encouraged to look upon it with horror, yet, in your photo, it is so beautiful.

    1. We have it all over the landscape. I think it likes limestone. I suppose it might get a little out of hand over time, but no one bothers cutting it back, or at least not that I’ve noticed. There’s a long cutting along the road where I took the photo (part of the old railway line), so the trees on either side where hung in silver curtains for a hundred yards and more. Pure magic.

      1. Magic indeed. After I read your post I went to watch TV ~ the TV was tuned to a documentary on the Industrial Revolution in the UK. And what did I see within the opening few minutes? Ironbridge! (As in the bridge)

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