Take a stroll along the babbling Borle Brook to discover the story of the mining hamlet of New England and the beautiful Donkey Bridge.
Parking can be found in Highley at the Severn Centre (WV16 6JG) followed by a 15 minute walk through the village and down Bind Lane towards Billingsley; or at the start of the Jack Mytton Way bridleway, opposite Rays Farm Country Matters, Billingsley (WV16 6PF). Follow the Jack Mytton Way to New England with the entrance just before the Borle Brook ford.
New England is located around 1 mile west of the village of Highley and around 2 miles to the east of the village of Billingsley. The OS grid reference for the site is SO726838. Vehicular access is via Bind Lane.
Lat/Long: 52.451463, -2.4046079
Open at all times.
New England is a beautiful wooded valley, where the only things to be heard are the babbling brook, the buzzing of insects, and a variety of bird song. However, life has not always been so peaceful here. Over the last 300 years, New England has been an important transport route, an industrial area and home to numerous families.
New England is 14 acres of peaceful woodland on the banks of the Borle Brook. With the babbling brook and bird song all around, it feel like a secret valley that time forgot. In fact it was once the site of considerable local industry and is also home to the Donkey Bridge. This beautiful stone structure was built in 1709 and was an important part of the packhorse routes that used to take travellers from the Rea Valley to the River Severn.
It was really the local mining industry that shaped New England. In the 1790s coal and ironstone mines were opened up in Billingsley. In 1796 a plateway (tramway) was constructed from the River Severn at Brooksmouth to the works at Billingsley. This plateway is still visible on the site. The mines changed hands several times. In 1880 the construction of railway was started. The line followed the southern bank of the Borle Brook from the Severn Valley to Billingsley and later onto Kinlet Colliery. The line was eventually finished in 1913. Two railway bridges were built at New England, one of which is now in a state of complete disrepair.
One of the most interesting parts of the site are the cottages. In 1807 two rows of stone cottages were built at right angles to each other. The cottages were occupied by colliers, woodsmen and labourers. There was also a brick washhouse on the site. By 1918 the cottages were empty and demolished. The footprint of one of the cottages can still be seen. Many local people have relatives who used to live at New England.
As the village of Highley developed, people left New England and it crumbled and was lost in the undergrowth. a heritage project in 2003 paid for archaeological investigations, conservation and interpretation work to tell the fascinating story of New England. As part of that project, the remains of an old sewage works was rebuilt and turned into a picnic area overlooking the donkey bridge and the brook. An unusual place to have a sandwich! The local school also came down to the site and helped out with an archaeological dig. Various artefacts were discovered including local pottery and glassware. This really is a fascinating site with many untold secrets awaiting discovery!
The site is semi-natural ancient woodland with a wonderful display of wild garlic in spring and a good range of woodland wildflowers and ancient woodland indicators. If you are quiet as you walk along the paths, you may even be lucky enough to spot deer. Dippers can regularly be seen around the brook. These incredible birds can walk along the base of streams feeding on freshwater invertebrates. Their presence is a sign that the water quality in the Borle Brook is good.
The Jack Mytton Way runs through the site and over the Donkey Bridge before heading towards Billingsley. This is a long-distance bridleway stretching for 100 miles through Shropshire. There is also a public footpath running from the site along both sides of the Borle Brook to the River Severn and other footpaths crossing farmland towards Highley and Billingsley.
Things to see and do
- Play some pooh sticks on the Donkey Bridge, all the time looking out for dippers and kingfishers.
- Explore the old railway lines and mining relics around this area.
- Discover what it was like to be a miner in the 19th century. Stand in the base of the cottage and try and imagine a bygone life…
Highley is well served by local bus routes.
The Jack Mytton way (long-distance bridleway) passes through the heart of New England. The site is also located on several local footpaths.
Occasional volunteer days do take place.