Holly Cave provides interesting itinerary ideas for a group trip to the Midlands.
The Midlands isn’t known as the Heart of England without reason. Firstly, it’s slap bang in the middle of the country – as its name suggests. Secondly, copious amounts of English soul and British culture have their roots in the region.
From steam engine pioneers and scientists to literary game changers, the people of the Midlands have helped to define England for centuries. To this day, the history, variety and natural beauty of this area make it a mighty fine place to visit.
BIRMINGHAM & THE WEST MIDLANDS
Birmingham holds court over the Midlands. Having been through major redevelopment over the past few years, it’s a city with a new lease of life. Make the magnificent Staffordshire Hoard your first port of call. Thousands of Anglo Saxon gold and silver pieces make up this famous find – the largest ever uncovered – where visitors can view hundreds of the finest items at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, alongside many other artefacts from that era. There’s much more to discover here, with collections covering seven centuries of art and history. The museum charges a flat rate of £55 per group, valid for up to 25 people. Groups can choose from a Highlights of the Pre-Raphaelites or Treasures of the Museum tour. A coach drop-off point is available.
There are more modern treasures to discover here, too. Wander through the Jewellery Quarter to find the historic heart of this now very modern city. The area features four museums, 200 listed buildings, dozens of jewellers and a vast array of art galleries. Aside from the great shopping and dining that Birmingham has to offer, there’s some fascinating history worth exploring here.
The National Trust care for the last remaining section of Back to Backs – an evocative courtyard of houses built literally back-to-back, which date back to 1840. Already immaculately restored, the site will re-open on February 15 after further conservation work. Access is by guided tour only and it’s essential to book in advance. Groups with young children might like to pay a visit to Cadbury World, located in the historic village of Bournville. Visitors can explore the magic and making of the famous Cadbury chocolate through the attraction’s 14 zones, featuring chocolate-making with chocolatiers to travelling back 1,000 years to discover the origins of the cocoa bean.
Experience the feeling of diving into a pot of melted Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate in the attraction’s new ‘4D Chocolate Adventure’ zone and walk through a full scale replica of Bull Street, where John Cadbury opened his first shop in 1824. There are special discounted entry rates for groups of 15, offered alongside free coach parking, with admission and a complimentary meal for one driver included. Group organisers of 20 or more will also receive free admission.
In Dudley, you’ll find the Black Country Museum. This 26acre, open-air attraction recreates the feel of the Industrial Revolution through costumed characters, original shops and authentic everyday scenes.Group bookings of more than 15 can benefit from discounted admission and guidebooks, free coach parking and free admission for group leaders and Blue Badge Guides. Organisers can also arrange a personal guide or introductory talk, with side trips available along the Dudley Canal or into the Limestone Mine.
Those entering or leaving the city from the south might consider calling in at Winterbourne House and Garden. This rare example or an early 20th century villa was once home to industrialist John Nettlefold, and now welcomes visitors every day of the week for an invaluable insight into Edwardian life. Groups can enjoy a bespoke guided tour or simply explore the house and garden at their leisure.
WORCESTERSHIRE'S SCENERY & STEAM
This much-loved county has often been named the best place to live in the UK and it’s certainly full of scenic spots. Worcester itself is a wonderful place to spend the day. Many groups start their visit at Worcester Cathedral, rising grandly from the banks of the River Severn. Founded in 680, it’s often cited as one of the country’s most beautiful buildings. Entry is free. Groups may wish explore on their own or alternatively, pre-book a historical tour of their choice. The Malvern Hills rise around and once you’re on them, you’ll have brilliant views stretching for miles across Worcestershire and Herefordshire. Groups in need of an activity could undertake the Spy Mission Trail – a circular driving trail around the north of the region, estimated to take around two or three hours.
Alternatively, take your time and cycle the route. Setting out from Great Malvern, you’ll stop at five places to figure out the clues. The trail guide can be downloaded, ordered or personalised from treasuretrails.co.uk. The Severn Valley Railway is a highlight of the county for many. Skirting the Severn, this glorious and original steam railway runs for 16miles from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth. The trains run from May until October. At the Engine House Visitor Centre there are eight full-size steam locomotives plus other exhibits, including a King George VI Royal Saloon and a Travelling Post Office. You could include a visit to Shrewsbury in Shropshire – the birthplace and childhood home of naturalist, Charles Darwin. Travelling as a pre-booked group of 15 or more acquires a generous discount off ticket prices, reserved seats all together and a group travel organiser will help with your booking. There are several special events held on weekends throughout the year.
SHROPSHIRE'S INDUSTRIAL PAST & REGENCY JEWELS
The Severn Valley Railway reaches into Shropshire, grinding to a halt at the end of the line in Bridgnorth. En route, you’ll pass over the grand Victoria Bridge spanning the river below. This attractive market town is also home to the Cliff Railway – Britain’s oldest and steepest inland electric funicular railway. Ride the track to the top for a fantastic view and a stroll around the castle gardens. More history beckons in Shropshire, with the town of Ironbridge a UNESCO World Heritage Site – named because it is home to the world’s first bridge made from iron.
Ten excellent museums can be found along the Ironbridge Gorge, including the Coalport China Museum, where bone china was made. The former factory displays original china works from the area and offers regular, hands-on workshops and demonstrations through a range of traditional techniques. A 45-minute drive from Ironbridge is the attractive town of Ludlow. After an hour or two working up an appetite, hit the Ludlow Food Centre. This unusual attraction features food stalls, open kitchens and tasting areas where local produce – such as cheese, sausages, jams, pickle, ice-cream, freshly roasted coffee and bread – is prepared and served to visitors.
There are also lots of lovely boutiques selling homewares and gifts. Why not walk it all off with a turn around Attingham Park, a National Trust site situated near Shrewsbury dating from 1785? In November, January and February, the Regency-era mansion is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, when guided tours escort visitors through its elegant interior. Otherwise, simply wander around the surrounding deer park and walled garden.
WARWICKSHIRE'S CASTLE & GARDENS
Warwick Castle is a Midlands must-see. This 1,100-year-old motte-and-bailey castle is regularly voted one of Britain’s best by its many visitors. A visit to the ancient site wouldn’t be complete without watching the summer jousting tournaments, observing the magnificent birds of prey in action or gazing in amazement as the world’s largest trebuchet launches a fireball. Groups of more than 10 receive up to 40% off entry prices, with special 45-minute tours through the Gate House, Barbican, State Rooms and Great Hall available at £5 per person. The spectacular ruins of Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden is one of the largest historic attractions in the West Midlands.
These walls were once home to Robert Dudley, the great love of Queen Elizabeth I. The attraction offers a 15% discount for groups of 11 or more visitors paying together, plus free entry for the coach driver and tour leader. You could add a guided tour of the Elizabeth Garden restoration project and wrap things up with refreshments in the Tea Room, where you can have a cream tea ready and waiting. Warwickshire is also home to the historic town of Stratford-upon-Avon, made famous for its idyllic riverside setting and the legacy of one of its most famous townsfolk, William Shakespeare. Join the other 4.9million who flock here every year to see the main sites, including the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the church where the Bard was baptised and buried, and the five Shakespeare Houses – Anne Hathaway’s Cottage & Gardens, Hall’s Croft, Harvard House, Mary Arden’s Farm and Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Motoring enthusiasts will insist on calling in at the Heritage Motor Centre. Home to the world’s largest collection of historic British cars, visitors can uncover the story of the British motor industry through fun and interactive exhibitions.
Somewhat surprisingly, this attraction does an excellent job of catering to families and children, who will really enjoy a day out here thanks to the dedicated kids’ activities on offer, such as play areas and electric go-karts. The Land Rover Experience appeals to all. Strap yourselves in and enjoy being driven around an off-road track. The centre offers discounted entry for pre-booked groups of 12 or more, along with a private guided tour, organiser and driver benefits and there’s plenty of free parking for coaches and cars.
STAFFORDSHIRE'S POTTERIES & ROLLERCOASTERS
Stoke-on-Trent is a fascinating city. Staffordshire potteries are known the world over and if your group is into arts and crafts, you might want to delay your visit until later in the year when the reinvented World of Wedgwood will open. In its updated guise, the attraction will be introducing a new factory tour, where visitors will be able to explore the studios, shop, woodland walks, tearooms and restaurant on-site. Complete the day with a visit to one of the gorgeous local gardens. Keen gardeners and lovers of the outdoors will adore Trentham Gardens and the Dorothy Clive Garden, both within a short drive of Stoke-on-Trent. Both attractions offer group discounts and a range of benefits. The Dorothy Clive Garden is a delightful mix of formal and informal garden greenery with some unusual features, and is popular for its tearoom that offers a great range of lunches.
Trentham Gardens are part of the wider Trentham Estate and there are wilder areas to explore, as well as the more formal Italian Garden. Beyond the main estate, the Monkey Forest is an ape safari park. Share your walk with monkeys, who will often swing through the branches above you or perhaps join your journey along the path. 140 Barbary macaques live freely in the forest. Groups of 20 or more receive discounted entry, the organiser and coach driver get in for free, there’s free on-site coach parking and no booking is required.