With the Commonwealth Games in full swing, Birmingham bustles with activity.
And although Britain’s second city is the dynamic heart of the region, there is no shortage of places to explore in the surrounding area.
Head south past the M5, M42 and M40 to rolling hills, historic properties and the footprints of famous people whose lives have shaped the world.
As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, echoes of once important industries remain strong throughout the region. In Kidderminster, home of the Severn Valley Railway, you’ll find the Carpet Museum, dedicated to the manufacturing industry that once dominated the small Worcestershire town, while the Forge Mill Needle Museum in Redditch, near the ruins of a medieval Cistercian abbey, tells the story of needle making in Victorian times.
The world’s largest collection of historic British cars at the British Motor Museum in Warwickshire reflects the West Midlands’ status as the center of the country’s motor industry.
Other transport-related collections are in the Kidderminster Railway Museum; The engine house on the Severn Valley Railway in Shropshire; Coventry Transport Museum and the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull.
Among many historic properties, in the rolling countryside of Worcestershire and Warwickshire in particular, Hanbury Hall is a magnificent William and Mary style country house, garden and park near Droitwich Spa, while Croome has a park and walled gardens across Worcester.
For a great Warwickshire triple, Coughton Court is an imposing Tudor house near Alcester, while Baddesley Clinton is a moated manor house with nearby Packwood House.
Less grandiose, the Rock Houses at Kinver Edge – “cottages” carved into sandstone hills near Stourbridge – were inhabited until the 1960s.
To the south of Birmingham, the Clent Hills offer fine views of the city and black country and also overlook the Malvern Hills. Wyre Forest is the largest native forest in England.
Chaddesley Woods, dating from the 13th century and the second largest wood in Worcestershire, is one of dozens of nature reserves in the Midlands, ranging from open grassland (Windmill Hill, near Alcester) to reclaimed land (Goldicote Railway Cutting, near of Stratford-upon-Avon).
Leamington is home to a small gallery/museum, with changing exhibitions (currently showing forgotten Pre-Raphaelite artists), gardens and plenty of bars and restaurants. The spa town also hosts the Birmingham 2022 lawn bowling competitions.
Distance from Birmingham: About 30 miles.
How to get there: Regular trains from Birmingham Moor Street and Snow Hill stations. Takes about 30 minutes.
Why visit? The small market town of Warwick is dominated by Warwick Castle, one of the largest (and most popular) fortified castles still standing in England. Developed from a wooden fort, it was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century and sits on a bend in the River Avon.
Keen to maximize its appeal, castle attractions include The Kingmaker, which examines preparations for battle during the Wars of the Roses, and The Great Hall, with its impressive collection of arms and armour.
There’s also a life-size replica of the trebuchet (a heavy catapult used to batter seemingly impregnable fortifications) and (for younger visitors) a live show featuring the colorful dragon Zog and a maze of horror stories.
There are also great displays of birds of prey, jousting knights, archery and an immersive journey through the castle’s formidable dungeons.
If you have time left after your castle adventure, other places of interest in the surrounding town include the Market Hall Museum (with geology, natural history and town exhibits) and the Queen’s Royal Hussar Museum – Churchill’s Own, while the adjacent town is Royal Leamington Spa.
Distance from Birmingham: About 30-39 miles.
How to get there: Direct trains from Birmingham Snow Hill take around 45-55 minutes.
Why visit? The birthplace of the bard himself, the town is a sanctuary for all things William Shakespeare, with several properties, under the banner of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, exploring life in the playwright’s day.
Among them are Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (his wife’s childhood home), New Place (the site of the house where William died in 1616) and his childhood home, Shakespeare’s Birthplace – which was purchased in 1847 after a campaign supported by Charles Dickens. , and others, to save the building from collapse.
Elsewhere in the city, you’ll find a Tudor classroom, Holy Trinity Church (where William and Anne are buried) and the immersive Tudor World. The Royal Shakespeare Theater on the banks of the Avon is where RSC continues to breathe new life into Shakespeare’s work, often featuring some of today’s most accomplished acting names, with productions in several spaces.
They also produce new works unrelated to The Bard and run daily theater tours, which give visitors behind-the-scenes access.
The kids will love a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm, considered ‘the UK’s greatest tropical butterfly paradise’, or the Museum of Mechanical Art and Design.
And just a few miles away is the National Trust’s Charlecote Park. A grand country house decorated in Victorian style on the banks of the Avon, it is set in 280 acres of scenic parkland.
Distance from Birmingham: About 25-30 miles
How to get there: Regular trains from Birmingham New Street to the center of Worcester Foregate Street and Worcester Shrub Hill (a few minutes walk from the city centre). Journey times vary from 40 minutes to approximately 70 minutes.
Why visit? A cathedral city, construction began on Worcester Cathedral in 1084, although the city has been home to a bishop since the 7th century.
Overlooking the River Severn, the imposing cathedral houses the tomb of the unpopular King John (brother of Richard the Lionheart and villain of all Robin Hood stories) and the Chantry of Prince Arthur (Arthur was the son of Henry VII, who died aged 15, just months after his marriage), as well as the Norman Crypt of St Wulfstan, medieval cloisters and magnificent Victorian stained glass windows.
Other places to visit in the town include the Museum of Royal Worcester, where you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Worcester china (which was made in the town from 1751 to 2008), and The Commandery, a HQ royalist during the English Civil War. The pivotal battle of the Worcester War.
More recent military history is documented at the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, which hosts exhibits dedicated to the Worcestershire Regiment and the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry.
The gallery’s latest temporary exhibition is The Magic Of Middle-Earth, which is dedicated to the work of Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien, who grew up in Birmingham, and includes over 200 articles, first-edition books and from fantastic paintings to models. , which explore his continuing legacy.
Elsewhere, the George Marshall Medical Museum records some 250 years of health care and medicine, while Greyfriar House and Garden and the Tudor House Museum offer glimpses of earlier Worcester.
And if the weather is fine, a stroll along the River Severn is a pleasant way to pass the time.
Distance from Birmingham: About 60-78 miles
How to get there: Direct trains from Birmingham New Street take around 1.5 hours.
Why visit? West of the Malvern Hills, Hereford sits on a bend in the River Wye. The impressive cathedral notably houses the Hereford Mappa Mundi. Dating from around 1300, it is a remarkable testimony to the world – and how people saw it – during the 14th century.
A map drawn on a single sheet of calfskin (vellum) and measuring 1.58m by 1.33m, it has Jerusalem at the center of the world, with 500 drawings depicting major towns and cities, events, wildlife ( real and fictional) and peoples. The map is displayed alongside over 200 illuminated manuscripts and over 1,200 early printed books.
The cathedral also has a 1217 revision of the historic Magna Carta. Translated as The Great Charter, the document is considered the foundation of English common law.
Other places to visit in the town include the Black And White House (aka The Old House), a Jacobean timber-framed house that tells the story of four centuries of local history. A former saddlery, fish and hardware store, then a bank, it was transformed into a museum between the wars.
Meanwhile, further along the River Wye, west of central Hereford, you’ll find The Weir Garden.
A centuries-old site for fishing, boating and swimming, the riverside garden is filled with wildflowers and a lovely spot for a quiet picnic.
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