Warwick is yet another historic town 40 minutes or so by train out of Birmingham city centre (Snow Hill or Moor St station as opposed to New St). 2009 was the first time I went - and as it's to the south east of the centre, it's only about 20-30 minutes drive from where I was bought up.
Sited on the banks of the River Avon, Warwick is famed for its 11th castle - and a deeply impressive one it is too. But there's more to the city than just the castle, with the centre renowned for its historic architecture and its Tudor and 17th century architecture, including the spectacular Lord Leycester hospital (16th century) and the Collegiate Church of St Mary (1704).
The town is the home of a number of annual festivals and hosts a number of meets at the Warwick Racecourse.
Just 40 minutes by train from Birmingham New Street, the stylish cathedral city of Lichfield is easily reached. The home of Samuel Johnson (the writer/complier of The English dictionary), Erasmus Darwin (father of Charles) - both have museums in their memory and honour - along with the 12th century three-spired Cathedral and the charm of the city centre make it an excellent day out from Birmingham.
(See separate Lichfield page)
Henley is one of my favourite historic towns near to Birmingham (just 18 miles to the south of the centre and 7 miles north of Stratford). The one mile long high street is a conservation area and contains some 150 listed buildings of historical or architectural importance, with the town itself having some 1,000 years of history.
Henley is now the combination of two villages - Henley and the older Beaudesert. A Norman castle was built in Beaudesert in the 11th century, but this, along with both towns, was completely destroyed by Royalists in 1265: it was never rebuilt and nothing remains. But Henley prospered as a market town - the 15th century Market Cross remains (in part) - one of the few left in Warwickshire.
Today, with so many buildings of interest, numerous pubs, good restaurants, the Heritage Centre and the famed Henley Ice-Cream next door, as well as the Market on WEdnesday, Saturday and Sunday, Henley is very much a destination and well worth a few hours of exploration.
It is also easily reached by public transport, with the Birmingham-Stratford train line serving the town.
(See separate Henley-in-Arden page)
Birmingham is home to the oldest cinema that is still operating in the UK. it occupies quite a narrow site just behind the grimiest exit to New street station. It shows mainstream films and some art-house stuff but avoids the worst excesses of Holywood get-rich-quick conveyer belt productions (e.g police academy 76)
The cinema was built in 1909, and has seen re-named and re-built several times since. A secon screen was added and the newest owners have re-furbished adding a full bar service and brought the technical side of things bang up to date.
So if you fancy a night at the movies make a point of enjoying it in this quirky independent (the only one in Brum) rather than in a faceless multiplex.
Stratford is only about a 30 minute drive from the NEC so an evening at the theatre is not out of the question. The RSC theatre is heavily subsidised so it is possible to get a good seat for £10.00. Book in advance at their website...also no booking fees...hurrah!
Car parking is free in Stratford town centre and there's some good restaurants/pubs....a very pleasant eveing can be had.
The village of Meriden lies a few miles to the south of Birmingham airport. It is traditionally seen as the 'Center of England'. (note the name of the village). The ancient village cross on the attractive village green states this. The ordanance survey now says that the site is actually in field about a dozen miles away - but this is much better !
The village also has a pond, some attractive half-timered houses and a first rate pub / brasseries called 'The bull head' that has served beer for several hundred years.
More unusually it is also the site for a national war memorial - to cyclists. Several thousand died in the first world war alone. I guess many of them would have been messengers between the front lines and the generals who were safely beyond the range of German guns.
An attractive spot to wander about, especially if you have time to kill before a flight.
Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens is a 10 acre walled gardens, restored to their original 18th century look. There is a mixture bertween Historical plants, vegetables and fruits. Also there is a Holly maze in the gardens that you can try to find your way around. This is sort of along the same lines of the Botanical Gardens, but not as big in size. It will still have alot to offer if you're a keen gardener or not.
Adult: £3.50, Concessions £2.50, Child: £1.50
Opening Hours:Tuesday-Thursday 13:30-16:30.
Saturday, Sunday & Bank Holidays 14:00-18:00.
Bus services from city centre: 993A.
Do you get your kicks out of looking at decrepid, smelly, concrete shopping centres ?
If that is you bag, then make sure you visit the stunningly awful 'Five Ways' shopping centre.
The chances are that by the time you read this it will all (instead of just the first half) have been re-developed into some swanky glass-and-aluminium emporium and leisure complex. (thats a cinema and shops to you and me)
The village of Old Swinford lies a few minutes walk from Stourbridge Junction Station. It is essentially one road, but with many fine buildings of a certain high quality - both old and new.
The Church, at the centre of the village is an impressive affair. Although somewhat of a 'mongrel' having sections from different centuries, the overall effect is very pleasing to the eye.
The sandstone church has a C14th west tower, but is mostly Victorian - nave of 1843. and chancel, vestry and south chancel of 1898 by Chatwin.
The earliest known rector was 'John' in 1199, Joanna Southcott was a prophetess (not a common job around Birmingham) lived breifly in the rectory, and her sealed box of predictions was kept there.
The graveyard set on a small hill behind the church is surprisingly large and seems 'just right'. Graveyards on hills always seem so appropriate to me - and I'm just not sure why. Perhaps it has something to do with the Mount of Olives from ancient times.
The Portland Vase is arguably the most famous and certainly the most influential piece of ancient glass in the world (1st century Roman) . Its' blue and white cameo appearance served as a source of inspiration for the potter Josiah Wedgwood. Now comes the interesting bit : some bloke in 1845 got completely rat-arsed over a few days, walked into the British Museum and smashed up the glass case and the vase. Rather oddly for some strange legal reason he was only spent time in jain for smashing up the case ! Some anonymous doner paid the fine and he got out in a matter of days
As it was smashed to pieces, and despite the effects of a big tube of glue, a prize of ?1000 was offered to anyone who could reproduce it. The challenge was taken up by John Northwood, who engraved the frieze, a task which, begun in 1873, was not completed until 1876. The copy was highly acclaimed, and gave rise to a fashion for cameo glass which lasted until the end of the century,
You can see a ststue of the man, and of the vase outside an entrance to the Merry Hill shopping centre. (big out-of-town center : see other tips)
Just by Stourbridge Junction station (if you happen to be passing that way) on Redhill Avenue lies two pubs.
My apologies to VT member TimLloydlangston who has written a very similar tip - but he pointed the places out to me and may have even bought a round or two in the place.
The public house the 'Labour in vain' used to be a hotel, and is not much to write home about. Except that is for the preserved stained glass window on the side of the boozer that depicts (in a very non-politically correct way) two whote women trying to scrub a black man to turn him white - obviously a Labour in vain. It an also lead to the rather obvious jokes about the local womenfolk being a bunch of scrubbers.
The Seven Stars, just slightly closer to the station has a good reputation as a freindly pub with good food, reasonable beer and interesting decor.
Worth a little detour if you happen to be passing through Stourbridge Junction station.
The town of Stourbridge is well connected to Birmingham, but to get to it by train you have to alight at Storbridge Junction and travel the one stop to Stourbridge town.
This branch line is certainly the shortest in the Uk and many claim it is the shortest in the world.
There are currently plans to use a new and clever light rail car on the route that works with a flywheel - very environmentally sound I'm sure. More info about the innovative transport solution can be found below :
If you are visting Cadbury World, or even if your not, then a wander around Bourneville
( a name known all around the world from the chocolate bar named after it) is well worth it.
This 'village' was created as a 'model village' by the the Cadbury family to provide decent housing conditions for their workers. They also has the vision to lay on sporting and cultural facilities. They had no problem with other denominations building churches, but pubs are conspicous by their abscence !
The area is now very sought after and house prices are just about the highest in the West Midlands. Some might consider it to be somewhat 'twee' whilst most would just think of it as 'quaint'. Whatever your view, it's worth considering the philanthropic ideals of the Cadbury family - many multinationals could learn a thing or two from them.
The village is only a couple of minutes walk from the Cadbury Factory itself.
Cadbury World offers plenty for both kids and chocolate-loving adults alike. There are rides, a factory tour, chocolate-making demonstrations and lots of the popular chocolates for sale at discount prices in the factory shop. You can also learn about the history of both chocolate and the Cadbury family through a series of colourful exhibitions and interactive displays. One word of warning, however: the Cadbury tour is very popular and visits should be booked in advance.
It's estimated that in the 30-odd years since Spaghetti Junction, Britains largest motorway interchange some 1.25 Billion vehicles have been through it. The term itself was apparantly coined by a local Journo : Roy Smith, and has stuck ever since.
Considering the amount of other places it has been used or applied to, I bet he wished he had copyrighted it.
The actual junction (and you bound to use it at some point on any trip here) covers 30 acres, serves 18 routes. It connects the M6 southbound - leading to the M1, the M6 northbound - also leading to the M5, the A38M into Birmingham City centre and a number of other roads. It also straddles three canals, two rivers and a main railway line.
Work on the junction started in 1968 and took 4 years to complete construction of the 18 roads and 559 concrete columns, reaching up to 24 meters high.
If you wanted to cover every road on the Junction itself (and you would have to be fairly mad to do so), you would have to drive some 73 miles.
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