TOP WAYS TO EXPLORE BRITAIN’S WEST MIDLANDS
From cosmopolitan Birmingham to literary Stratford-upon-Avon, and epic castles like Kenilworth and Warwick to the industrial heritage of the Black Country Museum and the Ironbridge Gorge, England’s West Midlands region epitomizes the best of Britain.
And from getting out on two wheels, meandering down a canal, or taking to the skies, there’s an abundance of ways to experience the region – not to mention adrenaline-fuelled off-roading or kilometres of walking and cycling trails.
Our round-up reveals some of the top ways see the region from a different perspective:
Wander the walking trails
From the industrial heartlands of the cities to the rolling hills and countryside that surrounds them, much of the West Midlands can be explored on foot. Birmingham Heritage Walking Tours take visitors on an immersive journey through the city’s past, while numerous Coventry Trails – developed as part of the Coventry City of Culture program – explore the city’s heritage and cultural roots. The vast expanse of the Pennine Way National Trail to the north is a long-distance walking route stretching for 435 km through some of England’s wild northern landscapes.
Get on your bike
The West Midlands is peppered with cycling trails, from picturesque canal-side routes to tracks which follow old industrial lines. The actively inclined can cycle the 13km from central Birmingham along part of the Tame Valley Canal to explore the 400-hectare Sutton Park, located to the north of the city centre. Known as National Cycle Network Route 535, it’s a largely traffic-free trail. The Tissington Trail through the Peak District National Park is a 20-km former London and North Western Railway route linking Parsley Hay and Ashbourne, with bike hire available at both destinations.
Wind along the waterways
As a region dominated by waterways, the canals of the West Midlands offer a chance to discover some of its hidden gems. Visitors have a wide range of options to choose from – they can hire a rowing boat, or explore the canals via an organized boat tour. Narrowboat tours operate from central Birmingham, taking guests on a journey through the city’s industrial heritage, while river cruises in Stratford-upon-Avon show off Shakespeare Country from a different perspective. A unique dining experience is available aboard the restaurant boat, The Countess of Evesham. The 9-km Art Trail along the Coventry Canal features works paying homage to the region’s rich industrial heritage.
See Shakespeare’s England
As the town synonymous with William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon houses many attractions related to the great playwright. Shakespeare’s England provides access to the five fascinating family homes linked to the Bard, including his birthplace, New Place and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
Some other attractions in Warwickshire available with the pass, include Warwick Castle, Kenilworth Castle, and the MAD Museum.
Head off road
The West Midlands is home to a number of car manufacturers, including Jaguar Land Rover. The firm’s main car factory can be found in Solihull, alongside a mix of off-road driving experiences which allows guests to push the Land Rover’s capabilities to the limit. From a short taster session to a half- or full-day drive, thrill seekers can test their obstacle handling at the Land Rover Solihull Experience across a series of steep inclines, water wading and other challenging terrain. Visitors love getting behind the scenes at one of the most advanced car manufacturing facilities in the world with a factory tour.
Take to the skies
With miles of rolling countryside to enjoy, visitors can take to the skies to experience a bird’s eye view of the West Midlands and its surrounds. Numerous companies provide hot air balloon trips across Staffordshire, Warwickshire and the West Midlands. Among them, Wickers World operates from the grounds of Shugborough Hall (near Stafford) and Trentham Gardens (close to Stoke-on-Trent), while High Road Balloons fly from Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as several other locations. Helicopter tours are also available to take in the sights across the West Midlands.
Discover the real Peaky Blinders
The original Peaky Blinders gangs can be traced to Birmingham, and many scenes from Steven Knight’s hit show were filmed in the city. Operated by Brum Tours, Peaky Tours looks into the characters behind the TV series, for a fascinating insight into the fictional show and the real-life locals that inspired it. There are also many other key Peaky Blinders sites around the city, including a six-storey mural of Cillian Murphy’s character Tommy Shelby, on the walls of a factory in Digbeth. Visitors follow in the footsteps of Tommy and the gang at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, which has provided backdrops in all five series to date.
Go mad for museums
The rich industrial, musical and cultural heritage of the West Midlands can be explored at the region’s vast array of museums and galleries. The Coventry Transport Museum pays homage to the city’s car-making past with the world’s largest publicly owned collection of British vehicles, as well as the two fastest cars on the planet.
Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum delves into the world of science and technology with 200 hands-on displays, while the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery houses an unrivalled collection of Pre-Raphaelite art and will reopen its doors in 2022. A visit to the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum offers the ever-changing exhibitions which tell the story of Coventry’s social heritage.
From the grounds of stately homes to Victorian glasshouses, the West Midlands offers an abundance of outdoor and garden spaces to explore. The 6-hectare Birmingham Botanical Gardens, located just over 1.6 km to the south of Birmingham city centre in Edgbaston, is an oasis of colour where four glasshouses showcase tropical rainforest, subtropical, Mediterranean and arid environments.
The 17th century Moseley Old Hall, north of Wolverhampton, provided refuge for King Charles II during the English Civil War. Looked after by the National Trust, its walled gardens house plants cultivated for centuries. Alternatively, explore one of the largest contemporary perennial plantings in Europe at the Trentham Estate. Visitors also enjoy the Elizabethan Gardens at Kenilworth Castle, packed with colour and fragrance and recreated to be just how they were presented to Queen Elizabeth I around 400 years ago.
First published at Travel Industry Today