A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the West Midlands including Birmingham and the Black Country, Warwickshire & Staffordshire.
At Milford near Stafford you will find the grand house Shugborough Hall. In the 17th century the Anson family purchased the Shugborough estate. The Ansons were a famous of sea-faring clan. Several ships in the Royal Navy were named HMS Anson. In 1750, the house was enlarged by architect James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, who created a number of follies. During the 19th century it was remodelled by Viscount Anson and his wife Anne Margaret Coke, daughter of Thomas Coke, the First Earl of Leicester, whom he married in 1794. Viscountess Anson died in 1843 and is buried at Shugborough.
The Anson’s had ancestral ties to the Knights Templar. In the grounds of Shugborough you will see the 18th century Shepherd’s Monument, whih features a carving one of the world’s most well-known ciphertexts. Made famous by books such as The Da Vinci Code, theories suggest it may indicate the whereabouts of the Holy Grail. Codebreakers from the National Codes Centre cannot decipher it. Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens also tried, and similarly failed. There is also an ornamental copy of Nicolas Poussin’s similarly puzzling painting Arcadia at Shugborough.
Royal photographer Patrick Anson (aka Lord Lichfield, d 2005) was a second cousin of QE2. His mother, Princess Anne of Denmark, is the Queen’s cousin. The house contains a collection of his most famous photographs.
Shugborough Hall is very much an all-family experience. There is the mansion itself, which the National Trust maintain in the style of its heyday, a farmyard, craft workshops, a land-train, playground, sweet shop and brewery.
Biddulph Grange Garden
Biddulph Grange is the life’s work of the Victorian gardener James Bateman. The son of a northern industrialist from Lancashire, he inherited a fortune which he ploughed into his passion. Bateman was a highly regarded botanist and obsessive plant collector. At aged just 22, he designed the university parks in Oxford. As an expert on exotic orchids he sponsored expeditions to collect them from around the world.
In 1840 Bateman bought Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire. Unfortunately, it was built on old moorland 600ft above sea level, and was cold and wet with poor soil and poor drainage. Bateman spent about £5 million on the garden. He managed to link the crossover from large scale landscape gardening to intimate garden rooms with micro-climates mimicking the environment. He used large scale separations with naturalistic boundaries. Bateman was a believer in the most natural of plants and opposed to hybrids. Somewhat of a creationist, he attacked Darwin’s theories.
The upkeep of the estate used up all his wealth. In a way it was all folly. In 1868 he passed the estate onto his son who sold it on. In 1896 the house burnt down ad a year later Bateman died with just one thousand pounds in his will. In the 1920s the gardens fell into disrepair. But an ongoing restoration by the National Trust since 1988 has seen it reclaim some of its former glory.
Biddulph Grange is described as a world garden in the high Victorian style. As such, it is reputed to be the best in the UK, with international inspirations giving a very eclectic feel. You start with the Italian terraced garden, then move on through the Lime Walk, American Garden, Rocky Pass, Scottish Glen, Himalayan Garden, Chinese Garden (with a living 3D version of the Willow plate design – a nod to the potteries nearby), and up the slope to the Egyptian Garden – with a topiary pyramid featuring the Ape of Thoth, a garden deity. There is also the English Garden (much influenced by Staffordshire and Cheshire), the Pinetum (with one of the richest conifer collections in the UK), the Dahlia Walk (a parterre on the terraces at the side of the house), and the
Wellingtonia Avenue (Bateman was one of the first to import Wellingtonias from the USA as they were very expensive). Bateman’s personal Geological Gallery, featuring the study of strata, is also being restored.
St Giles Church, Cheadle
One great spiritual highlight in Staffordshire can be found in the town of Cheadle. The church of St Giles there was built in 1846 by the great neo-Gothic architect Augustus Pugin. It is known as ‘Pugin’s Gem’ and described by the architect himself as ‘perfect.’ A highlight is the Rood screen which marks the separation from congregation and altar.
A good day out? There’s loads of stuff in Staffordshire.
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)