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.
Stratford and Warwick
William Shakespeare’s home town in Warwickshire is on the very northern edge of the Cotswolds. The wonderful thing about Stratford, is that over 400 years on, many of the places associated with Shakespeare’s life are still standing and can be visited, such as his birthplace, school, and residences.
The birthplace, right in the heart of the town, features a tour, exhibition and museum. It is close to the market square and there are a number of traditional shops nearby.
Also recommended is a viewing of Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Traditionally built of ‘wattle, daub and thatch’, this was where Shakespeare, in his mid-teens, acted out his own Romeo role to woo Anne. The guides here tell an engrossing story: find out the fascinating origins of the phrases, ‘rule of thumb’, ‘gone to pot’, and ‘sleep tight’.
A visit to the altar of the 14th century Holy Trinity Church where the Great Bard is buried is a must. The bust overlooking his tomb was an artistic portrayal of the playwright, and has become the definitive likeness. Then, follow in Shakespeare’s footsteps along the banks of the River Avon, with the theatres and memorials now erected in his honour.
Warwick Castle is of some antiquity, being originally built in the late 11th century. Indeed, it still contains the oldest man-made mound or motte, in England, completed in 1068, just two years after the Norman Conquest.
But the castle found real fame in the 15th century when it became the political epicentre of the War of the Roses which lasted roughly 70 years between 1420-1490. It wasn’t really a civil war, as it had little direct effect on the greater populace. Indeed, some historians dismiss it as a long, drawn-out power-struggle punctuated by the odd tedious battle. Essentially, the multiple bloodlines of the royal family divided into two camps: Lancaster (red rose), and Yorks (white rose). But it was the political intrigue of the powerful warlord, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, which ensured the prolongation of the royal split. By switching sides, he earned the historical moniker the ‘Kingmaker’.
The War of the Roses was eventually won by the Tudors. Over a century later, William Shakespeare wrote seven plays on the period using this castle for inspiration. Essentially, propaganda for his victorious Tudor patrons.
Highlights of this historical stronghold for the modern visitor include live demonstrations of siege engines, weaponry, falconry, jousting, a real dungeon and armour displays. Kids will especially will enjoy this venue.
Nearby, the medieval Lord Leicester Hospital was built in the 1380s originally as a hall for the trade guilds of Warwick. It was converted to an alms house in 1571 by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, for his pensioner soldiers. It is still an alms house today with just eight permanent residents who are tasked with looking after it. They and their predecessors have eaten in the Brethrens’ Kitchen for 450 years. As a film location, it most famously used in the Harry Potter movies Also nearby is the splendid church of St. Mary’s, Warwick where the tomb of Robert Dudley may be viewed. The Dictum of Kenilworth, which essentially confirmed the statutes of Magna Carta, was publicly proclaimed at St Mary’s in 1266.
Stratford and Warwick –a great combination for a day out.
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. More recommendations will appear next week.
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)