STAFFORDSHIRE

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Peak DistrictAlthough Staffordshire is often neglected as a tourist destination, there is much in the co unt y to attract – rolling countryside, the Peak District National Park, quaint little towns, and the popular Alton Towers theme park. The county shares borders with seven other counties in the West and East Midlands, and Stoke-on-Trent is its largest city. Those who love the outdoors will not be disappointed – the Staffordshire Moorlands in the north, Cannock Chase in the south, and part of the National Forest in the east all provide ample opportunity for walking, hiking, cycling and so on. Staffordshire also lends its name to a breed of hunting terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. 

Layout
The county is long rather than wide, with Stoke-on-Trent situated roughly in the northwest of the county. Stafford, the smaller county town, lies more to the south. Staffordshire is generally hilly in the north and south and gently undulating in the middle. Many rivers flow through the county, the largest being the Trent – it is thus no coincidence that Staffordshire is served by a comprehensive canal system.

 

 

 

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Points of Interest:   1. Stoke-on-Trent  2. Leek  3. Alton Towers  4. Stafford  5. Litchfield


UK West Midlands Stoke pottery factoryStoke-on-Trent, often simply called Stoke, is the largest city in Staffordshire. Known primarily for being an industrial area, and in particular the home of pottery, Stoke is also sometimes referred to as “The Potteries”. Stoke-on-Trent is made up of what were originally six different towns − Stoke, Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Fenton and Longton − which merged in the early twentieth century to form the present-day conurbation.

Layout
Each of the six original towns making up Stoke-on-Trent has retained its separate characteristics, with Hanley emerging as the centre of commerce and the unofficial city centre, although the administrative offices remain in Stoke. The six towns lie roughly on a line along the A50 road, and the Stoke-on-Trent train station is to the south of Hanley.

SIGHTS
Wedgwood Factory Visitor Centre and Museum [Barlaston, +44 1782 282986, A: £10.00, Concessions: £8.00, Children under 5 free, Reduced prices after 3.30pm] This visitor centre and museum offer an interesting insight into one of the world’s most well-known manufacturers of fine bone china. The company was founded by Josiah Wedgwood in 1759, and the museum details the history of this fascinating personality and his company. Its collections include paintings, documents, and other artefacts relating to the Wedgwood family, as well as some extremely valuable ceramic pieces. The Wedgwood Visitor Centre provides even more information in the form of films and interactive displays. Here visitors can watch skilled craftspeople at work, and try their hands at some of the techniques demonstrated for an extra fee. The entire site is situated in charming parkland, acquired in 1938 when the Wedgwood factory moved from its prior eighteenth-century location. Tickets can also be purchased for entry to just the museum (prices quoted above are for both the museum and visitor centre).

Gladstone Pottery Museum [Uttoxeter Road, +44 1782 319232,  ad/ch £6.95/4.75, Concession: £5.50] An old factory that has been preserved and restored, this museum gives an insight into the lives of pottery industry workers during the Victorian era. Step back in time as you explore original workshops and watch traditional skills being demonstrated. A fascinating exhibition called “Flushed with Pride” humorously traces the story of the toilet from its chamber pot beginnings to today’s high-technology devices. There is also a tea room serving home-cooked local cuisine.

The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery [Bethesda Street, +44 1782 232323, Free] This museum’s claim to fame is the Staffordshire Hoard, the world’s largest find of Anglo-Saxon treasure, worth a staggering £3.3 million. Only recently discovered on private farmland in Staffordshire, the Hoard first went on display in a specially dedicated gallery in the museum in October 2010. The museum also holds a large collection of ceramics and a fine-art collection which includes pieces by Degas and Picasso.

 

 

 

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LeekThe main town of the Staffordshire Moorlands, Leek is located in the north of the county and is familiarly known as the Queen of the Moorlands. The traditional importance of farming to the town’s economy can be seen its regular cattle market. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries industry played an important part in the town’s economy, and silk weaving became one of its principal activities. Today, Cheddleton Flint Mill [Leek Road, Cheddleton, +44 1782 502907] is a good reminder of that heritage – it is no longer a working mill but has been restored and now serves as a museum.

Rudyard Steam RailwayTwo miles north of Leek is the Rudyard Lake [Rudyard, +44 1538 306280], an artificial lake created more than two centuries ago as part of the canal system of the West Midlands. The well-known writer Rudyard Kipling was named for this lake, as the story goes that it was supposedly where his parents met and courted. Today courting couples will have a much harder time finding privacy, as the lake is a popular location for family outings and water activities. The Rudyard Lake Steam Railway runs for three miles along the length of the lake, allowing passengers to take in some of the lake’s most breathtaking sights. Details about the operating schedule of the railway can be found at its website.
 



Alton Towers [Alton, +44 871 222 3330, ad/ch £38/29 (Reduced prices if booked online)] The most-visited theme park in the UK, Alton Towers is located north of the village of Alton, about 26km east of Stoke-on-Trent, on the grounds of the former home of the Earls of Shrewsbury.  The site is an all-in-one resort and theme park, comprising the theme park, a water park, a mini-golf park, as well as two hotels, a spa, and conference centre.

Alton TowersThe theme park contains several rollercoasters which were world’s firsts, including Oblivion, the world’s first vertical drop rollercoaster, and Th13teen, the world’s first vertical free fall drop rollercoaster. Its world-famous rollercoasters and thrill rides will certainly leave even the most hardened thrill-seeker breathless. Families with children will also find lots to do, with four out of the eleven differently-themed areas in the park specially designed with rides and activities to cater to the younger crowd. The park also retains the gardens and ruins of the former stately mansion that once stood on its grounds, which are open to visitors during most of the park’s regular operating hours.

The Waterpark is a heated, part-indoor and part-outdoor water theme park open all year round, and themed as a Caribbean lagoon. Its many water rides, from the lazy river to high-speed water rollercoasters, offer something for everybody. Entry to the Waterpark requires separately-purchased tickets.

 


The county town of Staffordshire, Stafford is relatively small, and lies along the M6 motorway. Although Stafford’s history goes back to around 700 A.D., it is very much an evolving town today, with modern conveniences comfortably sharing the townscape alongside its historical buildings. Stafford was home to a pottery and a shoe industry in the eighteenth century, with the latter developing throughout the Industrial Revolution and increasing Stafford’s importance. These traditional industries declined in the twentieth century, however, and today computer and electronics firms play an important part in the town’s economy.

SIGHTS
Stafford CastleStafford Castle [Newport Road, +44 1785 257698, Free Admission] dates back to around the eleventh century, when it was built by the Normans who recognised the strategic location of the town. It is a good example of the motte and bailey castle, which is a castle built on raised ground and surrounded by a fence, a style common in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The castle’s fortunes declined by the seventeenth century, and today only the ruins remain. Nevertheless, visitors can still get a sense of the castle’s history, with an interpretive trail and an impressive visitor centre bringing the past to life. 


A typical English market town, Lichfield has the requisite pretty cobbled streets and historical houses. Steeped in history, Lichfield is famous for its three-spired cathedral, and for being the birthplace of Samuel Johnson and Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin. Besides getting immersed in the historical aura of these venerable personalities, visitors will also find much in the way of contemporary culture.  The town has a lively cultural scene in place, with community theatre events and festivals dotting the calendar.

Sights
Litchfield Cathedral stained glassThe three spires of the famous Lichfield Cathedral [The Close, +44 1543 306100, Free Admission/Donation] can be spotted from miles away. Its towering façade is nothing short of awe-inspiring, especially when illuminated at night. The impressive gothic cathedral that now stands dates from 1195, although there has been a place of worship on the site since around 700 A.D. Visitors are free to tour the cathedral on their own, guided by an information leaflet, while staff are on hand to answer queries. There is also a restaurant on-site. In addition to the cathedral’s own treasures, a touring exhibition of the Staffordshire Hoard, normally housed in Stoke-on-Trent’s Potteries Museum, will visit the cathedral from 29 July to 21 August 2011.

Erasmus Darwin House [Beacon Street, +44 1543 306260, A: £3.00, C: £1.00, Concession: £2.00] The home of the Enlightenment thinker and physician, Erasmus Darwin, from 1758 to 1781, this Georgian house is now devoted to documenting the life and times of the grandfather of good old Charles. Unknown to many, Erasmus Darwin was working on his own theory of evolution a good seventy years before his grandson came along, and his work on the subject was very well received in its time. The Erasmus Darwin House is located in the picturesque Cathedral Close, and contains a pleasant herb garden which visitors should not miss.

Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum [Breadmarket Street, +44 1543 264972, Free Admission] Born here in 1709, Samuel Johnson is perhaps best known as the father of the English dictionary. Visitors can now explore five floors of this house, with reconstructed rooms and audio-visual exhibits re-telling the story of one of the most influential contributors to the English language. Its collection includes a wide range of documents, artefacts, furniture, paintings and writings relating the Samuel Johnson, his life and the early eighteenth century in and around Lichfield. This museum itself is over a hundred years old - having opened to the public in 1901!

Drayton Manor Theme Park [Nr Tamworth, +44 844 472 1950, A: £28, C: £24] Families with children might be interested in this award-winning theme park which encompasses the usual theme park thrill rides, a zoo, a 4D cinema, and Europe’s only Thomas Land - a section of the park based on the Thomas the Tank Engine books and television series. On-site are also a hotel and a camping/caravan site, for those who enjoy an all-in-one holiday experience.