Beyond Stratford-upon-Avon, the beautiful counties of the West Midlands across the heart of England are perfect for great days, driving trips and longer stays. Explore towns and villages, visit some of the vast network of imposing castles, stately homes and gardens, shop in historic high streets, stop at farm shops or linger in cafes or quaint pubs.
For major stores, shopping precincts, industrial heritage and fast-paced city-life, the heart of Birmingham is your destination – visit by train to save the hassle of parking.
Warwick is dominated by the mighty Warwick Castle but make time for looking around this fine old county town, too. (With kids, a castle visit will take up the day.) See the intriguing Lord Leycester Hospital (not a medical centre), the Warwickshire Museum in the Market Hall and browse the streets and many independent shops. Hill Close Gardens are sixteen restored Victorian house gardens to visit in the intriguing Bread and Meat Close. The gardens have been recreated to reflect the individual planting styles of their original owners.
Warwick dates back to 914, founded by Lady of the Mercians, Ethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons, (the one who burnt the cakes). Ethelfleda is described as ‘a lady who lit up the dark ages’ in an inspiring piece by Tim Beech which makes me want to know much more about her.
Kenilworth is a short drive from Warwick and features the lovely gardens and atmospheric ruins of Kenilworth Castle.
The high street of lovely Henley-in-Arden features a mile (1.6km) of classified buildings from the 12th and 15th centuries. Nearby are two fascinating National Trust properties, Baddesley Clinton and Packwood House. Tickets are available to visit both on the same day and each has a café. Baddesley Clinton is an atmospheric moated house while Packwood is a restored Tudor house with lovely gardens and topiary features.
Just 7 miles (11 km) from Stratford-upon-Avon, Alcester is in an area peppered with delightful villages such as Wixford, Ardens Grafton, Arrow, Kings Coughton and Wilmcote, home to Mary Arden’s Farm. Coughton Court and Ragley Hall are two of the historic properties to visit in the area.
Alcester has an intriguing Roman past (discover it at the Roman Alcester Museum) but a Tudor imprint on its streetscape best explored on the heritage trail to discover the historic buildings as well as the old pubs like the Turks Head. Pick up details of the heritage from the Roman Museum.
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Pershore is a market town on the River Avon, about 21 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, 10 miles from Worcester and 6 miles from Evesham. The High Street, Bridge and Broad Streets feature Georgian architecture, independent shops such as Tappers shoe store, covered markets and many pubs and restaurants. The Angel is an historic pub, Jimmy Pickles is a local legend for its fusion curries and the Belle House and Traiteur Deli are local foodie faves.
Croome Court is a National Trust property near Pershore with expansive grounds, landscaped by ‘Capability Brown with views to the Malvern Hills. The property was the sea of the Earls of Coventry and the house has been cleverly restored to reflect 6th Earl ‘s use of employing the skills of crafstspeople and artists. Croome was the site of a secret air base, RAF Defford, in the Second World War – check out the museum and the 1940s tea room.
Travelling on towards Malvern, stop at Upton-upon-Severn , once a port and the only river crossing for many miles around. There’s a marina, old pubs and independent shops such as the Map Shop, a real treasure trove of guides and maps.
The iconic Malvern Hills are known locally as ‘The Sleeping Dragon’ because of their undulating outline. Great Malvern is the town at one end of the range and Little Malvern is at the other; Colwall is on the Herefordshire side. Walking trails criss-cross these atmospheric hills and this is a great area for cycling. Head for the Morgan Motor Company to visit the museum and factory tours (pre-booking essential); hiring a Morgan to explore is a special experience for Morgan enthusiasts.
Head to the totally divine market town and foodie destination of Ludlow in Shropshire, complete with castle ruins, narrow streets, markets, speciality food outlets and restaurants galore. If you can stay for more than a day, nearby places to visit including Croft Castle and Parklands, Stokesay Castle, Welsh border country and the walks of the glorious Shropshire Hills.
UNESCO World Heritage listed Ironbridge in Shropshire, is hailed as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Now it’s a place to visit to see the famous Ironbridge and Tollhouse designed by Thomas Telford and other museums including the Enginuity hands-on museum, great for kids. Craft shops, artisan breweries and cafes along the River Severn complete the scene.
A round-trip from Stratford can take in the town of Evesham on the River Avon, and one of the lovely ‘honey-toned’ villages of the north Cotswolds, Broadway in Worcestershire for galleries, antiques shops, cafes, hotels and pubs such as The Trumpet. The Broadway Deli is delightful for breakfast, coffee and lunch and for stocking upon on local produce and deli items. Visit Broadway Tower, the Gordon Russell Museum and the Broadway Museum and Art Gallery (in conjunction with the Ashmolean in Oxford). Nearby, discover the extraordinary collections at Snowshill Manor and see lavender fields in from mid-June to early August at Cotswold Lavender. The Swan and the Broadway Hotel are two easy foodie favourites.
Continue to Evesham on the River Avon, once home to a vast Abbey of which only a bell tower, two churches and some walls remain. The Almonry museum is well worth a visit for some of the history of the area including the Battle of Evesham. Thirsty? Try the Royal Oak pub diagonally opposite the Almonry. Evesham has some of the big supermarkets on its outskirts and antiques and more at Craycombe, Fladbury. The Valley Evesham has become a major attraction with shopping, cafes and a garden centre/gift shop at its heart, the valley Castle kids’ playground, the Evesham Light Railway and a petrol station at the entrance if you need to fill up before returning to Stratford..
Some attractions can take up the best part of a day, especially if you are a real fan of things like cars, roses or deisgner gardens.
— British Motor Museum: Home of the treasures of the British Motor Industry, the British Motor Museum at Gaydon (around 16 miles from Stratford) is the must-see if you’re into classic and vintage cars.
— David Austin Roses: Pilgrimage for rose-lovers, the David Austin plant nursery and show gardens, near Wolverhampton.
— Hidcote Gardens: A jewel in the crown of English country gardens, Hidcote is famous for the series of ‘outdoor garden rooms’ designed by Lawrence Johnston.