This West Midlands guest post was contributed by Izzy Evans, who lives in Birmingham, England, and writes for the Birmingham Blogger.
The West Midlands isn’t on every traveler’s list of top places to visit, but maybe it should be. Our Birmingham City Council has “put their backs into it” (as we say) and the place is looking really good. There are plenty of fantastic sites to see, including some unconventional ones.
The West Midlands is best known for the role it played in the Industrial Revolution. The “Black Country,” was named so in the mid-19th century because of the smoke produced by the thousands of ironworking foundries. This, therefore, is what I have concentrated on. This is my Industrial Revolution tour and my choice of top 5 places to visit in the West Midlands.
1. The Old Iron Bridge in Telford, West Midlands
A spectacular site, this 100-foot cast iron bridge over the River Severn in Shropshire was built in 1779. The area surrounding and named after the Iron Bridge is often considered to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. This is based on the fact that it was here that a new way of smelting iron was formed using coke, allowing iron to be produced cheaper. Though heavy industry has since disappeared from the town, the Iron Bridge and some historic buildings, including homes of the Victorian iron makers, remain. Ironbridge and the Ironbridge Gorge area are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ironbridge has a number of museums, shops, art galleries, tearooms, restaurants, pubs and fantastic opportunities for picnics and walking or cycling.
2. Birmingham Back to Backs
Birmingham is the largest city in the West Midlands – and the second largest in England. During the Industrial Revolution, houses for working class people were quite literally built back to back, with only a small communal courtyard. A tour through this National Trust area provides a glimpse into their homes and lives. Book early for the guided tour around the last surviving court of back to back houses, otherwise known as Court 15. Tours are limited to eight people.
In addition to providing a glimpse into the 19th century, the Back to Backs also present a unique lodging alternative. The National Trust has restored two historic cottages – one styled in the Victorian Period and the other fashioned à la 1930s. Both of these are steeped in atmosphere, offer a comfortable place to sleep, and are located within walking distance of Birmingham’s best dining and shopping options.
3. Birmingham and Fazeley Canal
You can take a boat trip on this waterway, which flows from the heart of Birmingham all the way to London. The countryside along the way is beautiful. The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal is one of the most distinctive canals in the West Midlands and a beautiful place to relax with a picnic. The towpath along the route provides a scenic, traffic free place for walking or riding a bike.
4. River Avon
From Tewkesbury, the River Avon flows 45 miles to Stratford-Upon-Avon, which is why it is often referred to as Shakespeare’s Avon. In Stratford, you can see a play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the banks of the river from April to November. If you do this, consider having lunch or dinner in the theatre complex at the Rooftop Restaurant. There are also tours of the theatre complex and at William Shakespeare’s birthplace – or you could skip these touristy sites and just enjoy a nice picnic by the river. Because Stratford is so popular, hotels and restaurants tend to be over-priced. It’s better to stay in Birmingham or another place in the West Midlands.
5. Black Country
The Industrial Revolution put the West Midlands on the map. Although most of the ironworking foundries have closed, you can visit the Black Country Museum to get a good idea as to what life was like at the height of this period in England’s history.
I hope you enjoy your time in West Midlands!