The in western-central English county is made up of buzzy towns – with Birmingham being the centre of all the action – and endless ancient woodlands, a network of picturesque canals, pretty heaths, and sprawling wetlands. Not always the first choice for a travel destination, it’s a very underrated region and in fact, was the place inspired JRR Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings. From watery wonderlands to grand historic buildings here are 15 of the best and most beautiful places to visit in the West Midlands…
Black Country Ring waterways – a network of picturesque canals to explore in West Midlands
If you love canal holidays or have never tried one yet, but would like to, why not head for the Black Country Ring? This is a fascinating trip through what was once a heavily industrialized area because of the coal mining, but now is quiet and even tranquil in some places. The beautiful Ring is made up of five canals, the Birmingham Main Line, The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, The Coventry Canal, the Mersey and Trent Canal, and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.
To take the route you start with the Main Line, which leaves Birmingham for Wolverhampton, where a succession of 21 locks must be traversed. After that, the canal passes through rural countryside, interspersed with more urban landscapes and activity. There are attractions along the way, which makes travelling along canals such fun; for instance, there is Shugborough Hall and the Black Country Living Museum, which gives you an idea of what it was like to live in this coal-mining area during the Industrial Revolution.
A complete circuit of the Ring will take at least days, especially if you visit some of the interesting places en route, but it is well worth it, and you will have a healthy and invigorating holiday to remember. Definitely one of the best places to explore in the West Midlands.
Birmingham back to backs – the city’s last surviving court of back-to-back houses
Maybe not beautiful in the conventional sense, but extremely interesting and a glimpse into life in Birmingham in the early 19th century, the back-to-backs are a housing model that was designed to cope with the population growth due to increasing industrial industrialization.
These houses, built around a courtyard, with two and three-story houses clustering round it. These houses survived until the 1970s, being occupied by a succession of skilled labourers and craftsmen. Eventually, in 1966, the residents of Court 16 in Inge Road were rehomed in council flats, and Courts 15 and 16 were left as historical buildings under the aegis of the National Trust, while most other back-to-backs were demolished in the 1970s. An interesting and unique place to visti in the West Midlands.
Stratford-upon-Avon – the birthplace of Shakespeare and one of the most beautiful places to visit in the West Midlands
Stratford’s claim to fame as the birthplace of Shakespeare attracts over 2,5 million tourists a year to the town. This is where the Bard was born and where he is buried, together with Ann Hathaway. There are 5 houses in the town that have an association with Shakespeare, starting with his birthplace, built in the traditional half-timbered style of the times. Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s eldest daughter, Susanna, and her husband, Dr Hall, has a permanent exhibition of the medical practices of the day, as well as some beautiful period furniture.
There are other places of interest in Stratford too, like Tudor World, a museum illustrating what it was like to live in Britain in Shakespeare’s time, complete with its own ghost. There is also the Butterfly Farm, a comprehensive collection of butterflies, which is the biggest farm in Europe.
West Park Wolverhampton – a restored Victorian heritage park
West Park is an example of Victorian forethought. Built to provide a space for recreation for the people of Wolverhampton, it was opened to the public in 1881. The site was originally a racecourse and the land belonged to the Duke of Cleveland. The 43-acre park was planned with water features and areas for sport like archery and cricket.
Today, you can visit this park in its original Victorian design, and retrace the footsteps of Wolverhampton’s earlier citizens, who walked these paths and took pleasure in the tranquillity of the park.
Because this Park is in the Black Country, it is of interest to amateur geologists, with glacial erratics placed in strategic areas around the park, most bearing informational plaques describing them. (A glacial erratic is Nature’s own menhir, a large rock or boulder that has been deposited in a geological area but does not match the local geology). Even if geology is not your passion, why not take a stroll through the park? It’s only ten minutes away from the town centre, and an ideal place to relax.
St.Marys Guildhall – to be the finest remaining medieval guildhall in the country
The city of Coventry, historically part of Warwickshire, suffered a sustained attack during the Second World War, in revenge for Britain’s attacks on Munich. Much of the medieval centre of the city was damaged and destroyed, particularly the Cathedral, leaving only the outside shell and the spire.
Directly across from the ruined Cathedral and its modern replacement, but miraculously surviving the bombings, is St Mary’s Guildhall. Originally built in the fourteenth century for a guild of merchants, it was used by a succession of mayors after the guilds were dissolved by Henry VI, right until the twentieth century. The Guildhall has a rich and varied history, having housed Mary Queen of Scots and her retinue at one stage, and it is quite possible that Shakespeare played and directed both here and in his nearby hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. On a lighter note, the much-celebrated (and probably fictitious) tale of Lady Godiva riding through the streets of Coventry is re-enacted every year, starting from this very hall.
There is much to see inside the Guildhall, most notably the magnificent Flemish Tapestry that has hung in the Hall for over 500 years, the old Council Chamber, with its oak panelling, and the amazing carved oak Guild Chair. Definitely, an attraction not to be missed.
Sutton Park National Nature Reserve – a stunning natural park to visit in the West Midlands
With 2400 acres of land, Sutton Park is one of the largest parks in Europe, with different ecosystems, ranging from woodlands and heath to marshes and wetlands. Exmoor ponies can be encountered grazing on the moors in the north of the Park, while cattle are found towards the south, and there are 7 pools that attract waterbirds. This region has been a popular place since time immemorial; when peat was being extracted during World War II, flint arrowheads were found and there is a tumulus which was overplanted with the Queen’s Coppice in 1953 to celebrate the Coronation. The remains of the Roman Ryknild Road runs from south to north from Brandy Gate entrance to near Streetly Gate. Tha Anglo Saxons decreed the area to be a Royal Forst and it later became a deer park.
It was Henry VIII who bequeathed the land to the people of Sutton Coldfield, and it played an important part during the world wars. During the First War, it housed a convalescent camp for returning soldiers, while in World War II it was used both as a camp for US GIs and for the internment of Italian and German prisoners of war.
Today it is an important and beautiful recreational space for the citizens of Sutton Coldfield and Birmingham, where everything from fishing to flying a kite can be enjoyed. There are numerous walks of archaeological and natural interest, taking one across the moors and through the ancient woods like Holly Hurst and Streetly Wood. The size of the Park makes it a venue to be explored for several days at a time.
Walsall Arboretum – a Victorian public park to explore in West Midlands
Beautiful Walsall Arboretum stands on what was formerly land belonging to the Persehouse family, who lived in Reynolds Hall during the sixteenth century. By the eighteenth century, it had come into the possession of the Littleton family, who excavated clay pits and built lime kilns in the area. The quarries flooded over time and became popular for swimming with the locals, resulting in at least one tragedy when the mayor of Walsall, John Harvey, drowned in 1844.
Development of the Park began in 1870, with some 7 acres provided by Littleton, or Lord Hatherton who had had a peerage bestowed on him. The early years were not easy, with funding problems, but it gradually became viable and was extended to its current size of around 26 acres. It is not strictly an arboretum, but a pleasant place to walk, with a 3,5 kilometre loop alongside the Lake. A lovely spot to explore in the West Midlands!
Wightwick Manor and Gardens – a beautiful Victorian manor to visit in Wolverhampton
This relatively modern home was built towards the end of the nineteenth century and is noteworthy for its impressive collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and decor inspired by the Arts and Craft movement. William Morris wallpapers and fabrics were used, and tiles by Morris’ contemporary and friend, William de Morgan decorate the walls. The house is decorated with timber frame, recreating Tudor wattle and daub structures. The Mander family donated the house to the National Trust in 1937, but continued to live in it, opening it to the public, to share their love of the art and craft objects in the house.
There is also a 17-acre garden, which includes an orchard of fruit trees with over 52 types of apples, most of which are cultivars from the 18th and 19th centuries. Much of the garden was designed and landscaped by Thomas Mawson, a prominent garden designer of the day, with terraces and flower beds, and a Long Walk of yew hedges.
Moseley Old Hall – famous for being one of the hiding places of Charles II
This stunning West Midlands home was built at the turn of the 17th century as a typical wattle and daub Elizabethan farmhouse by Henry Pitt, whose daughter, Alice, married Thomas Whitgreave. When Charles II was fleeing from the Roundheads in 1651, he arrived at Moseley Hall where the Whitgreave family took him in and hid him in a priest’s hole within the house when the soldiers arrived on their doorstep.
Charles stayed there 2 nights, and the bed in which he slept can still be seen, as well as the priest’s hole. The beautiful house was altered and strengthened by being encased in brick in 1870. and eventually became the property of the National Trust. It was almost bare of furniture at the time but has period furniture on loan typical of the time.
The 1-acre garden is worth investigating, especially the knot garden, a geometric arrangement of low hedges, often consisting of herbs. The best view of the knot garden is from the attic windows of the house.
Elmdon Park – a pretty park to explore in Solihull, West Midlands
Boasting a hilly landscape that offers lovely views of its surroundings, Elmdon Park was founded in 1944 in the grounds of Elmdon Hall, which was being used as a post for the Home Guard then, but became derelict and was demolished in the 1950s. For the nature lover, there is good birdwatching to be had, and there is also a nice playground for the kids.
There are ancient trees and a lake to explore, and the Hall’s walled garden is managed by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.
Sandwell Valley Country Park – an award-winning Green Flag park and a popular place to visit in West Midlands
Close to West Bromwich lies a 670-acre park that includes 3 nature reserves, a Victorian farm, and an adventure area, something for everyone. Originally the site of a Benedictine priory, the Earl of Dartmouth had a hall built there at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Hall had rather a dark history as an asylum and a home for boys until it too was demolished in 1928, due to subsidence caused by coal mining.
With the River Tame running through Sandwell Valley, once coal mining had ceased in the area, it was decided to establish the stunning Sandwell Park in the 1960s. It has won a Green Flag award for its excellent management as a place of recreation. You will find Hereford cows browsing in the Park as well as at Sandwell Park Farm, which breeds other rare farm animals. Bird watchers are in for a treat, with the possibility of seeing kingfishers and even oystercatchers, which breed at Forge Mill Lake Reserve.
The Priory Woods Reserve protects a woodland area and includes the ruins of the priory. There is another small reserve called Sot’s Hole, which is about 5 acres in extent, protecting some venerable trees and carpeted with bluebells in spring.
Himley Hall and Park – a stunning historic place to visit in the West Midlands
The Lords of Dudley, after whom the nearby town of Dudley is names lived in Staffordshire from early times, in a medieval manor that was demolished to erect Himley Hall in the 17th century. By that time ownership had passed to the Ward family through marriage, and John Ward had the Palladian mansion built where the manor stood. At the same time, the village of Himley was relocated and today is in the vicinity of the Hall.
After Ward’s death, his son, also John Ward, commissioned Capability Brown to design the gardens, with the later addition of a lake fed by a series of small waterfalls. However, the Wards left the house in 1830 because of the coal mining in the area. However, in 1920, a branch of the family came back and Himley Hall became popular with the Royals and other visitors, not least because of a 9-hole golf course, a cinema theatre, and an indoor swimming pool. During the Second World War it was given to the government as a hospital. It is currently owned by the Town of Dudley, who have restored it and use it for various functions.
Today the Hall and the Park are popular with visitors and is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the West Midlands. Capability Brown’s landscaping of the 180-acre park is open for picnicking and you can even sail on the Great Pool.
Winterbourne House and Garden – is a unique heritage attraction to explore in the West Midlands
Built shortly after the start of the nineteenth century, Winterbourne House is a well-maintained example of an Edwardian residence. Originally built by the Nettleton family, it passed through a succession of owners until being bequeathed by John Nicolson to Birmingham University. All the owners were keen gardeners and tended to and added to the gardens over the years, which has made it easy to convert them into the University’s Botanic Gardens.
The attractive house itself was built with large windows to let in light, an unusual feature for the times, but in keeping with the Arts and Craft movement that was taking Britain by storm, and has been painstakingly restored. Fans will enjoy the William Morris wallpapers, while there are good examples of Victorian and Edwardian furniture in the rooms.
The Garden invites the visitor to marvel at over 6000 species of plants from diverse plant hotspots across the globe, including China and both Americas. It also has a fine selection of Alpine plants.
Saltwells Local Nature Reserve – one of the UK’s largest urban nature reserves
In 1981, the pretty Saltwells Local Nature Reserve was created in an area that had been used for coal mining since Mediaeval times, traces of which remain in Saltwells Wood as an Ancient Monument. Coal mining was extensive in the West Midlands, and gave rise to the name of “the Black Country” for the area west of Birmingham that was both heavily industrialized and heavily polluted.
Restoration and reforestation of the area was started by Lady Dudley, who planted many trees including oak and beech. Today the woods are a pleasant spot, full of bluebells in spring, with the chance to spot jays and woodpeckers in the trees. Apart from the many walks in the area, one of the sites of interest is Doulton’s Claypit. The claypit has been disused since the 1940s and now is home to hundreds of orchid species, as well as having striking cliffs that have strata that will interest rockhounds, displaying the different coal seams.
There is also open heathland and grassland, and the reserve is transversed by streams, such as the charmingly named Mousesweet Brook. Daphne Pool is a great place to spot dragonflies, with 16 species having been recorded there.
Hagley Hall and Hagley Park – a Grade I listed 18th-century house in Hagley
Right on the border of the West Midlands, a few kilometres from Stourbridge, stands Hagley Hall, the eighteenth-century home of the Lyttelton family, which has lived here since the fourteenth century. Built on the site of an earlier home, and situated in 350 acres of deer park and woodland, Hagley Hall is regarded as one of the finest examples of Neo-Palladian architecture in England. In 1925, it, unfortunately, suffered fire damage, predominantly to the Library and all the artworks collected in it, but was restored by the family, and is open to the public for viewing at certain times. Especially noteworthy is the Italian Rococo plasterwork adorning the White Hall, executed by Francesco Vassali.
Hagley Park was celebrated for its beauty and was visited and admired by many famous people, including Samuel Pepys and John Adams, the second President of the United States. Unfortunately, it has been neglected over the years, but a restoration process has been started. In typical style of the Neoclassical times, it has numerous follies and buildings dotted around the park, such as the Hagley Obelisk, which can be seen for miles and has many footpaths radiating from it.
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