Wonderful thing about the Scottish education system – and it may be one of the few things left – is that the school holidays are out of sync with the English ones. We all break up for summer 2 weeks before England. So it’s a cracking time to get out and about, see theme parks and stately homes while most of the kids are still in school. You do run the risk of being overrun with school parties but they’re usually only at one place for a short while.
If you’re exploring the Midlands you could do a lot worse than the beautiful village of Pershore. Lovely shops, stunningly pretty abbey and superb play park. Aside from a 2 day jaunt to Thorpe Park, everything we’ve done has been within an hour’s drive. 1 hour from Pershore will get you to a lot of places!
Pershore itself. Tearooms, abbey, park, library, book, craft and toy shops. Asda, little Tesco, tourist information office (very helpful indeed). And tea shops! Tea shops that corrected us when we tried to buy Chelsea buns. Now Thomas’s bakers in North Yorkshire have been selling me Chelsea buns for years. I buy them whenever I’m in the area, always getting at least 1 more than I reckon I’ll need as I’ll usually polish one off strolling around Ripon before meandering back to the car. But it turns out these are Belgian buns with their icing and their cherry on top. Chelsea buns are a completely different beast! But the tea room happened to have a lot of Belgian buns as well so everyone went away happy.
And on an entirely unrelated note, Worcester hospital does a cracking line in dealing with concussed kids when they fall off that rainbow arch. Not that that happened. At all. But if it did, the hospital is only 8 miles away.
Trip 1: Wolverhampton.
Alright, so Wolverhampton isn’t exactly a primo tourist destination but it did hold one thing we absolutely had to see: A theatre where Blackmore’s Night just happened to be visiting on their current “Dancer and the Moon” tour. For those of you unfamiliar with Blackmore’s Night, you might recognise the name Ritchie Blackmore as being ex of Deep Purple, Rainbow and a number of other bands. In fact it’s hard to identify a British rock band of any standing he’s not had some connection with, direct or indirect. Anyway, he discovered folk some time back in the late 90s and has been touring with the beautiful Candice Night and what can best be described as a bunch of assorted nutters ever since. Very talented nutters but the label sticks. Long story short, if you get the chance to see them perform, do so. They’re not doing this for the sole purpose of making money, that just seems to be a happy sideline. They’re doing this because they want to and they’re having fun. The gig introduced us to a rather interesting warm-up act – Wyndebagge – if you get the chance to see him perform with his only/just drummer Skin Tight, do so. Magical stuff indeed.
Trip 2 – Stratford upon Avon. Home of Shakespeare. Royal Shakespeare Company performing As You Like It. Park & ride. Brilliant. Not a lot more to say as we didn’t spend a lot of time there – arrived half an hour before the performance, enough time to grab a sarnie from the Baguette Barge, and left straight after. FULL of tourists! The Bar at the RSC theater was well priced considering they’ve got you trapped and the local beer was good.
Trip 3 – Kenilworth Castle. Worth our English Heritage membership alone though the cafe was expensive and poorly stocked. Honestly, they start serving lunch at noon and only have 1 of the day’s special left by ten past! Plenty of exercise for all what with running around the inside of the castle then again around the outside of the walls. Such a shame it was on the wrong side during the Civil War. English Heritage are missing a trick, though – pin badges.
I started collecting pin badges a year or so before we went to Disneyland Paris. I have a Roman coin from Vindolanda as my first, getting one from each place we visited if they had one I liked. Warwick Castle’s badge was rubbish and I didn’t get it. At Disneyland I got a badge for several of the rides I’d done – Space Mountain Mission 2 is my favourite badge, though the Tower of Terror beat it as a whole ride experience. I got a Tudor Rose at Kenilworth and that’s it! No EH badges with the little red # logo, nothing specific at any of their other properties. There are loads of collectors like me! Cadbury World had a good one, both the Theakstons and Black Sheep breweries had them! Seriously, EH, I’d be looking to get one for each property I visited.
People have been visiting Kenilworth for years – and many have left their mark. One of the interesting games to play is “spot the graffiti” – eldest we managed to find was dated 1690.
Trip 4 – Warwick Castle. Again, glad to be members of English Heritage! 50 percent off the entry fee not an insignificant amount! It’s part of the Tussauds group, so if you’ve got membership of that you’re golden. Good castle, very Ryanair in that everything beyond basic castle entry costs extra and parking is £6! Wide variety of decently priced eateries inside the grounds and good entertainments – the trebuchet is damn spectacular, the birds of prey beautiful and the fighting Knights make you cheer for the wrong side! Up the Yorkists!
In the background here you can just see the trebuchet. This beast of a weapon stands some 40 feet tall and throws it’s ammunition as far as the yellow and red striped flag near this tree. They only fire it twice a day – in the morning with a normal cannonball, in the evening with a rather spectacular “fireball”. Better photo skills than mine are needed to capture the fireball!
A little more than an hour away…
Thorpe Park… JFD. I’ve got kids from 3 to 13 and there were rides for all of them. As long as your youngest is 1m tall or over, you’ll be good to go. Pizza hut’s buffet is good value for an in-park restaurant and the crash pad hotel an inspired use of shipping containers! Yes, there were school groups roaming around but the time of year meant no really big queues. My only problems with the place were 1, lack of pin badges for my hat/bag. Only 1 badge for a single ride and I was too tall to ride that one! And that’s my other problem. I’m 2m tall. Not a giant, though my kids might beg to differ, and they’ve built a ride excluding everyone over 1.95m. Okay, so I don’t want to lose bits of my body but frankly it’s not fair.
That aside, it’s an amazing place.
Stealth is right up there as one of the best rides I’ve been on, Detonator not one I’d care to repeat (strange, as it’s remarkably similar to the Tower of Terror at Disneyland Paris and I loved that ride). The log flume hidden away in wild west zone is a real gem the whole family could do. And considering the quantity of rides it’s a compact park! Queueing for one ride will have the tracks of another swooping overhead. I didn’t get to ride Colossus, but you’ve got to leave a reason to go back!
We’ve had a picnic on a huge iron age hill fort in the Malverns, views over most of Wales and the Midlands. We’ve been tempted by the English Heritage app showing us Wayland’s Forge and Offa’s Dyke less than 50 miles away. We’ve had warmer weather than we would ever see in Shetland – better, even, than we had in Arles-sur-Tech last year.
Base yourselves in Worcester, Pershore, Evesham and explore this area. National Trust and English Heritage memberships will pay for themselves in spades.
I bet if you drew a 1-hour-travel circle around almost any location in the UK you’d hit just as many amazing things as we found around Pershore. And we only just scratched the surface. Actually, if you fancy a challenge this summer, draw the circle around your own home – 1 hour from where you’re sitting reading this post – and see how many places there are you’ve not been to.