The Midlands & the Marches
If you're searching for quintessentially English countryside – green valleys, chocolate-box villages of wonky black-and-white timbered houses, woodlands steeped in legend such as Nottinghamshire's Sherwood Forest, and stately homes that look like the last lord of the manor just clip-clopped out of the stables – you'll find it here in the country's heart.
You'll also find the relics of centuries of industrial history, exemplified by the World Heritage–listed mills of Ironbridge and the Derwent Valley, and by today's dynamic cities, including Britain's second-largest, Birmingham: a canal-woven industrial crucible reinvented as a cultural and creative hub, with striking 21st-century architecture and vibrant nightlife. Beyond them are tumbling hills where the air is so clean you can taste it. Walkers and cyclists flock to these pristine areas, particularly the Peak District National Park and the Shropshire Hills in the Marches, along the English–Welsh border, to vanish into the vastness of the landscape.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Midlands & the Marches.
Founded in 1068 by William the Conqueror, stunningly preserved Warwick Castle is Warwick's main attraction. The ancestral home of the earls of Warwick remains impressively intact, and the Tussauds Group has filled the interior with flamboyant, family-friendly attractions that bring the castle's rich history to life. Waxworks populate the private apartments; there are also jousting tournaments, daily trebuchet firings, falconry displays, themed evenings and a dungeon. Sign up for history talks and tours at the entrance to the Great Hall. Tickets and accommodations Tickets must be pre-booked online. Great accommodations are available on-site including woodland lodges and glamping.
Known as the 'Palace of the Peak', this vast edifice 3 miles northeast of Bakewell has been occupied by the earls and dukes of Devonshire for centuries. Inside, the lavish apartments and mural-painted staterooms are packed with priceless paintings and period furniture. The house sits in 25 sq miles of grounds and ornamental gardens, some landscaped by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Kids will love the farmyard adventure playground. From Bakewell, take bus 218 (£2.70, 15 minutes, half-hourly).
Towering over the city like a medieval skyscraper, Lincoln's magnificent cathedral is a breathtaking representation of divine power on earth. The great tower rising above the crossing is the third-highest in England at 83m, but in medieval times, a lead-encased wooden spire added a further 79m, topping even the great pyramids of Giza. One-hour guided tours (included in admission) take place at least twice Monday to Saturday; there are also tours of the roof and tower (£4; book in advance).
After Welsh marauders torched the original Saxon cathedral, the Norman rulers of Hereford erected a larger, grander cathedral on the same site. The building was subsequently remodelled in a succession of medieval architectural styles. The signature highlight is the magnificent Mappa Mundi, a single piece of calfskin vellum intricately painted with some rather fantastical assumptions about the layout of the globe in around 1290. The same wing contains the world's largest surviving chained library of rare manuscripts manacled to the shelves.
One of the first castles erected by the victorious William the Conqueror, in 1068, to keep his new kingdom in line, Lincoln Castle offers awesome views over the city and miles of surrounding countryside. A major 2015-completed restoration program opened up the entire castle walls and gave the 1215 Magna Carta (one of only four copies) a swanky, subterranean new home. One-hour guided tours, included in the castle admission, depart from the eastern gate; check the blackboard for times.
Built following the incredible 2012 discovery and 2013 DNA testing of King Richard III's remains, Leicester's high-tech King Richard III visitor centre encompasses three fascinating sections. Dynasty explores his rise to become the final Plantagenet king. Death delves into the Battle of Bosworth, when Richard became the last English king to be killed in battle. Discovery details the University of Leicester’s archaeological dig and identification, and lets you view the site of the grave in which he was found.
Morgan has been handcrafting elegant sports cars since 1909. You can see the mechanics at work on two-hour guided tours of the unassuming shedlike buildings comprising the factory (prebooking essential), and view a fleet of vintage classics adjacent to the museum. If buying one of these beautiful machines is beyond your budget, it's possible to hire one (per day/weekend/week from £220/595/1050, including insurance) for a spin through the Malvern Hills.
Nottingham's castle crowns a sandstone outcrop worm-holed with caves and tunnels. Founded by William the Conqueror, the original castle was held by a succession of English kings before falling in the English Civil War. Its 17th-century manor-house-like replacement is undergoing major renovations, and is closed until spring 2020. When it reopens, it will feature a new Robin Hood Gallery, a Rebellion Gallery, covering social unrest from medieval times, and displays on art and manufacturing, including salt-glazed stoneware and lacemaking.
The evocative ruins of St Michael's Cathedral, built around 1300 but destroyed by Nazi incendiary bombs in the Blitz, stand as a memorial to Coventry's darkest hour and as a symbol of peace and reconciliation. Climb the 180 steps of the Gothic spire for panoramic views. Symbolically adjoining St Michael's Cathedral's sandstone walls is the Sir Basil Spence–designed modernist architectural masterpiece Coventry Cathedral, with a futuristic organ, stained glass, and Jacob Epstein statue of the devil and St Michael.