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Muddy Insider Guide to the West Midlands

The Commonwealth Games has shone a spotlight on Birmingham but there's far more to the West Midlands than its prime city. Read on for everything you need for a stay in the beating heart of England.

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©Holly Francesca; hollyfrancesca.co.uk

Chances are when you think of the West Midlands the first thing that comes to mind is Birmingham, its vibrant, industrial heart. While the city is undoubtedly home to some awesome places to stay, eat and host of national events – er, hello Commonwealth Games! – there’s plenty more to explore all over our region, which extends across Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and Staffordshire and includes boroughs of Coventry and Wolverhampton. Ready to whoop it up in the West Midlands? Let’s go!

STAY

If you’re looking to be in bang in the middle of the action, then start your staycay search in Brum or Cov; for somewhere still buzzy but a little more low key Solihull or Stratford-upon-Avon will sort you out; or for good food and a chilled break Leamington Spa, Hampton-in-Arden, Berkswell, Sutton Coldfield and Pershore are good options. Here are some of our favourites below.

Hotels

Coombe Abbey on the outskirts of Coventry scooped the Muddy Award for Best Hotel this year – and for good reason. It’s set in 500 acres of parkland with a history dating back to 1150AD. There’s awesome restaurant The Garden Room onsite and if you have kids in tow, there’s also a Go Ape in the grounds.

Coombe Abbey

Mallory Court Hotel & Elan Spa sits in a peaceful leafy countryside setting just outside Leamington Spa with beautiful tended gardens. The 3 AA Rosette restaurant, run by chef director Simon Haigh – who previously won a Michelin star for the eatery – features dishes from the kitchen garden, while Elan Spa won Best Spa in last year’s Muddy Stilettos Awards.

Mallory Court Hotel

After a 20 year closure, the landmark Grand Hotel in Birmingham city centre recently underwent a whopping £50million restoration – talk about swish! Now the grande-dame hotel is a heady mix of Victorian architecture and cool design-led touches like moody lighting and squishy, plus furnishings. The building also houses chic Parisian-inspired bar Madeline (pictured), or tucked around the corner is New York-style restaurant Isaac’s serving American comfort food and brasserie classics.

Grande Hotel, Birmingham

Jamie Dornan – aka 50 Shades’ drool-worthy Mr Grey – is a fan of this 300+ room, award-winning golf hotel The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, in with three golf courses (two of which have hosted the Ryder Cup). But if you care not a jot for birdies, bogies and pars, there’s still plenty to impress with à la carte dining at The Ryder Grill, an Italian restaurant, the Club House or Brabazon Bar. Special occasion? Book into the Presidential Suite for stunning views from the double balcony, or the Brabazon Lodge (sleeping 8) located on its own private drive.

Hampton Manor in Hampton-in-Arden, an elegant village in Solihull, makes a great base for exploring the surrounding area, or enjoying a foodie experience. There’s a fabulous wood-fired feast at new restaurant, Smoke, which boasts Masterchef Professionals winner Stuart Deeley as head chef, plus foodie workshops and a Michelin-star dinner. There are some 45 acres of woodland onsite and you can choose to stay in the manor hour or a room in the walled garden.

Stanbrook Abbey

Meanwhile, over in Worcester set on a 26 acre country estate is the stunning 16th century Stanbrook Abbey Hotel, happy recipient of a recent £4.2m renovation. Once a monastery, with its dramatic stone cloisters, gothic stained-glass windows and 70 design-fabulous rooms, it’s one of Worcestershire’s best kept getaway secrets.

Go cosy or treat yourself to a sumptuous suite – there are interconnecting rooms for families or book out the adjoining Manor House. You’ll dine like a queen at the new brasserie-style The Refectory restaurant, situated in the site of the original nun’s cafeteria! Perfect for a romantic weekend away or family getaway, and it’s dog-friendly too. 

In Droitwich (between Birmingham and Worcester) I love Brockencote Hall Hotel, a beautiful Victorian country manor house hotel set in 70 acres of stunning parkland. There’s a pretty lake and tennis court, so perfect for those who like to get in their steps.

For a romantic night away with elegant afternoon tea and time to zen out (hey, don’t we all deserve that?) look no further than gorgeous lakeside The Moat House in Acton Trussell – hidden in the rolling Staffordshire countryside. It’s a luxe, indie hotel steeped in history, based in a Grade-II listed building, with beautifully decorated rooms where you can kick back and unwind without a care in the world.

GO OFF GRID

For a secluded stay we’re spoilt for choice with glamping spots where you can really take in all the gorgeous countryside on our patch. How about the After the Gold Rush Yurt at Walcot Hall in Shropshire overlooking a gorgeous pool?

This relaxed venue also has a rowing boat if you feel adventurous or kick back on the decking while enjoying a glass of fizz and take in the views. There’s a pub just down the road too, or plenty of space for barbecues.

Or head to Ockeridge Rural Retreats in Worcestershire for a glamping stay in idyllic settings. I love the Monkwood Hut which comes complete with copper rolltop bath and log burner.

In nearby Tenbury Wells there’s also eco friendly By The Red Phone Box – fully furnished luxury bell tents on a working farm.

Uninterrupted views of Coventry, Warwick and Leamington Spa from a luxury shepherds hut in its own private field? Don’t mind if we do. The spot at Hilltop Hideaways also comes with its own bathroom, underfloor heating plus all the little luxuries – we’re talking Le Creuset kettle, log burner, super soft king size bed and fresh flowers. There’s a cafe serving great food onsite too and cute rescue animals to fuss.

Tinywood Homes is just across the border in Warwickshire but if you’re looking for a true rustic glamping experience then check out this wood-fired hot tub. Perfect for relaxing in after a busy day exploring. There’s also luxury barns if you’re in a big group.

Fancy staying in a former tractor shed? Hall Farm in Dadlington has been transformed into luxury boutique holiday accommodation on a working farm on the north Warwickshire border. It’s got a private hot tub enjoying panoramic views of the countryside.

If none of these fit the bill (really? is this even possible?!) comment below and I’ll recommend some more!

EAT & DRINK

Smoke at Hampton Manor

Where to start? If it’s Michelin stars you’re after there’s more than I could mention, but some of my favourites include Purnells and Adams in Birmingham centre for modern contemporary cooking. For Indian food with the accolades to boot there’s Opheem and for cool and creative you need to check out newcomer 670 Grams which just scooped its first Michlelin star. Just outside the city, in leafy Edgbaston, there’s Simpsons which has been a steadfast part of this foodie scene for more than 25 years and three star-winning The Boat at Muckley Corner is fine dining in a lovely relaxed atmosphere. If you’re interested in something off the beaten track check out modern British restaurants Harborne Kitchen and Carters of Moseley – in Harborne and Moseley respectively, and huge hits locally. For a full foodie extravaganza make a break of it at Hampton Manor (see STAY), home to Michelin star Peels and new kid on the block Smoke.

PUBS

If you’ve ever watched Peaky Blinders then rest assured not all our pubs are like The Garrison! Unfortunately Tommy Shelby isn’t walking around either (if you spot him send him in my direction please). We do, however, have some awesome local boozers with pretty decent grub to match. Some of my favourites include The Malt Shovel at Barston, which has great food, wine and an awesome heated outdoor seating area which is the perfect sun trap during the day and comes alive with romantic fairy lights at night. Laid back boozer The Fighting Cocks in Moseley is quirky and cool with a real people-pleasing menu (I love the roasted pumpkin with stilton), and in Edgbaston there’s The High Field which does superb Sunday roasts.

For a proper traditional pub you should check out The Greyhound in Longford which is just outside Coventry. Nestled next to the canal it’s packed with locals during the summer making the most of the lovely views and plentiful menu (make sure you try the pies) and in winter the real fires are roaring and its a lovely cosy atmosphere. If it’s canal side dining you’re after you also can’t beat mellow Brindley Place in Brum.

Equally good pubs are The Green Man at Middleton and The Swan at Whitacre Heath – both just outside Tamworth. In Warwickshire head to Alcester where Muddy award-winning Arrow Mill is hard to beat with its pretty lavender-lined entry, cask ales and traditional pub grub. Check out The Red Lion in Hunningham which is on the banks of the River Leam next to a Grade II listed sandstone bridge. The Fuzzy Duck and The Chequers Inn, both in south Warwickshire are among my favourites too.

The Plough at Harborne is cool and contemporary with lots of lovely local drinks and Instagrammable nooks and crannies. The Cock at Wishaw has great food and ambiance – and the drinks are even better. There’s a lovely dining area but also some snug areas to chill out and have a catch up over a bottle or two.

RESTAURANTS

A well-deserved shout out for Muddy Award-winners The Barn at Berryfields which scooped Best Restaurant this year. It’s a great all-rounder and perfect for family meals, date night or drinks with the girls. There are cows in the neighbouring field who always come up and say hi, awesome cocktails, a resplendent street food menu and a good wine list. If you’d rather not completely brave the elements then book a table in the teepee.

Birmingham is the home of curry and I’m going to let you into a secret and tell you where to find the best one! Golden Moments in Walsall is my absolute go-to (and I’ve tried a lot!). It’s a family-run business and the chef has been there for years cooking amazing food. To sum up how good it actually is, I drive from my home in North Warwickshire to pick up a takeaway…. that’s nearly an hour! Mine’s always a white chicken tikka, saag bhaji and sizzling rice, since you’re asking.

Also worth your consideration is Korean barbecue Jinseon in Coventry – if you haven’t tried Korean BBQ before, you cook your own food on a barbecue in the middle of the table; it’s really cool. Make sure to order the Dirty KFC – Korean Fried Chicken – and honey butter chips, they’ll honestly change your life (well, maybe).

In Worcester Ostlers at Number 1 is just a stone’s throw from the centre worth a look with its menu featuring local and seasonal ingredients.

Streetfood

We’re not short of street food joints around here, but if you want to choose from some of the best head to FarGo Village in Coventry. There’s fried chicken, Middle Eastern cuisine, pizza and Caribbean food among the offerings along with an on-site brewery. It’s vegan friendly, you can take your dog and there’s load of cool indie shops onsite.

FarGo Village

Also great is Herbert’s Yard in Longbridge on the outskirts of Brum, where there’s a permanent bar and changing food trucks throughout the year. Check out Hockley Social Club too which is a similar vibe with live music every Friday.

Cafés, farmshop and delis

Rural all-singing-all-dancing Becketts Farm is a farm shop, restaurant and cookery school in Wythall. It’s just across the Warwickshire border near Tanworth-in-Arden and gorgeous National Trust property, Packwood House. Make sure you order one of their infamous breakfasts (extra points if you finish it – they’re huge!)

Head to Waterfront Walk in Brum for a dose of pink with a heady flowery backdrop at Cocoa by Ali. These tearooms are serving up yummy pink frothy lattes, milkshakes and hot chocolates – don’t forget to order a macaron too. I also love The Milkcake Man in Kings Heath who has the most Instagrammable cafe and foods around – perfect if you have a sweet tooth.

Medicine has a cult following at its venues in Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Its all about awesome coffee, artisan baked goods and doubles as a gallery too. For comfort food check out Kings Heath institution Cherry Reds which also has a sister venue in the city.

Bars

For cocktails you’re best heading to Birmingham where there’s quirky The Lost and Found, cool indie chain The Alchemist and the sassy The Pineapple Club. In nearby Stirchley there’s the cool neighbourhood bar Couch which made the Top 50 Cocktail Bars for 2022 – you can’t book a table so just turn up. Head for chic new hang out The Dry Spy in Bromsgrove which has exquisite cocktails and delicious small plates. For views check out Sky by the Water at Resorts World – which is also great for shopping. Try and book one of the pods in the ‘secret garden’ if you get chance.

UNMISSABLES

Lordy, where to start? There’s no shortage of awesome things to do here but I’ve narrowed it down to the absolute highlights or you’ll be here all year!

Outdoor

The Pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef and, er,… Telford! Yup, there’s a UNESCO World Heritage site at a gorge five miles from Telford. However, Ironbridge Gorge is the birthplace of the industrial revolution and one of the first UK sites to be awarded World Heritage status. There are ten museums charting its history and its a great and insightful day out, regardless of age.

Iron Bridge

Birmingham’s Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston are absolutely stunning with glasshouses, Japanese gardens and tropical rainforests.

If getting back to nature is your thing then head to the Lickey Hills Country Park in Rednal which covers an impressive 524 acres. Cannock Chase Forest in Rugeley is equally gorgeous and great for biking, walking or if you’re as lazy as me then rent out a Segway – which I can confirm is plenty of fun! There’s also Walsall Arboretum which spans 170 acres and includes pretty Hatherton lake, and National Trust’s Clent Hills with panoramic views over the Cotswolds, Shropshire Hills and Welsh borders.

In Warwickshire make sure you check out Hillclose Gardens in Warwick – victorian gardens which have been loving restored and are nationally recognised.

We’re also lucky enough to have one of the UK’s last remaining inland, open-air, saltwater swimming pools. Droitwich Spa Lido has a 40m pool, wet play area, sun terrace & cafe – perfect for a sunny day.

Attractions

For something a little different how about a journey on vintage steam train The Shakespeare Express? It calls at stops along The Shakespeare Line so you can enjoy some sightseeing in the likes of Stratford-upon-Avon. There’s trains with extra entertainment like Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties and Polar Express which the kids will love during Autumn/Winter.

If you’re travelling with kids, make sure you schedule a pit stop at West Midlands Safari Park where you can drive through enclosures with lions, giraffes, zebras and other wild and wonderful animals. It also wouldn’t be right not to stop off (and stock up) at Cadbury World and take a pootle around pretty Bourneville while you’re there.

Birmingham Science Museum Thinktank is always worth a visit as is a trip down memory lane to experience the region’s industrial history at the Black Country Living Museum.

Fancy a cool off? The ultimate scream-a-thon there’s Coventry’s waterpark The Wave. It’s got high speed slides, a splash zone, wave pool, a relaxing lazy river and Mana Spa onsite for the ultimate chill. For outside water-based fun there’s no need to drive all the way to the coast. Aztec Adventure Waterpark is one of Worcestershire’s best kept secrets – a spectacular aquapark where you can bounce, slide, boat and glide.

What would a trip to our patch be without making a stop at the Butterfly Farm in Stratford-upon-Avon. Walk through this rainforest-inspired wildlife sanctuary which features hundreds of the world’s prettiest butterflies alongside splashing waterfalls, fish-filled pools and landing beautiful tropical flowers. If you’re feeling brave (count me out then) there’s lots of creepy crawlies too in the ‘Minibeast Metropolis’ which is also home to snakes and reptiles.

CULTURAL

We love our theatre here in the West Midlands, and there’s loads of great options to choose from. Obviously the first stop is the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) – in Stratford-upon-Avon, which always has something great on. Birmingham Hippodrome puts on some awesome shows straight from the West End and also regularly hosts performances by internationally-acclaimed Birmingham Royal Ballet. Also for theatre in the centre there’s The Rep and Midlands Art Centre, and for music check out The Symphony Hall.

In Coventry, there are some top name performances alongside student gigs at Warwick Arts Centre, and for theatre there’s The Belgrade and The Albany, while for City of Culture there’s the temporary Assembly Festival Gardens which has an absolute belter of a line up.

Arty types will love Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and IKON gallery. In Edgbaston there’s the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and The Herbert in Coventry hosts some really interesting exhibitions.

Check out Muddy Award-winning Compton Verney in south Warwickshire for a stunning gallery and then acres of Capability Brown-landscaped gardens to wander around.

KIDS/FAMILIES

Stratford-upon-Avon’s MAD (Mechanical Art and Design) Museum is the UK’s only permanent venue for mechanical art. Or for a day steeped in history in the town spend a day exploring Shakespeare’s birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and New Place – his home for 19 years.

Looking for a full on day? Head to Hatton Adventure World where kids can meet the farm animals, enjoy tractor rides and there are more than 100 acres to scream about in. There are also some cute shops and a tea room for when they finally pass out. For more cute and fluffy visit Umberlade Farm in Solihull. There’s an adventure playground too and heaps of land to explore.

Warwick Castle is heritage kiddie-catnip- there’s dungeons, spooky tours, mazes and a Zog playground for little ones, not to mention the jousting, pyrotechnic displays on the castle walls and host of foodie events. If you fancy making a night of it there’s the Knights Village for glamping and luxury lodges where there’s extra entertainment like sword fighting, archery and meeting the birds of prey. All bases covered for the under 12s right here.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Canal towpath, countryside and woodland: there’s a lovely circular walk in Hatton which ends at pub The Hatton Arms. Sounds like heaven? Aptly enough, you’ll also be able to view The Stairway to Heaven, aka Hatton Locks’ flight of 21 locks on the Grand Union Canal. Also in south Warwickshire there’s Burton Dassett Country Park – 100 acres of far-reaching views from rugged, rolling ironstone hills. North of the county head to Kingsbury Water Park – 600 acres to explore, including 15 beautiful lakes.

We have some stunning National Trust properties here too, including Charlecote Park near Stratford-upon-Avon, a grand 16th-century Grade II country house, surrounded by its own deer park. There’s also Baddesley Clinton which is set in the Forest of Arden – a location featured in many of Shakespeare’s plays – most notably As you Like it.

In Wolverhampton there’s Wightwick Manor which was home to Theodore Mander, part of a 19th-century family of industrialists in the area. It remains a vision of a late Victorian private home set in 17 acres of woodland and Edwardian gardens by celebrated landscape designer Thomas Mawson with a number of outdoor ‘rooms’. 

The Midlands aren’t associated with wine (yet) but we’re spoilt for choice with Halfpenny Green Wine Estate in Bobbington and Buzzard’s Valley in Tamworth. Head to Welcombe Hills on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon to visit award-winning Welcombe Hills Vineyard, with bottles of still and sparkling wine named after some of the Bard’s most famous characters.

QUIRKY

If you prefer your excitement up in the air check out Bear Grylls Adventure where you can climb Europe’s tallest high ropes course (if you’re brave enough). There’s also shark swimming, archery and sky diving for the real adrenaline junkies.

Now this is pretty much a guaranteed great day out! Alpacas, donkeys, meerkats, baby rabbits — all the fuzzy farmyard (and, er, savannah) cuteness you could ask for, in one well-organised and friendly place at Lucky Tails Alpaca Farm. It makes for a dreamy family trip: a hint of education and a hefty dose of cuteness, with the thrill of walking a fluffy alpaca (and posing for selfies), or meeting a teeny meerkat.

If camels are more your thing then book a camel trek (yes, really) across the south Warwickshire countryside with Joseph’s Amazing Camels. And if you prefer to see the area by foot check out Stratford-upon-Avon’s ghost walk through the town’s ‘haunted’ streets. It takes place at 7.30pm every Saturday and tour guides will tell you all about the witch who lived in a slum, a 17th century haunted tearoom, the theatre ghost and a jilted bride., gulp. Booking is essential.

So do you fancy a trip? Hell yeah! Head to Reader Treats to win one of TWO family tickets aboard Vintage Trains (travelling from Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon OR Birmingham to the ‘North Pole’ on The Polar Express!) worth a total of £512.

Anything utterly brilliant I’ve missed off? I’ll bet my grandma I have it covered, but hey, let me know in the comment box below!

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1 comment on “Muddy Insider Guide to the West Midlands”

  • JC July 31, 2022

    Trentham Gardens between Stone & Stoke, Staffs, has an amazing variety of interesting small shops, eateries plus the garden centre for browsing & buying. Paying to go into the gardens themselves gives plenty of fun things for children (& adults!) to do. Lakeside walks, lovely gardens, woody trails, miniature railway, food, ice creams, a giant sandpit & mini diggers (hopefully still there!) The barefoot walk through squelchy mud, crispy straw and bubbly pebbles is a MUST!

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