Recently we were privileged to be invited to a wedding in the Midlands, England. In my mind this conjures up visions of vast expanses of land and rich estates – a kind of Pride and Prejudice meets Downton Abbey – small towns, cute country lanes, rolling hills, hearty food and wide varieties of dialects. My husband and I opted to add a few days of unplanned driving – the aim was to wander aimlessly, traverse the hills, take in whatever sights we happened across, and eat and drink till we burst. Goal achieved! As I mentioned from my last visit to England, my opinion of the country has changed somewhat from being a boring (normal food, English-speaking) destination, into a familiar one that reminds me nostalgically of home.
Day 1 – Birmingham to Sheffield
The only downside to not making a plan and booking beforehand, is that it means at some point along the way you have to come up with a plan. We set off NORTH after a restful night at Novotel Birmingham airport, having arrived on a late flight. In picking up our mid-sized car (Nissan X-Trail, because naturally that is the perfect mid-sized choice for tiny English streets – WTF Herz???) we almost immediately reversed it into the fence – but luckily managed to begin the journey unscathed.
My perfect romantic view of the midlands was shattered quite early – as I discovered that there are A LOT of people and cars in most areas – and the towns, despite the fact that on the map they seem sleepy and small, are often deceivingly large, with difficult to navigate streets and tiny car parks – especially with our mid-sized Nissan X-Trail.
On the first day we took a nice walk through some country fields to a (closed) manor, observed some wandering deer, and had an epic cream tea. But we got fed up with aimless early in the afternoon and promptly booked a chain hotel in the centre of Sheffield. Looks good, we thought. And Sheffield was a great city – it was just getting there that was hell. Welcome to the 4 lane roundabouts that had anywhere between 6-8 different exists, and a GPS system that was less than reliable, plus an overly helpful navigator (that’s me) and a driver used to driving on the other side of the road.
We eventually found ourselves in a car park near the hotel. To be fair it wasn’t the hotel car park, but we were done with driving. And so we stopped and had a well-deserved ale and found a good pub to eat at. I had steak and ale pie, hubby had a burger. Winning!
Day 2 – Sheffield to Leek
Following the chaos of day 1, we’d worked out our next night’s accommodation and carefully chosen a smaller (and it definitely was) town called Leek. We went there for no other reason than it sounded cute and seemed to be lacking in massive roundabouts. Along the way we did fit in some aimless driving, accidentally driving to what seemed to be the biggest country festival ever at Chatswood House – after waiting in a traffic jam for a few minutes behind caravans and cars parked with camping gear, we pulled a U-turn and got the hell out of there! Luckily we made up for it by a quick visit to Shelden – a town in the Derbyshire Peak District that’s little more than a pub and a line of houses. The pub was packed (Wednesday lunch, so it must be good) so we took a walk instead, out across the fields under the wary eye of sheep and cows.
Arriving in Leek mid-afternoon, perfectly timed as it started raining, we bunked down in our BnB for half an hour or so until the rain stopped, before venturing out for a trot around town, ale, cider and a good pub curry.
Day 3 – Leek to Warwick
Sadly it was already time to drive away from the Peak District and back into the more populated south. Along the way we stopped in Melbourne – yes Melbourne – my home town, complete with its own Chapel Street.
Continuing on we had picked a lovely little town called Warwick to stay for the night. The main reason was because we had friends (from travelling in India) living there so naturally it was time for a travel reunion! Warwick is a cool English town with constant traffic, but luckily no roundabouts. It has an impressive castle – I looked through the bars but didn’t actually go in – which from all reports is well worth the visit. I went on a pastie mission, but unfortunately failed (too late in the day), so I made do with a sausage roll instead. The pub where we met our friends stopped serving food just before we were ready to order, so we headed to the local fish n chip shop for a fantastic feed, where I discovered to my chagrin that it is a purely Aussie thing to order dim sims from the fish n chip shop. So sadly no dimmies for me, but I did get a great pickled onion!
Day 4 – Warwick to Market Harborough
Woke up feeling a little seedy, which is not the best thing the day of a wedding, but after a full English breakfast I was back on my feet and ready to go. The wedding was at the bride’s parent’s property in the English countryside, and surprisingly for England the sun shone pleasantly the entire day. The bride looked beautiful, the groom scrubbed up well and the 9pm hog was a definite highlight, followed by plenty of dancing.
Day 5 – Market Harborough to Solihull
For our last evening we’d planned to stay at a cute BnB in a small town nearby Birmingham Airport since we had an early flight on the Monday. We were both feeling, at this point in the trip, after the occasionally taxing driving conditions and a wedding, a little bit tired, and were pretty happy when we encountered only a couple of roundabouts and pulled into our BnB, where I was allowed my choice of rooms. Naturally I picked the one with the claw-foot bathtub that changed colours. Yes, you read right – it CHANGED COLOURS. Sadly, the weather had turned for the worse so we had to forego the walk down by the canal, and opted instead for a brisk city walk up the main street until we sat down for our last proper English pub meal. I had (guess what?) a steak and ale pie, and hubby had (you’ll never guess) a burger.
And to finish
We covered about 400 miles all up, came across some great scones, ate far too many English breakfasts, drank too many ciders and ales, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I got my English speaking fix, ate as many of the foods I was missing as I could, and drank countless cups of strong, black, proper tea. It was a treat to be there to watch our friends tie the knot, and to be able to see some of the countryside while we were at it. Now I just have to wait until Christmas before I can get my next English-speaking, tea-drinking fix – Australia!