While the world gets ready to focus on London for the upcoming summer Olympics, the birthplace of today’s modern games are just a few marathon runs away. No, I’m not talking about Athens, Greece — the English Midlands, and more specifically, the small Shropshire town of Much Wenlock are where the current movement got its start.
Back in 1850 Dr. William Penny Brookes founded the Wenlock Olympian Society and this beautiful little medieval town has hosted the annual Wenlock Olympian Games ever since. As a result, the 2012 London Olympic Games has given a nod to the town’s heritage by making it one of their mascots. In fact, the Olympic torch recently passed through Much Wenlock to much ado.
As a British native, here are a few must-sees in the Midlands for those visitors looking to escape the London hustle-and-bustle and explore more of England.
Call me biased, but I think everyone who goes to England should visit the small picturesque town of Bridgnorth (pictured above). Aside from the fact that it was where my mother and father were born, it is simply oozing in history (with roots dating back to 895 AC). Ride the Cliff Railway from low town to high town and take a walking tour so you don’t miss a thing. Or take a step back in time and go for a steam train ride on the Severn Valley Railway.
Everyone has heard of the playwright William Shakespeare, right? Well, set on the banks of the river Avon is the town where Shakespeare was born: Stratford-upon-Avon. It is here that you can follow in the footsteps of the great Bard, by visiting his various homes (including his birthplace). You can also check out a Shakespeare performance at one of the three Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) theatres.
But, if English castles are more your thing, you should definitely visit nearby Warwick Castle. This medieval vision dates back almost 1,100 years and it is very easy to spend an entire day here. Just check out the virtual tour to get inspired. And, if you are thinking about visiting in July, make sure you buy tickets to the Great British Summer Proms. This once-in-a-lifetime experience gives you the opportunity to enjoy music from the world famous Royal Philharmonic Orchestra against the backdrop of the castle grounds.
You can’t go to the county of Oxfordshire without visiting the city of Oxford itself. Known for its ancient university, Oxford boasts amazing architecture, rural landscapes and free museums. Not to mention my personal favorite…punting. Just make sure you hold onto the pole, or you could end up soaking wet in the river (and yes, this has happened to me).
However, if you would rather safely watch boats from the river bank, then you can’t go wrong with a trip to Henley-on-Thames. Henley is best known for its annual Royal Regatta. This year it will take place on June 27- July 1.
Fancy mingling with animals? Then the West Midlands Safari Park is the place for you. It is not only a huge drive-through safari, but also a theme park. While in your car you will have the opportunity to feed some of the animals. But make sure you close your sun roof when you get to the giraffe exhibit (see picture). There are also opportunities to walk through a lemur enclosure, as well as feed penguins.