The best way to explore the historic town of Stratford upon Avon is on foot and the large car park at the Leisure Centre on Bridgeway is centrally located and convenient for the town's attractions. As you walk southwest, towards the theatres and the river, look towards your left and you will see Clopton Bridge, built in 1499 and already over 60 years old when Shakespeare was born. Almost certainly he crossed this bridge many times in his life. Ahead of you is the Gower Memorial erected in 1888 with Shakespeare's statue in bronze seated above four characters from his plays, Hamlet representing Philosophy, Lady Macbeth representing Tragedy, Prince Hal representing History and Falstaff representing Comedy. From here you can turn right, cross the canal and turn left down Waterside to the theatres. On occasional weekends this street is closed to hold craft fairs or farmers markets. It will also take you to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre which has had quite a bit of rebuilding since it started life as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre back in 1879. A severe fire in 1926 saw a major redesign by the architect Elisabeth Scott and further rebuilding took place between 2007 and 2010. If you cut through the park just after the theatre, along the strip of garden that lies between the road and river, it will take you directly to Holy Trinity Church.
The church where Shakespeare was baptised and buried stands before you. Consecrated in 1216, Holy Trinity Church contains the old stone font used for Shakespeare's baptism and next to that his grave and that of his wife, Anne Hathaway and other members of his family. There is a small donation to be made and then you can walk right up to the altar and see the graves.
Back outside the church walk back into town by going along a road called Old Town which will take you past Hall's Croft, a large timber framed building on your right where Shakespeare's daughter Susanna lived with her husband, the eminent town physician Dr John Hall. Just after here, turn right down Chapel Street and walk past the timber-framed almshouses and the old Guild School where Shakespeare was almost certainly educated, continue past the Guild Church to what remains of Shakespeare's final home, the once grand building known as New Place, sadly demolished in 1759 although the garden remains and there is an exhibition in the adjacent house.
Chapel Street becomes High Street and at the end there is a mini roundabout. From here head northwards up Henley Street to Shakespeare's Birthplace where the Bard was born on April 23rd 1564.
The modern building next door is where you will find the ticket office which will then lead you to a room where a selection of clips from film and TV versions of Shakespeare's plays will be screened. Then there is an exhibition with various artifacts including a copy of the First Folio. Walk through the gardens then enter the house and explore the rooms inside. Having undergone a long and varied history the birthplace has been restored to what it would have looked like in Shakespeare's time.
Two short journeys can be made out of Stratford, one to Anne Hathaway's cottage in Shottery, the childhood home of Shakespeare's wife and the other to Mary Arden's farmhouse in Wilmcote, the birthplace of the writer's mother which also contains a working farm museum.
Leave Stratford on the A439 in the direction of Warwick. It will take about 20 minutes to reach the somewhat complicated intersection before the beginning of the town so make sure you get in the correct lane which will be "A429 Warwick". Then drive in along the Stratford Road until you see large signs for Warwick Castle sending you off to the right into the large parking area.
Warwick Castle is incredibly popular, especially with families as there are a lot of fun things to do here. For the past 40 years or so it has been owned by the Madame Tussauds Group and not surprisingly it is filled with archery displays, falconry, wax figures and creepy dungeons. But it does have a lengthy history and many original buildings survive.
The oldest part of the castle is the earth mound or 'motte' that dates from 1068 and built on the orders of William the Conqueror. It is now a landscaped garden. A lot of the main fortifications were constructed in the 14th century when the Beauchamp family were Earls of Warwick. These include the Barbican, Ceaser's Tower and Guy's Tower. By the 15th century the castle was in the hands of Richard Neville who was known during the Wars of the Roses as 'Kingmaker'. His alternating support for both Henry VI and Edward IV during this power struggle gave him the power to decide who he wanted to rule the country. After his death at the Battle of Barnet in 1471, his daughter Anne married Richard III.
By the 17th century the castle was granted to Sir Fulke Greville, poet and statesman and a contemporary of Shakespeare. Descendents of his family sold the castle to the Tussauds Group in 1978.
The grounds and gardens were landscaped by Lancelot "Capability" Brown and make use of the meandering River Avon. On the river island there are demonstrations of the power of the mighty trebuchet, a replica of a huge seige engine, or to put it simply, a giant catapult. Timetables for the various events and displays are posted all over the grounds. Each room and area of the castle is filled with wax figures representing a different period in the castle's history, from the Wars of the Roses to the Victorian era.
From Warwick it is a short drive east along the A445 to Queen Victoria's favourite spa town, Royal Leamington Spa. Cross the River Avon and bear right down the B4099 to the town centre. Park in the Chandos Street car park. You can then walk down the elegant main shopping thoroughfare, the Parade, down to two fine parks, the Royal Pump Room Gardens and Jephson Gardens, both bordered by the River Leam. The old Pump Rooms which date from 1814 now houses the Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum and Jephson Gardens are named after Henry Jephson who extolled the virtues of Leamington's spring water in the early 19th century and helped promote the town as a resort.
Head north out of Leamington Spa on the A452 Kenilworth Road. A very brief side trip can be made when you see the signs for Hill Wootton and Leek Wootton pointing left. Just turn here to admire the beautiful and historic Blackdown Mill which is just after the turn on your lefthand side. A large brick built 18th century mill complete with chimney, hoist and mill pond but lacking a mill wheel. The mill is now a private home but worth a peak from the outside before you turn around and rejoin the A452 towards Kenilworth. Just as soon as you cross the River Avon there will be a right turn on the B4115 towards Stoneleigh Abbey but a series of safety barriers will stop you making the turn. Continue up to the roundabout and turn around to come back to the junction and then you can turn left and follow the B4115 for a couple of miles (3.5km) to the entrance to stately Stoneleigh Abbey which will be on your right.
Pass the gatehouses and follow the drive up to the old barn where you'll find parking and the ticket office. Like many former religious houses this Abbey was founded by Cistercians in the 12th century and forced to close during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. The buildings then fell into private hands and was owned by the Leigh family from 1561 to 1990. Of the former monastery, only the ancient Gatehouse next to the ticket office survives.
The main house is 16th to 18th century and the section you will see first is the latter Neoclassical style facade built from 1714 to 1726. This house was visited by Jane Austen on one occasion and Queen Victoria spent two nights here in 1868. The landscaped grounds are by Humphry Repton. Tours of the house are available and there is a tea room in the former Orangery. Extensive walks can be made through the bucolic grounds and along the River Avon.
Exit the park the way you came in up to the B4115 and turn right then almost immediately turn left down Crewe Lane following signs for Kenilworth. Make a right onto Knowle Hill and a left on Dalehouse Road. Stay on this road and eventually you will pick up signs for the town centre. Head along Abbey Hill/Abbey End then at the roundabout take the second turn on the B4103 signposted to Kenilworth Castle. Just before you reach the castle you will find a left turn off the main road for the car park.
Kenilworth Castle was established in the 1120s and heavily used through successive centuries then partially destroyed in the Civil Wars in 1649. The major rebuilding of the castle in the 1560s was undertaken by Robert Dudley, favourite of Queen Elizabeth I in order to impress her. His father had been granted the castle and estate by Henry VIII but had lost his head in 1553 during his attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne instead of Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VIII. Jane was married to Guilford Dudley and all three of them were executed. Having lost his father, brother and sister-in-law to the previous Queen, Robert Dudley was certainly making sure he kept on good terms with the next one!! Sir Walter Scott's 1821 novel "Kenilworth" centres on Dudley's relationship with Elizabeth and the controversy of his wife's tragic death which opened the way to his close friendship with the Queen.
You can explore the ruins of this once great house and castle including the spectacular Great Hall and there is a recreation of an Elizabethan garden within. The Gatehouse survives intact and you can learn more about Dudley and Elizabeth's relationship in the exhibition housed there. When you are ready to leave, take the B4103 northwards by turning left out of the car park and join the A452 which will continue north.
At the junction with the A4177 take a left following the brown Leisure Drive signs and a sign pointing to Honiley. Drive down to the roundabout with the A4141 and head right following signs for Solihull. As you approach Chadwick End you will see brown tourist signs pointing left for Baddesley Clinton and Packwood House. You will now follow Rising Lane for about a mile (1.6km) and make a left turn when you see the National Trust Baddesley Clinton sign.
The moated manor house of Baddesley Clinton is a real surprise, a time warp dwelling that's been a home for over 500 years. With a crenellated entrance, tall brick chimneys, mullioned windows and shimmering moat, it oozes history from every corner. It was built in the 15th century on the site of an earlier 13th century farmstead and for hundreds of years was owned by the Ferers family who were staunch Roman Catholics. After Henry VIII split with Rome the family hid persecuted Catholics in secret 'priest holes' that you can still see around the building. There is a delightful walled garden and numerous woodland walks around the estate.
Continue westwards on Rising Lane until you see the right hand turn up Packwood Lane, signposted for Packwood House. This eclectic property is a 'must see' location for any admirer of Tudor-era textiles and furniture. The house is late 16th century with early 18th and some 19th century additions. It was during the early 20th century that the then owner, Graham Baron Ash, built up a fine collection of 16th century furnishings and tapestries which fill the more recently built parts of the house. In some ways the beautiful interiors are a Tudor/Victorian/Edwardian mix, surrounded on all sides by wonderful gardens.
The grounds feature a kitchen garden, topiary garden, barn and a lake. The most memorable part of the grounds is the series of clipped Yew trees, numbering over one hundred. They are set out to represent the Sermon on the Mount with the largest 12 Yews at the end of the gravel path representing the Apostles with the largest Yew on top of an earth mound known as the Master and representing Christ.
When you leave Packwood House continue north on Packwood Lane until you get to the left turn for Packwood village and Hockley Heath. Drive over to Hockley Heath, you will enter the town on the B4101. Turn left on the A3400 which will enable you to join the M40 and M42 for a short motorway drive west to head to Bridgnorth and Ironbridge Gorge leaving the county of Warwickshire behind you. Follow the M40 signs for Birmingham but at the next junction follow signs for "M42 (W) The South West". This will take you around south of the city of Birmingham towards the M5 motorway. Eventually, after about 12 miles (20km) you will get in the lanes for M5 (N) head north on the M5 and a couple of miles later exit at Junction 4 for the A491 Stourbridge. Take the A491 to Stourbridge and then the A458 towards Bridgnorth, keep on the A458 although you will have to do a left then right wiggle in Stourton.
Just along this road after about a mile and a half (2km) after Stourton take a left turn down Hyde Lane into Kinver. You'll then turn left on Enville Road very briefly and finally you will see a brown tourist sign pointing right to Holy Austin Rock Houses taking you down Meddins Lane. At the very end of this lane just turn right on Compton Road where there is a large lay-by for parking.
Now and again we can put the impressive stately homes, the dramatic castles and bucolic countryside that flourishes in England to one side and see something completely different, and that is the cave dwellers houses at Holy Austin. Burrowing into a 250 million year old sandstone escarpment locals turned the natural landscape into caves to live in, possibly at the end of the 17th century. By the middle of the 19th century there were 44 homes here and it even started to attract tourists by the early 20th century. By the 1950s it was decided that the troglodyte lifestyle of the families living here was quite unhealthy and unsafe and they were moved out en masse to nearby council owned housing.
Thanks to the National Trust these homes have been restored and interiors from various parts of the community's history have been added inside. The little cave-cafe that opened when tourists began to flock here in the 1930s is still open serving refreshments. The whole place is deeply fascinating and an enthralling insite into cave dwelling life that continued until recent times. There is the added bonus of splendid walks and views that can be enjoyed along Kinver Edge.
Head back along Meddins Lane and turn left up Enville Road heading north westwards. It will merge with the A458 which you will take towards Bridgnorth and out of the county of Worcestershire and into Shropshire. At the roundabout just south of the town turn right following signs to Low Town on the A442 and take a left into Severn Street Car Park. Bridgnorth is divided into High Town, built on a red sandstone bluff and Low Town, down by the riverside with the River Severn splitting the two parts.
The idea here is to make an entrance to the town in way that's a little different to the norm. Stroll down St John's Street and cross the River Severn over the old stone bridge, although the medieval crossing was reconstructed and widened in 1823. At the other side is the High Town above you and to avoid a climb use the charming funicular railway. The station is right in front of you. Walk up the alley under the sign 'Cliff Railway' and make the short journey to the top. The funicular was opened in 1891 and was originally powered by water and gravity but since 1943 it has been electrically powered. The upper terminus drops you on Castle Terrace, a short walk to the left over to the ruins of Bridgnorth Castle, a 12th century foundation and like many others, reduced to ruin during the Civil Wars in 1646.
Just below the castle ruins and gardens one can see the arrival and departure of steam hauled trains on the Severn Valley Railway. The railway station entrance is just below on Holybush Road. Back in the centre of town on the High Street is the timber-framed town hall dating from the 1650s. A market is held underneath on weekends and the building itself houses a free museum on the history of the town.
Head from the Severn Street car park the way you came in, back to the A458 following signs for Shrewsbury and Ludlow as you make your way along the beautiful Severn Valley towards Much Wenlock. The road skirts the southerly edge of the town of Much Wenlock and you will see signs pointing you to the right, one points to Wenlock Priory and one to St Mary's Lane pay and display car park. This will give you the chance to take a stroll around the town, admiring the timber-framed Guildhall on Wilmore Street, built from 1540 to 1557 (open Friday to Mondays April to October) and taking a look at the town's little museum on the High Street which among other things illustrates the history of Dr William Penny Brookes, founding father of the modern Olympic Games. The ruins of Wenlock Priory are just a very short walk from here at the northeast edge of the town. Just head past the museum and Guild Hall along Wilmore Street until you see the 12th century church of Holy Trinity, the town's parish church. Just after that turn right up Bull Ring to the Priory gardens.
The initial monastery was established here by a Saxon King of Mercia, known as Merewalh, in the year 680 and later refounded as a priory for Cluniac monks who also built the adjacent Holy Trinity Church. The Dissolution of the Monasteries saw the community dispersed and the buildings abandoned. Today the cloister garden boasts a fine collection of topiary and the 12th chapter house is one of the most intact surviving buildings.
When you exit the car park and journey back down St Mary's Lane, turn left on St Mary's Road taking the B4376 north east out of the town, eventually turning left again when you reach the junction with the sign for the B4373 to Ironbridge.
This serene river valley would be a delightful beauty spot in its own right, with or without the world's first cast-iron bridge spanning the gorge. Add that historic monument to the scene and you have the perfect stop combining nature with heritage.
You will cross the River Severn a little further downstream from the Iron Bridge and once over the river turn left onto Waterloo Street. This whole area was a huge industrial complex with smoke belching from chimneys during the day and furnaces lighting up the dark skies at night. Appropriately then, the first stop will be coming up on your right hand side next to a large lay-by. These are the Bedlam Furnaces. Coke fired blast furnaces built in 1756 and one of the first furnaces in the world to smelt iron with coke. They were owned for a time by Abraham Darby whose ironworks dominated the area and whose foundry created the Iron Bridge.
Next stop is the bridge itself so continue onwards to the Waterloo Street car park on your righthand side. From here walk over to the river. You will be able to cross the bridge and also admire it from underneath on a riverside path. The Iron Bridge was constructed in 1779 and opened in 1781 with a span of 100ft (30m). The Darby family had established their ironworks here from 1709 thanks to the abundance of iron ore, coal and clay in the local area. With the inclusion of John "Iron-Mad" Wilkinson, who as you might have guessed was a great enthusiast of iron made products, the project received vast sponsorship and an Act of Parliament was passed in 1776 allowing work on the bridge to begin. With about £3,250 raised (about £400,000 today) the components were cast, the abutments built and the bridge completed in just over three years. Shareholders got the money back for their investment via tolls imposed on those wishing to cross. Motor vehicles where banned in 1934 and tolls were abolished in 1950.
There are about a dozen historic sights and museums in the Ironbridge area, for example if you continued to follow the river along Wharfage, on foot or by vehicle, you will arrive at The Museum of the Gorge which has a collection of displays giving you a thorough overview of the area and its history. By turning right and driving up Dale Road you can visit the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron and the houses of the Darby family, Rosehill House and Dale House where this Quaker dynasty, who played such an important role in the development of iron production and of the Industrial Revolution as a whole, would have lived.
By far, the most fun thing to do for young and old alike, is to pay a visit to the wonderful recreation of a Victorian town at Blists Hill. Retrace your route back along Waterloo Street and past the Bedlam Furnaces, but this time do not cross the river but continue alongside it until a brown sign saying Victorian Town sends you up off to the left.
Blists Hill opened in 1973 to give visitors to this historic part of the world a special insight into life around the year 1890, recreating industry and leisure in three distinct districts, the town area, the industrial area and the countryside area. Dont forget to change your money to late Victorian coins at the old bank when you arrive!
Many buildings are historic houses that have been relocated here, others are replicas. In the town area there is a pub, a chemist, butcher, candlemaker and printer. You will also find a post office, fish and chip shop and sweet shop. In the industrial area you will find beam engines, a railway, blast furnaces and you can watch the foundrymen working the molten iron. Over in the countryside area amongst the woodlands you can find a toll house, squatter's cottage and tin clad tabernacle. There is an area of old fashioned amusements as well. Each location will have a member of staff in costume explaining what you are looking at.
Now, from the ancient to the modern! Leave Blists Hill by heading north on Legges Way following signs for Telford. Turn right at the roundabout then head on Kemberton Road which is signposted for Telford and the A442. Keep following signs for Telford and the A442. From the Victorian splendour of Blists Hill you will now be travelling along the flyovers, roundabouts and motorways that intertwine around Telford, one of Britain's 1960s New Towns named after the late 18th and early 19th century Scottish engineer, Thomas Telford. Although you'll be heading to Shrewsbury it might be easier to follow the red H for hospital signs that take you to the Princess Royal Hospital which is also on the way. Following the hospital (and the occasional Shrewsbury) signs you will eventually exit left up a slip road and join the A5 Rampart Way which will give you access to the M54 westbound when you see the M54 Shrewsbury sign. Once on the M54 it will become the A5 to take you west.
Keep left on the A5 when you get to the junction with the A49 just before Shrewsbury. A little further along the A5 you will cross the River Severn then turn right at the roundabout following signs for the A5064. You will now be heading along London Road into Shrewsbury. Eventually you will come across the unmistakable monument to Lord Hill, a 133ft (40m) Doric column, dedicated to the locally born hero of the Battle of Waterloo. It is here that you will take the third exit off the roundabout following signs for the Abbey and Shirehall, driving along Abbey Forecourt to the Abbey Forecourt parking area which will be just before the railway bridge on your lefthand side.
The River Severn wraps itself around Shrewsbury giving the centre of the old town an almost island-like feel. Add a town wall and its defensive properties would be quicky realised. Of the walls today, however, only a 14th watchtower remains and this can be seen along a road still called Town Walls. As you walk in from the car park, the Abbey lies across from you, these days you will find a church but very little monastic remains. The Benedictine abbey was founded in the late 11th century and dissolved in 1540. The abbey church still stands and its role today is of the parish church of St Peter and St Paul.
Cross over the River Severn on English Bridge, once a medieval crossing but widened and rebuilt in the 1920s, from here turn right and walk along a riverside path up to Shrewsbury Castle. The red sandstone fortress was founded in 1070 and now houses a regimental museum. Although an 11th century foundation a large amount of reconstruction was undertaken after damage in the Civil Wars in the 17th century and further work was done by Thomas Telford to the designs of Robert Adam in the 1790s adding Laura's Tower on top of the site of the original Norman mound or motte. This folly was built as a summer house for Laura Pulteney in honour of her 21st birthday, she was the only child of Sir William Pulteney, the local Member of Parliament.
A short walk south from the castle will take you into Shrewsbury's historic centre where the streets still follow the old medieval plan and feature a great wealth of old timber-framed houses. In 1809 Shrewsbury became the birthplace of Charles Darwin and although his house, The Mount, is over the river on the western edges of the town and currently closed to the public, there are many Darwin related things to see in the town centre. He was patron of the Shrewsbury Art Gallery and Museum which is housed in an early Victorian Neoclassical former music hall in Market Street. It houses a large collection of artifacts centred around zoology, archeology, geology and ceramics.
Right across from the museum is the Old Market Hall built in 1596 and constructed out of stone rather than timber, certainly dressed to impress, to look far richer than the cheaper timber-framed buildings that surround it. After its use as a market it became the local magistrate's court with public hangings taking place outside on The Square. The building is now used as a cinema and cafe.
The Square, today, is a busy open space for gatherings, meet-ups and a spot to sit and grab a coffee. It is also used for occasional farmers markets. The statue in the centre of the square is of locally born politician and Governor of Bengal, Sir Robert Clive of India.
A short walk south will take you to the tranquil town park known as The Quarry, a 29 acre open space bordered by the River Severn and famed for its floral displays. Popular with the locals, the sweeping slopes that drift down to the river are ideal spots to relax and take a picnic. At one end of the park you can see the late 18th century church and tower of St Chad's. Walk east from here along St Chad's Terrace then onwards to Town Walls to see the old 14th century watchtower then head over English Bridge back to the car park.
Use the A5191 to head south out of Shrewsbury following signs for the A5112 (S) then you will pick up the A49 southbound following signs for Church Stretton and Leominster. Continue to a right hand turn signposted for All Stretton and Cardingmill Valley taking you along the B5477. Just after All Stretton, as you approach the outskirts of Church Stretton, take a right turn where you see the brown tourist sign for Cardingmill Valley then take this country road westwards into the hills. Cardingmill Valley is a National Trust-owned area of land forming part of the Long Mynd, a 7 mile (11km) beautiful ridge of rolling sandstone uplands covered in grass, gorse and heather and used for centuries as common land, hence the absence of walls and fences. Its highest point is Pole Bank at 1,693ft (459m). The valley takes its name from the old Carding Mill where wool was 'combed' and disentangled before spinning and weaving. Here, at the car park there is a chance to do various walks up and across the Long Mynd. The beauty of this area should not be underestimated, the fact that it isn't on a whole host of travellers must see destinations helps the visitor see a spectacular landscape free from the crowds.
The adjacent market town of Church Stretton is worth a look around. It was once known as Little Switzerland because of its place nestling among the towering rolling hills. It has a collection of brick and timber-framed houses, a market on the square on Thursdays and an antiques market on Sandford Avenue, which is also the road that will take you back to the A49. At the junction turn right for Leominster.
It is always a delight to visit a medieval fortified manor house wherever you are driving, but it must be admitted that Stokesay Castle is truly exceptional. Just drive on through the village of Craven Arms and then take a right up a country lane following the brown tourist signs for Stokesay Castle and prepare to be astounded. This is one of the best preserved fortified medieval houses in the entire country complete with a Great Hall, towers, a moat and a gorgeous timber-framed Gatehouse. The earliest parts date from the late 13th century when the manor house was built by local wool merchant, Laurence of Ludlow. The earliest parts include the solar block and the hall with original wooden beams on the ceiling. The Great Hall has hardly been altered in over 600 years. Both the North and South towers are also late 13th century and you can climb to the top of the South Tower to enjoy fine views of the surrounding area.
Suffering only minor damage in the Civil Wars the buildings of Stokesay Castle spent the next few centuries as a sumptuous residence for later owners and the 17th century timber-framed Gatehouse was added at this time. Take time to go inside and admire its carved wooden interiors and creaky floorboards. There are also a number of 17th to 19th century alterations but nothing to drastically change the scale or the historic nature of the buildings. It is a remarkable survivor and a rewarding visit to anyone that spends some time here.
Further south on the A49 you will peel off to the left at the sign for Ludlow and its historic attractions. You will head in on the B4361 and as you enter the town look out for a left hand turn following signs for the railway station and the Galdeford Street car park. The town is small and very walkable with a variety of historic timber-framed and brick houses with almost 500 of these being listed. The almost cathedral-like church of St Lawrence with its 135ft (41m) tower dominate the surroundings. The former Poet Laureate and architectural enthusiast Sir John Betjeman described Ludlow as "probably the loveliest town in England".
Most visitors to Ludlow are here to see its impressive castle, seat of various Marcher Lords. A "march" which derives from the Latin "margo" meaning a margin, is a border and Marcher Lords and Marcher Castles were built along the edge of the Welsh border throughout times of conflict between England and Wales. Ludlow Castle was granted by William the Conqueror to one of his chief military leaders, Walter de Lacy with the specific duty to protect his territory from attacks out of the west. After passing through various hands and being of increased importance during the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century it fell into ruin after the Civil Wars of the mid-17th century and became more of a romantic ruin with landscaped gardens for much of its later years. In 1722 the writer Daniel Defoe described the ruins as the "very perfection of decay".
For Tudor historians Ludlow Castle plays a pivotal role in the development of England's relationship with Rome and its religious conflicts for centuries to come. For it was here in 1502 that Arthur, Prince of Wales died at the age of 15. He was essentially on an extended "honeymoon" with his wife Catherine of Aragon when he fell ill. This left the path open for his widow to later marry Arthur's younger brother, Henry, Duke of York, on the basis that his marriage had not been consummated. When Henry took the throne and Catherine could not bear him a son then we see the beginning of the conflict with Rome as he desperately seeks an annulment. And in reality it all began within the confines of this castle where Arthur and Catherine caught the dreaded "sweating sickness" of which only the young princess survived.
As a ruin the visitor here will simply stroll around the empty shell of the castle, enjoy the gardens and climb to the top of the Keep to enjoy the views. From here journey south out of the town by joining the B4361, crossing the River Teme, and rejoining the A49 to Hereford.
Leaving the county of Shropshire behind you and entering Herefordshire you will be passing alongside rolling hills, pasture and cattle to the county town of Hereford in the valley of the River Wye. As you take the A49 into the city look out for the Greyfriars car park coming up on your right. Make sure you cross into the righthand lane at the sign for Parking, Crematorium and Waterworks Museum and turn into Barton Street to get access to the car park, turning immediately left into Greyfriars Street. Incidentally if you are interested in the Waterworks Museum then walk down Greyfriars Street and take a pleasant walk along the river to a former Victorian pumping station built in 1856 which contains a vast collection of steam powered beam engines and diesel and electric powered pumping engines, all lovingly restored from a period of over the last 200 years.
Greyfriars car park is actually split in two with a further section on the other side of the A49 which can be accessed through a tunnel. There is also a pedestrian tunnel that will take you over to St Nicholas Street which will take you straight into the city centre.
The highlight of a visit to Hereford is its beautiful cathedral and the historic Mappa Mundi within. A short walk along St Nicholas Street will take you there. The present cathedral, dedicated to St Mary and St Ethelbert, was built from 1079 replacing an earlier Saxon church and completed in the mid-thirteenth century. The 14th century misericords in the choir stalls are particularly notable. 40 of these decorated seats boasts macabre carvings of devilish beasts and grotesque characters mixed with scenes from everyday life. There is also a large amount of surviving Romanesque architecture despite numerous restorations. The stout thick pillars in the Nave are Norman/Romanesque with the windows added around 1300. The tower, completed in the 1320s is 165ft (50m) and tours are available to take you to the top. The West Tower collapsed in 1786 causing a serious amount of damage to the fabric of the cathedral. It has been rebuilt twice since then. There was once a rather ornate high Gothic screen dividing the Nave from the Chancel but has since been removed. The Gilbert Scott designed work is now a highlight of a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Most visitors to the cathedral have a wish to see the Mappa Mundi and the old Chained Library. Make your way across the lawns to the Library Building in the Cathedral Close. There has been a library at Hereford Cathedral since the 12th century and this modern building, opened in 1996, now houses the collection. There are 1,444 volumes and 229 manuscripts dating from 800AD to the 19th century with many of the books chained to desks. A 1217 copy of Magna Carta can also be seen. Although King John put his seal on this important constitution in 1215, his son and successor, Henry III, revised and reissued the declaration in 1217. It is one of these later copies that one can see here.
The Mappa Mundi is the largest medieval map in the world and dates from around 1300, measuring 64 x 54 inches (1.58 x 1.33 m) and written on calf skin (velum). Jerusalem stands at its centre and each of the continents are decorated with stylised drawings of the history of the world including Biblical events. A combined ticket allows you to view the library and this historic map.
Surrounding the cathedral is a pleasant grassed area ideal for picnics and relaxing. Look out across the lawns for the statue of the composer Sir Edward Elgar, complete with bicycle. He lived in Hereford from 1904 to 1912 and wrote many of his famous works here. From the cathedral environs you can walk north up Church Street, arguably the prettiest street in the city, narrow, quaint and historic, and leading up to the pedestrianised High Town area.
All in all Hereford is a pleasant city on the River Wye and there are riverside walks to be enjoyed. The pedestrian suspension bridge that one can walk over, linking the Bishop's Meadow on the south bank of the river with the delightful open space of Castle Green, is known as Victoria Bridge and was built in 1897 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Up and down the country the date of 1897 is stamped on Town Halls, libraries, public swimming baths, etc as each town wanted to build something to commemorate the 60 years of Victoria's reign. Hereford got this bridge.
Two buildings in the centre of town worth visiting are the Hereford Museum and Art Gallery in Broad Street which houses a collection of local history through art, costume and textiles. A bee hive, a locally caught giant sturgeon and a two headed calf are listed as highlights!!
The other building is the Black and White House, built in 1621 with a timber-framed facade, located in High Town on the corner of St Peter's Street. Formerly a butchers then a bankers house, it became a museum in 1929. Through period furniture, art and decoration it tells the story of Hereford through the ages. Just outside, in the square, is a life size bronze statue of a Hereford bull, installed in 2012 to celebrate the town's link with the world famous breed. The large pedestrianised open space on High Town boasts a collection of cafes and restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating. The church with the dominant spire at the end of High Town and High Street is the 13th century church of All Saints where the theatre manager and impresario David Garrick was baptised in 1717.
From Hereford head east towards the Malvern Hills by taking the A438 to the delightful town of Ledbury. The A438 will take you straight into the centre of the town with the impressive timber-framed old Market House coming up on your left. At this point turn right onto Bye Street to get access to St Katherines Pay and Display car park.
Ledbury is a beautiful town filled with historic houses, half-timbered structures, some of brick and some of stone. Every house, shop and narrow cobbled lane seems so very photogenic. Take the narrow alley from the car park over to the High Street and turn left up to the Market House with the old almshouses on your left. Initially founded in 1231, the present stone buildings date from the 1820s and forms part of St Katherine's Hospital that looked after the poor and needy in the area. Standing prominently across the street is The Market House which dates from 1617 and rests on 16 wooden posts with the market held in the open space underneath. On most days the local coffee shops use the space for additional seating. The markets today are held on Tuesdays and Saturdays and the building is open to the public. On the opposite side is the Arts and Crafts-style Clock Tower on the Barrett-Browning Institute building of 1892. The poet Elizabeth Barrett-Browning lived just outside Ledbury, her family moving here from her native Durham in the North East when she was 3 years old. Another poet associated with Ledbury is John Masefield who was born here in 1878 and held the position of Poet Laureate from 1930 to 1967.
Turn right down Church Lane and get your cameras ready for a picture postcard cobbled street that leads down to the 12th century church of St Michael's. Timber-framed and brick-clad houses seem to close in on you with over-hanging upper floors and flower boxes on every window ledge. Here you will find Ledbury Heritage Centre in a former school founded in 1480. In this creaky floored wooden structure you can learn of the town's history.
Set back off the main passageway is Butchers Row House Museum, a building that used to be on the High Street but was moved piece by piece to its present location in 1979 having been disassembled back in 1830! It contains a small folk museum and exhibition of Victoriana and is free to visit. In the 15th century Town Council offices one will fine the Painted Room featuring recently uncovered Elizabethan wall paintings meant to represent rich floral tapestries. They remind one of Tudor Knot Gardens and are full of symbolism reflecting the Virgin Queen. This room has free admission and can also be found on Church Lane.
As you walk up to the church, one thing that might surprise you are the large aisles that St Michael's seems to feature on its north and south side. It makes the church look rather large and at the same time rather squat. The church also has a separate bell tower which is an unusual feature in this country. It is claimed that marshy ground caused the tower to be built separately from the main building in the 1230s. Others say it was to be used as a fortified place of safety if the Welsh attacked!!
After a stroll around the town you can return to the car park and pay a visit to The Masters House, built in 1487 as part of the Medieval hospital of St Katherine's and now standing at one end of the parking area. Although it is now clad in 18th century brick it contains a 15th timber-framed Hall underneath. Before the car park was built the Master's House would have been connected to the Almshouses of St Katherine's Hospital via a kitchen garden. It is used today as a library and resource centre and is open to the public during library hours.
Leave Ledbury by heading south on the High Street and turning left onto Worcester Road to the A449, notice the large timber-framed house on the corner as you turn at the lights. This is Ledbury Park, built by a local clothier in 1595. During the Civil Wars it was used by Prince Rupert as a headquarters for the Royalist army during the Battle of Ledbury in 1645.
A few miles out of Ledbury take a left turn on to the B4218 to Colwall. This road will take you up into the Malvern Hills which can be seen ahead of you as a large grass covered rock ridge rising up to almost 1,400ft (425m). As you climb up to a section of road that cuts through a gap in the ridge you will find a number of car parks and the county border between Herefordshire and Worcestershire. For the shortest climb to the highest point head to Upper Beacon Road car park. Firstly, as you almost reach the crest of the hill you will see a sign for West Malvern and the B4232. Turn left here then immediate right up Beacon Road to the final car park at the top. By walking north from the car park you can get to the summit of Worcestershire Beacon, the highest of the Malvern Hills and enjoy spectacular views east to the Cotswolds and west over to the Brecon Beacons of Wales.
Although this may save you a heafty old climb from down in the town of Great Malvern, this alternative walk from town to summit shouldn't be ignored either. If you park in Great Malvern and climb Worcestershire Beacon from back down here you will pass all the fancy Regency and Victorian hotels and large houses which date from the time when the popularity of Malvern spring water was at its height, and the place was a bustling spa thronging with well-to-do visitors. A twisting and rather steep path from the town takes you via St Ann's Well with its fresh spring water, gardens and cafe, eventually up to the summit. Allow about 45 minutes to an hour to make the assent from Great Malvern to the very top, but it must be stressed it is rather steep. Nevertheless, it provides a great work-out with stunning views.
Other attractions in Great Malvern include the large gothic Priory which dates from the 11th century and now serves as a parish church. Also the 1885 built Winter Gardens which was known for its productions of the works of George Bernard Shaw and concert recitals from Edward Elgar who lived for a time in Malvern and lies buried in St Wulstan's Church in Little Malvern. There are plenty of tea rooms and boutique shopping along the steeply graded Church Street and also along Worcester Road.
Use the Worcester Road to head north out of Malvern onto the A449 towards Worcester. This road will take you straight into the city, however there is an interesting side trip waiting for you if you turn left just before you cross the bridge over the River Severn. Instead, keep in the left lane as you approach the river and turn left following signs for Tenbury and the A443. Head along this road for about 10 miles (16km) following the river valley, you will then see the brown tourist sign pointing left to Witley Court.
A short walk from the car park will take you to this jaw-dropping magnificent palatial stately house. Its magnitude and grandeur will hit you right away, and then the shock will surely follow when you see that the whole place is actually one huge ruin. Well, the shock 'may' do that....but you have already been told what to expect now!!!
Witley Court is an early Victorian mansion built in the Italianate style by the architect Samuel Daukes for the William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley on the site of a much earlier house. It was where the upper echelons of society would see and be seen and members of the Royal family were frequent visitors. A major fire in 1937 caused considerable damage to the basement, servants quarters and one of the wings. Although most of the West Wing survived, the insurance wouldn't pay up so the whole building became a "write off" and was stripped of any valuable fixtures and fittings and became the abandoned ruin we see today.
English Heritage have restored the grounds and gardens. A highlight is the Perseus and Andromeda fountain which dates from the 1850s. There are follies, parterre gardens and the ruins to explore. You can then use the A443 to retrace your steps back to Worcester.
Take the A44 over the river following traffic turning left along North Parade. Almost every convenient car park in Worcester has a 6ft height barrier but one location you will not have to deal with this problem is Croft Road car park which takes vehicles of all sizes. As you approach the railway viaduct turn left at the Croft Road car park sign.
It is a short pleasant walk from the car park to the cathedral. Just walk along North Parade by the river to South Parade and past Brown's Restaurant where you will find riverside dining. At the fountain, look left up at the remaining tower and spire of St Andrew's Church. The rest of this abandoned place of worship was demolished in 1949 and the grounds now form a small park. Eventually a small portcullis style gate will appear on your left heading off the riverside path. This forms the entrance to College Green and the cathedral. Here you can walk across the cathedral close into the cathedral itself. Founded in 680, the construction of the present cathedral began in 1084, the Crypt dates from this time. The gothic structure is built of sandstone and honey-coloured Cotswold limestone rather than granite and slate, this gives the interior a light and airy feel. The attached Benedictine Monastery was dissolved in 1540. Burials inside the church include Arthur, Prince of Wales, who died back at Ludlow Castle and, as mentioned earlier, should have been king but for his untimely death. The role of monarch and the role of husband to Catherine of Aragon ended up going to his younger brother, Henry. The other regal burial is that of King John, forever linked to Magna Carta, who reigned from 1199 to 1216 and lies within his tomb in the chancel. Arthur is just ahead of him, to the right of the altar, within an ornate chantry chapel. There is a plaque and memorial window to Sir Edward Elgar in the north aisle. The composer was born in the city in 1857.
The cloisters surround a beautiful flower filled graveyard which providesa tranquil oasis in the middle of the city. The cathedral is bordered on one side by the river, on two other sides by delightful Georgian houses at College Green and College Yard and on the final side by an uninspiring 1960s development of cafes and shops. In some ways Worcester seems to specialise in leaving historic timber-framed Tudor buildings sitting incongruously next to a modern concrete block of shops which in turn shoulder up to a brick 18th Georgian town house with sash windows followed by another twisted, warped old timber 16th cottage. It is a real eclectic mix!
Although famous the world over, the Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce factory here in the city is not open to the public, however their famous spicy sauce can be bought at various tourist shops within Worcester. Pronounce it Wuster- shur- sauce and you'll be fine!!
Most of the old timber-framed houses can be found on Friar Street. One of these, the Tudor House, is a 16th century building that contains a free museum of Tudor history. A former tavern, it was built sometime around 1575 - 1625 and was a coffee house in the 18th century. Within the house there are a variety of rooms, many of which are filled with paintings and period furniture. There is also a collection of spinning wheels and textile instruments. Also on Friar Street is Greyfriars House, owned by the National Trust and built around 1490. It has been carefully restored to its early Tudor look with period furniture and tapestries with a delightful and peaceful garden at the rear.
High Street is the pedestrianised main thoroughfare running from north to south across the city centre. In the Guildhall, at the south end of the High Street, one will find the Tourist Information Centre. This brick structure, with its highly decorated pediment, was built in 1721 in the Queen Anne style and serves as Council offices and formerly a courthouse and prison.
High Street is also the main shopping street along with the Crowngate Shopping Mall down Broad Street towards the river. However the charming and inviting little shopping arcade called Reindeer Court, which has entrances off Mealcheapen Street and The Shambles, is well worth looking into. Also take time to check out the Gallery, the former Market Hall also just off The Shambles with a collection of small independent shops. Finally, the Hop Market just off Foregate Street contains cafes and independent retailers around a Victorian courtyard that once saw life as the city workhouse and later a busy market for the buying and selling of hops.
To complete this circular tour, head from the city centre east on the A44. Here, just on the edge of the city you will see a timber-framed building that houses The Commandery, the museum dedicated to the famous Civil War battle of Worcester of 1651 and all aspects of that mid-17th century conflict. Continue to the roundabout with the A4440. Here you can pick up signs to take you to the M5, both northbound and southbound if this is the route you need to use to get to your next destination. You will also see a left turn for Evesham and Stratford upon Avon. You can then head on the A4440 northwards briefly to the next roundabout then join the A422 eastbound and eventually the A46 into Stratford.