‘God’s County!’ exclaims Dad, as the sun unexpectedly comes out as we walk across a glistening green field to the back gate of a pretty little church yard in Church Mayfield. The first of our 2019 father – daughter family days out in Staffordshire.
Dad’s an atheist and I’m pretty sure Yorkshire claimed God’s country before he claimed it for Staffordshire, but whenever he says it I always know exactly what he means: Staffordshire is very special, and not just because Dad was born here.
We’re following the Mayfield village history trail, in search of bullet holes left by Bonny Prince Charlie and the grave of Irish poet Thomas Moore’s daughter.
Family Days Out In Staffordshire
Living overlooking the Peak District, many people assume we live in Derbyshire, but I am quite proud of the fact we live in Staffordshire. My grandparents lived here, my Dad grew up here and so I feel like I have roots and memories. But having only been back here less than two years, I’m still keen to dig deeper.
Staffordshire is the land of coal, oatcakes, pottery, treasure, witches, warrior queens, quiet countryside, awe inspiring forests, theme parks and stunning rock formations.
There are so many ways to see Staffordshire too, you can kayak, sail, rock climb, ski, horse ride, roller coaster at Alton Towers, or even trek with Llamas.
Staffordshire is a bit of an unknown county, yet it has so many things that make it wonderful. My memories are of my Grandmother laying a coal fire, my Grandad’s pride over his incredible garden (I see so many here now that remind me of him), and of eating oatcakes – a kind of savoury pancake which is amazing with grilled cheese.
Beyond those of my own ancestors, I have loved unearthing Staffordshire’s myths, legacies and historical legends…here are some of my favourite family days out in Staffordshire so far, the most magical places to explore.
I first encountered Lud’s church on a school trip, a magical walk through forest and then suddenly down into a wide, and eerily long chasm in the rocks where the sunlight can’t reach but the mossy rocks are a work of art.
There are so many legacies here, is it named after Celtic god Llud or was this the church of Walter de Lud-Auk and the Lollards, the persecuted religious movement active from the mid-14th century? Robin Hood, and Bonny Price Charlie are also supposed to have hidden out here and and the chasm has been identified by some as the Green Chapel mentioned in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the classic 15th-century poem.
The atmosphere is eerily incredible and unexpected, I love walking through, admiring shafts of light illuminating beautiful moss and lichens and imagining characters who might have hung out here.
Very close to Lud’s Church, The Roaches are a steep and rugged gritstone ridge, stretching across to Hen Cloud and Ramshaw Rocks, together they make an incredible collection of rock formations which are world renowned for rock climbing and amazing to explore. The views are stunning, if you are lucky you can see as far as Snowdon in Wales. This is the place to capture and amazing photo on the rocks, kids and big kids love it.
Beware though, in a dark pool on top of The Roaches, lives Jenny Greenteeth, a blue nymph or mermaid hellbent on revenge to the sailor who brought her here or the lover who spurned her, depending what you believe. Others say it’s bottomless, and possibly connected to Blake Mere, another nearby pool, via a deep subterranean passage. It is a Peak District wild swim spot, but I’m not sure I’d be brave enough.
The lost gardens of… Biddulph Grange
From 1841 James Bateman spent more than twenty years collecting plants from all over the world, sending plant collectors by ship to bring specimens back. He worked with Edward Cooke to create Egyptian, Chinese and Italian gardens, each separated by tunnels, walls and hedges.
My Dad used to creep in here as a child to fish and it was a joy to finally get a tour from him. Bateman was Darwin’s contemporary and wrestled in his heart and mind between creationism and evolution. On one level its simply a joy to explore, especially with kids, but on a deeper level it’s like stepping into a Victorian brain and wandering the corridors – critics have compared it’s significance to that of the Great Exhibition and called it the ‘garden of gardens’.
Europe’s First Purpose Built Theatre-in-the- Round – The New Vic
I love theatre, but most of all I love theatre-in-the-round, it’s always been my favourite way to experience theatre, and the New Vic theatre does it beautifully. As Europe’s first purpose-built theatre-in-the-round and one of the country’s most successful producing houses you are guaranteed to see theatre in the round at it’s finest. At New Year we watched Wind in the Willows – the moment when Toad crashes his gypsy caravan was pure magic as performers exploded the caravan in slow motion, taking parts off it and sending them flying past the audiences’s noses. A show here is a special treat indeed.
Bad Ass Warrior Queen Aethelflaed
The warrior queen Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, was born at the height of Viking invasions and fought off Viking attacks many times over. She went on to become the only female Angle Saxon ruler. Her statue was erected last year at Tamworth Castle, and her legacy is being explored in a new exhibition at the castle, dedicated to the area’s Anglo Saxon Heritage. Having taken my son there on a school trip I am excited to visit again and pay homage to this queen, which leads neatly on to…
The Staffordshire Hoard
The largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever discovered was unearthed in Staffordshire. It was discovered in 2009 in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, which was once part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. it can be seen in The Potteries Museum and Art gallery, as well as in a new temporary exhibition at Tamworth Castle, from summer 2019. My youngest got a metal detector for Christmas, having learned that Staffordshire was the site of much unrest during Anglo Saxon times, so we’re obviously hopeful we may find another hoard – watch this space!
World Ceramic Capital – The Potteries
I remember the drawing by my uncle on my Grandparent’s wall, of bottle kilns, a famous landmark in The Potteries – home, thanks to copious amounts of coal in years gone by, to all the famous ceramic houses like Wedgwood, Gladstone and more recently, Emma Bridgewater. Nowadays you can tour the factories or book a pottery workshop. My daughter and I reviewed our World of Wedgwood experience for Day Out with The Kids, and Gladstone or Emma Bridgewater are next on our Mother – Daughter family days out in Staffordshire hit list.
Ilam is a National Trust place in the Staffordshire Peak District, and one of my favourite places in the whole world. I love to sit in the tea shop, looking down at the slightly gothic, strangely Swiss cottages, the little church, the rolling hills and flat top of Bunster Hill.
I’ve never found much in the way of juicy history or backstory here, it is a Youth Hostel now, but you can make your own stories here – there are hills to roll down, bridges to play pooh sticks under and tree stump trails to follow under giant rhubarb like leaves in summer. The best bit perhaps is you only have to pay to park, it’s a very good deal.
And it’s a short hop from here to Dovedale, the prettiest little valley with famous steeping stones.
Here there are stories galore in the incredible landscape – limestone caves and rock sculptures like Lovers’ Leap and Reynard’s Cave. I’ve sat in that cave and pondered who may have lived in it in years gone by, and the effect the ice age crashing through had on this soft limestone valley landscape – mind blowing stuff.
Finds suggest the cavern was occupied from the end of the Palaeolithic period, with more intensive use during the iron age and Roman periods. Nowadays it’s an amazing carrot to get kids to walk, as it towers majestically on a hill off the Manifold cycle track.
My youngest once took us off-piste, leaving us to cling onto trees, and our poor greyhound to dig his claws deep, as we basically climbed vertically to the top. My eldest was traumatised by her favourite cap falling off and rolling down the hill just as we reached the top close to tears, but there is a proper footpath. It’s also reachable as a lovely walk from Wetton, and Wetton Mill, with its riverside cafe, is a lovely place to splash about/soak your brother for retribution, on a summer day.
Dad and I did find the bullet holes, and put our fingers in them, and we found Thomas Moore’s daughter’s grave too, she was only one. The romantic poet Byron was her godfather, what an amazing child she might have been. Sometimes it’s good to have something that makes history and it’s people feel tangible. If history drives your travel plans, then you might also like this post about the world’s most visited graveyards.
Accommodation in Staffordshire Peak District
Come visit, and we’ll happily put you up at Mayfield Hideaway, our character beamed barn with log burner and cosy upcycled Scandi inspired caravan are both on Airbnb and sleep 2-4.
We’re 2 miles from Ashbourne, 3 miles from Dovedale and Ilam, 10 from Alton Towers, the cycle track to Thor’s Cave is a 10 minute drive, The Roaches and Lud’s Church are 30 minutes drive. The New Vic and The Potteries are 45 minutes. Biddulph Grange is 40 minutes. Tamworth Castle is 55 minutes.
I have so much still to explore, but these places and legends have captured my heart so far. Do let me know if you have family days out in Staffordshire to recommend.
Image credits – Queen Aethelflaed, Visit Tamworth; Staffordshire Hoard via Shutterstock; Barn log burner, Jon Cruttenden Photography and all others Penny Alexander.
Elements of this post are a paid collaboration, words and thoughts my own.