“Are you serious?” asked Joe. “Perfectly,” was my answer. I’d just suggested we should spend a week at the Chapel Lane Caravan and Motorhome Club Site, near Birmingham. In the past, we’d only stopped off overnight on our way south and again on the homeward journey. We were rearranging sites – we couldn’t visit Scotland as planned.
Our first day took us to Birmingham by train, using the park and ride at King’s Norton. Arriving at Birmingham New Street, we walked through the very glitzy Grand central shopping mall to the famous Bullring. We continued to the outdoor market, where you can buy a huge range of exotic fruit and vegetables.
There’s also the Rag Market, in existence since 1154, where you can find a fine array of fabrics. Beyond are the fish and meat markets. We stopped off at Café Rouge for an excellent cappuccino, sadly closed to visitors at the time of our visit.
Nearby, we spotted the 101 bus and hopped on to visit the Jewellery Quarter. We alighted by the Chamberlain Memorial Clock, were the four roads of the Quarter meet. The streets are lined with fabulous shops, which we enjoyed browsing. There are other claims to fame here, as well as the shops – near the Jewellery Quarter railway station, we spotted a Grade II listed cast iron urinal, manufactured in about 1880 and named ‘The Temple of Relief’!
We hopped back on the buys and decided to treat ourselves to a lovely meal at Gusto, near the cathedral. A ‘[must-see’ was Gas Street Basin, at the heart of Birmingham’s canal network, where old meets new.
The towpaths are lined with bars and restaurants alongside buildings from the industrial past. Traditional narrowboats in the basin complete the scene. We paused at the Canalside Café for coffee, then it was back to the station for the return journey.
Home to the Bard
Next day, we drove to the park and ride en route to Stratford-upon-Avon. On arrival at this bustling cultural centre, we strolled along the pedestrianised street, pausing for coffee at Benson’s Restaurant, opposite Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
We continued to the marina, home to more narrowboats, and then to the River Avon, to see the imposing architecture of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
We lunched at Huffkins on chicken and bacon sandwiches, then another stroll led us back to the marina, where we opted to take a boat trip on the Avon as far as the church where Shakespeare is buried.
Our final visit of the day was a short walk to the Transport Museum, next to the campsite in Wythall. Naturally, this mainly houses buses and coaches, but I was slightly taken aback by the exhibit recreating a typical office, with an adding machine that I used in the 1960s, now a museum piece!
It was just £5 admission per person, and there is a miniature railway and ride-on toys for the children to enjoy. The ticket includes a short trip on a vintage bus.
Our visit at an end we reflected that we could easily have stayed another week. There was so much more to see, such as Cadbury World, the Black Country Living Museum, Warwick Castle and Coventry. We’ll definitely be back – and not just for an overnight stay!
Bess of Hardwick
The next day, we moved on to Poolsbrook Country Park Caravan and Motorhome Club Site, near Chesterfield, which we’d chosen for its cycle routes.
However we spent our first day here visiting Hardwick Hall, home of Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick. She married well, first to William Cavendish, and had eight children, six of whom survived. Bess had been brought up in Hardwick Old Hall and lived at Chatsworth. Each time she married, she amassed more money, invested wisely and became a powerful woman, eventually building the spectacular Hardwick Hall.
The next two days were spent cycling, direct from the site. Our first route was along the canal to Chesterfield, where the church has a crooked spire, believed to be caused by the use of unseasoned wood (although legend has it the Devil caused it by wrapping his tail around the spire).
Our second cycle trip took us north, to Rother Valley Country Park, home to the Sheffield Cable Waterski and Aqua Park.
Castle in the ruins
Our final outing was to Bolsover Castle, which I found very impressive. This is really a castle within a castle, because the current intact building stands among the ruins of its 12th-century predecessor.
Commenced by Sir Charles Cavendish between 1612 and 1617. the building work was interrupted by the Civil War, but was finally completed in 1676.
There are fantastic views here over the Derbyshire countryside and in the distance, I spotted another impressive building. After a good lunch at The Pillar of Rock pub, we drove to this house, the Grade I listed Sutton Scarsdale Hall, to find out more.
The Hall is a ruined mansion, roofless since 1920 and fenced off for safety reasons, but magnificent. It can be viewed externally, and English Heritage has plans to conserve and stabilise the building.
Our next campsite, Blackshaw Moor Caravan and Motorhome Club Site, is just north of Leek, and we planned to do more cycling while staying here. We drove a short distance from the campsite to Tittesworth Reservoir and were pleasantly surprised to find a visitor centre and excellent walking trails. We chose the Foster Trail, about two miles long, returning to the visitor centre later for delicious coffee and cake.
We ventured into Cheshire next day, to visit Little Moreton Hall, a moated property built in 1500. Externally, the building looks as through it’s sagging – liked Chesterfield’s spire, it was built of green oak, but then the Long Gallery was added to the top, apparently with no consideration for weight stress.
Fortunately, it has been stabilised and is safe to visit! I think the Hall’s eccentric air adds to its charm. We had a good lunch there, sampling soup, cheese and chutney sandwiches and salad.
We undertook two more cycling trips over the next couple of days. The first was the Monsal Trail, a traffic-free route on the former Midland Railway line. We started at Miller’s Dale and cycled through three tunnels and over the bridge at Monsal Dale to the route’s end at Bakewell, where we stopped to enjoy our picnic lunch.
River and railway
Our second bike ride was the narrower and quieter Manifold Way. It follows the route of the former Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway, a narrow-gauge line mainly used for transporting milk down the valley from the local farms.
We started at Hulme End and rode down to Waterhouses, following the Manifold River, which disappears down a sink-hole, leaving a dry riverbed, until it reappears some miles distant.
We spent our final day at Rudyard Lake, a reservoir with a visitor centre, boating and a miniature railway. We squeezed into the carriages for a trip by the lakeside, with mugs of tea at the café afterwards.
Our unplanned stay at these three sites was a revelation, finding new places to visit – which was what we’d wanted from our postponed Scotland trip. I suppose you could say, ‘All’s well that ends well’!
When to go
Chapel Lane and Poolsbrook Country Park are open all year, with spacious pitches and level ground; and nearby attractions unaffected by the weather. Blackshaw Moor is on a hillside, better visited between spring and autumn.
Way to go
We travelled down the M6 from Lancashire, M6 toll and round the M42 to Chapel Lane. To Poolsbrook, we went back up the M42, then A42 to the M1 north. Poolsbrook is a short way from exit 29A. From Poolsbrook, we took the A619 from Chesterfield, then A6 to Buxton and the A53 to Blackshaw Moor.
Where we stayed
Chapel Lane CAMC Site
- Wyhall, B47 6JX
- Open All year
- Pitches 116
- Charges £22-£32.40
Poolsbrook Country Park CAMC Site
- Pavilion Drive, S43 3WL
- Open All year
- Pitches 85
- Charges £21.10-£33.70
Blackshaw Moor CAMC Site
- Leek, ST13 8TW
- Open 6 March-2 November
- Pitches 87
- Charges £22.10-£30.80
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