Burton on Trent: Staffs of life

The Hilton at St George's Park

The Hilton at St George's Park

  • It might be famous for its pots, but Robert Gledhill finds there’s much more to Staffordshire than ceramics.
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Porcelain and pints but so much more.

That’s Staffordshire for you. A county that is so easily bypassed by anyone from the Broad Acres heading for a mini break down either the M6 or M1.

But why travel further south when you can journey just a couple of hours away from the centre of the White Rose county to somewhere that has so much to pack into a short stay?

Obviously when you think of Staffs, you think potteries and so our first stop en route to our initial overnight stay was the spanking new World of Wedgwood set in 240 acres of countryside.

The company, whose founding father was Josiah Wedgwood in 1759, are spending a whopping £34m on their new factory site and visitor centre and it will take at least four hours to get full enjoyment out of it.

A walkway above the factory enables the visitor to witness the processes required to produce this iconic pottery. They make a million products a year with the Japanese the biggest fans of Wedgwood, although it is the Russians who tend to snap up the dinner services which include Cameo Trophies Grey plates at £1,000 a time!

The price is eye-watering but hardly surprising as it takes master craftsman and prestige gilder Neil Bruce, whose tattooed looks are certainly deceptive, a week to complete each item, building up layer upon layer of gold leaf edging.

There is also the opportunity to throw a pot, design your own lithograph and have them both posted home.

The complex also has its own museum with 3,000 exhibits on display, including modern designs by Jasper Conran. A dominant oil painting by George Stubbs on one wall features the Wedgwood family and a woman on horseback - what else for Stubbs? – who turns out to be the mother of Charles Darwin, of Origin of Species fame.

Wedgwood’s innovation continues to this day with their own tea rooms – think Betty’s – which they are planning to introduce on a worldwide basis believing tea can be the new coffee.

From infused leaves to hops as we headed to the National Brewery Centre in Burton-upon-Trent.

The centre is steeped in history and is well worth a visit and guided tour to see the origins of brewing, the working shire horses and a selection of transport the brewing companies used to promote their products – plus, of course, sample some of the real ales on offer in the bar.

A quick quaff was followed by our overnight stay at the Football Association’s flagship national football centre at St George’s Park, found in splendid isolation around 20 minutes away.

It is the base for all coaching and development work undertaken by the FA, and the training and preparation ground for all of the England national football teams and other bodies.

So no wonder then that at the Hilton Hotel here, you are likely to be rubbing shoulders with sporting personalities as we found sharing a lift to the executive rooms with England rugby league coach Steve McNamara and his cohorts as they prepared for their autumn internationals.

This three-year-old complex is not only a sporting mecca but the hotel has everything the modern-day businessman requires not only in its spacious and comfortable rooms.

Next morning it was off to the Shugborough Estate situated in a river valley in the heart of Staffordshire. It is the UK’s only complete working historic estate and attracts over 250,000 visitors a year. The restored working environments on the estate include working kitchens, dairy, water mill, brewhouse and farm all manned by historic costumed guides.

And, for those not so physically activity, there is a shuttle bus up to the mansion house which royal photographer Patrick Lichfield still has apartments in.

Then it was off to our next base at the Best Western George Hotel, whose three-star rating belies its cracking location slap bang in the centre of the county’s premier heritage city of Lichfield.

Dominated by its magnificent cathedral, which survived three sieges during the English Civil War, you will probably see more statues in Lichfield honouring its famous sons than anywhere outside London.

They include one of Samuel Johnson, England’s greatest man of letters and the author of our first dictionary, whose life and times are told in a museum which is free-to-enter as is the Erasmus Darwin House. This is the Georgian home of the grandfather of Charles and who was a leading 18th century doctor, scientist, botanist, inventor and poet.

All are easily accessible from the charming 18th century former coaching inn The George, which has not only enjoyed extensive refurbishments but is currently promoting its new dining restaurant, named Darwin’s of course, which is sure to rival the renowned Wine House just a minute’s walk down the street.

Our visit was all too soon over, leaving a myriad of boxes to tick on our next trip to Staffs, including Cannock Chase, Trentham Gardens and Alton Towers.

• Robert Gledhill’s two-night stay included accommodation at:

The Hilton at St George’s Park, DE13 9PD (01283 576617)

Best Western The George Hotel, Bird Street, Lichfield, WS13 6PR (01543 414822). More details at www.thegeorgelichfield.co.uk

Further Staffordshire short break details can be found at http://www.staffordsheerescapes.com/

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