The Midlands is a large central area of England. As the name suggests, these counties are the farthest from the sea (arguments remain on whether the central point is in Leicestershire or Derbyshire, several villages lay claim!) During the Industrial Revolution, a lot of the manufacturing was carried out there. Goods were then transported down a series of canals to London. Today, these waterways are more used for tourism, and riverside walks. Although there are still a few working boats.
This regions spans from east to west, and although not the most touristy regions of England, they are home to beautiful villages, stately homes and the friendliest people in England. They are also quite a cultured lot: Birmingham houses Europe’s biggest libraries and some of the best universities are found in this area.
The Counties of East Midlands
- Cambridgeshire is (aside from the cities of Cambridge, Ely and Peterborough) a mostly rural county. This is home to the Fens, a series of marshy fertile wetlands, where a lot of our organic box food is grown (in fact, England’s oldest box scheme hails from here). Fens are different from bogs, in that they are fed by mineral-rich water from below (bogs are fed by rainfall).
- Derbyshire is one of the counties farthest from the sea (around 70 to 80 miles) and home to the Peak District, a popular touring destination for walkers. It was in this county that many people died last time a major virus struck. And the locals isolated themselves from others, so they died from the plague, and nobody else did. True selflessness, from these friendly folk. The heavily-populated graveyards in many of the villages, are testament to a kindness done for all.
- Leicestershire is packed with beautiful countryside, magnificent manor houses and lots of canals. A few years back, the tiny county of Rutland was also part of Leicestershire, but now is independent. Completely landlocked, Leicestershire and Derbyshire both claim that they have a town or village that is furthest from the sea in England. No matter who is right, it’s a good 70 to 80 miles, before you reach the coast.
- Northamptonshire is home to beautiful countryside, castles and stately homes. One is the birthplace of Princess Diana, who is buried on an island on the family estate. Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park was set here, and Richard Coles (the tall one who partnered with Jimmy Somerville to create The Communards) lives here – he is the local vicar!
- Nottinghamshire is the home of Sherwood Forest, where Robin Hood robbed from the rich, to give to the poor (modern life suggests this is usually the other way around). Major Oak (a tree) is around 800 to 1000 years old, with arms so old they are now held up by scaffolding! His saplings are being dotted around the world (he also gave shelter to Robin Hood and his merry men!)
- Rutland is England’s smallest county (this changes, depending on whether the tide is in or out on the Isle of Wight). Due to no motorways, it has not fast food chains or supermarkets. Rutland Water is a man-made reservoir has brought back breeding ospreys. Thousands of migrating birds adore this lake, which offers a popular circular walk.
- Staffordshire is mostly known for its pottery and being the town (Stoke-on-Trent) where Robbie Williams comes from. But it also has lots of beautiful wild moorlands, and parts of the Peak District, as well as Cannock Chase. It’s also home to Flash – the highest village in England.
The Counties of West Midlands
- Herefordshire is one of England’s most rural counties, with one of the lowest populations. If you prefer sheep to people, this is for you! Bordering Wales, the population swells each year, when the Hay-on-Wye book festival takes place. But mostly it’s a sparsely populated county. Even the main city of Hereford (with a beautiful cathedral) is not that busy. One industry this area is famed for, is its delicious cider.
- Shropshire is a beautiful county, set amid the blue rolling hills on the border with Wales. This is also one of England’s least populated counties, so ideal if you like peace and quiet. One journalist was sent around England to discover the most beautiful county. Northumberland almost won (but the writer did not like the cold and wind, so Shropshire won!) One of the few towns in Shropshire is Ludlow, known to be one of the best local foodie havens in England. The county is also again known for its delicious cider.
- Warwickshire is home to Rugby (a town named after the sport) and Stratford-Upon-Avon (the birthplace of Shakespeare, who apparently was a socially conscious property tycoon). Nuneaton was so-loved by Larry Grayson that he never left, even after he gained fame and fortune later in life.
- West Midlands is mostly comprised of three cities: Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry, although you will find many pretty villages dotted around (it’s only a few miles to rural Shropshire). Outside of Spaghetti Junction, you’ll find lots of green space and a thriving arts and music culture.
- Worcestershire is home to the cathedral city of Worcester, but the rest is mostly rural. The Malvern Hills are not easy to climb, and used as practice by mountaineers before attempting Everest. It is said that on a clear day, you can (from the summit) see Herefordshire, the Bristol Channel, 3 cathedrals, parts of 13 counties and the Welsh mountains.
Music Break: Ordinary World
Duran Duran was one of the most successful bands in the 80s, hailing from Birmingham. Here is a stunning acoustic rendition of one of their most popular songs: