Sunday 13 May 2012

The Best Thing About Birmingham Is …

One of our destinations that we most looked forward to was the United Kingdom. During various chats with fellow (mostly British) travellers, we were often queried on where in this fabled isle we were planning on staying. We'd excitedly proclaim "Birmingham!" and receive perplexed looks, sometimes a confused frown, and almost always an "Um … why?"

Ok, so Birmingham wasn't exactly the bucket-list sort of place that people would travel halfway around the world to see. And yes, we did really only decide to go there because of Ben's family connections. But if anyone could scrape together the best bits about a seemingly average place and turn it into a surprisingly fun and rewarding holiday itinerary, it was my dear sister-in-law Layla and her husband Matt, who shared the city's star attraction - beautifully cheeky 10 week old Jude.

Young Smile.
Bursts of activity interspersed our mostly relaxing stay, where we re-acquainted with family and old friends, met some new friends, and fell in love with our young niece who happily came along to everything.

Jude and her Mum on the Crabmill Walk - Henley on Arden
The traditional English pork pie and ploughmans accompanied by a pint of silky-frothed amber ale was the best reward for a lovely walk to the Griffin Inn, Shustoke.

Pork Pie, Ploughmans and Ale - Griffin Inn, Shustoke
As was the gourmet lunch with crisp pint of lager following a stunning walk to the Crabmill Pub and Restaurant, Henley-in-Arden.

St Nicholas Church - Henley on Arden
Hedgerows on the Crabmill Walk - Henley on Arden
This cow got a little too close to the rear end of another cow - Henley on Arden
The Crabmill - Walk from Henley to The Crabmill
Old Bikes Club stopping at the Crabmill - Henley on Arden
Swan in offensive position, protecting its family from suspicious walkers like us - Henley on Arden
Clouds over Fields - Henley on Arden
Additional culinary delights included sharing authentic Balti curries in Coleshill, sampling Jamie Oliver's influence at Jamie's Italian Restaurant in the city, tasting delicious tapas at a Moroccan restaurant, and enjoying FA Cup Finals beers at the Green Man, a good ol' English local.

Hanging Dried Meats at Jamie's Italian Restaurant - Birmingham
A Big Jaw-Stretching Burger at Jamie's Italian Restaurant - Birmingham
Tapas at a Moroccan Restaurant - Birmingham
But the best meals were probably the homegrown ones, especially when there was a birthday to celebrate each week!

Homemade slow-cooked lamb tagine on cous cous with steamed beans, yoghurt and coriander, yum!
Matt and his Birthday Pie
Other highlights of the city included strolling around the Jewellery Quarter, browsing around the Bullring shopping centre, driving over the original Spaghetti Junction several times and several ways, and going to an Aston Villa game (Matt's favourite team). Despite everyone downplaying our expectations of the game, it was still special as my first live football (soccer) game that I had ever seen, let alone being at English Premier League level. The weather that day was fantastically sunny (a rare pleasure in England) and the game itself carried all the exciting elements one could ask for in an EPL game. The Villa were at the end of a bad season facing relegation from the EPL, they were playing against one of the highest teams in the league, and their club manager was on the receiving end of such fan love as "Get the 'Eck Out of Here!" and other more abusive commentary. Throw in a rowdy crowd with plenty of banter, a red card send-off plus controversial penalty goal shot right in front of us, a lucky result which secured Aston Villa's place in the EPL for another year, an eventual sacking of a not-so-lucky manager, and good beers in Moseley after the game; and we both agree that we had an absolute ball of a time.

But suffice to say that the best thing about Birmingham was not the architecture, the culture, nor the fact that it had more canals than Venice (although these also provided some fascinating walks as well).

Industrial. A Junction of Birmingham's Canals
The best thing about Birmingham was actually getting out of it. Now, we do not mean this in a bad way at all - it was just that Birmingham's Midlands location was perfect for visits to all the corners of the UK. We were simply amazed at how many famous districts we were able to tick off in the few weeks we were there. Simply driving from London Heathrow Airport to Birmingham allowed for a coffee, bagel and a stroll through the prestigious university town of Oxford.

Manicured Lawn at Oxford
A single hour out of town got us to Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds, via Stratford-Upon-Avon (Shakespeare's birthplace), and the Fleece Inn, Bretforton. Despite the damp weather these National Trust gems were a delight as we discovered little Jude enjoyed bumpy pram rides over cobbled garden paths.

Creeping Between Windows - Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds
Hedged Lawn - Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds
In the Trees - Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds
Stable Doors - Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds
Malvern in Worcestershire was a slightly longer but no less achievable distance of two hours away from town. While Layla and Shilo's green thumbs were inspired at the annual Malvern Garden Show, Ben and I tried to get some more hill-climbing into our repertoire with the 1300 feet altitude of the Malvern Hills. Despite the rain and windchill factor, other locals and their four-legged best friends were also enjoying this popular spot.

Walking Tracks through the Malvern Hills
What Are You Looking At? Cattle staying out of the wind - Malvern Hills
Malvern Town, viewed from Malvern Hills
Another day, another one hour drive and we were walking through the verdant green hills of the Peak District. Cool, fresh countryside surrounded us from the top of the hills, as we watched farmers and their border collies herding sheep, and we started to realise that we were really enjoying England.

Green Hills - Peak District
Stony Wall and Hut on a Sheep Farm - Peak District
The subsequent cream tea followed by a stroll along the river sealed the deal.

All My Ladies on the Bridge - Peak District
And we had only just got started.


  1. Thanks! I'm sure we didn't do it justice ;)

  2. Aunty Mei Ling frm Penang27/6/12 11:04 pm

    Lovely scenic and great photos were taken.