SIX distinct towns make up the Staffordshire city of
Stoke-on-Trent: Hanley (the city centre),
Tunstall, Burslem, Stoke, Fenton, and Longton. Together, they form
The Potteries, a linear city almost 12 miles long, packed with
myriad attractions for visitors.
They have been making pottery in Stoke-on-Trent since
Roman times. In the 18th century, the area was believed to be the
biggest centre of pottery production in the world, and today it
leads the world in ceramic research and design.
In 1769, Josiah Wedgwood built one of Britain's first big
factories in Etruria, the village he established for his potters on
the outskirts of his birthplace, Burslem. At the Wedgwood Visitor
Centre, surrounded by beautiful countryside, you can admire the
exhibition of Wedgwood treasures, from the original 18th- century
designs of the master potter himself to the latest tableware. You
can even throw your own pot.
The Burleigh Factory Shop is heaven for lovers of country-style
blue-and-white earthenware. It is a real, working, Victorian
factory, with highly skilled craftsmen and women who hand-make all
their pottery, and use a 200-year-old decorating process. The
bottle oven and mangle tower are original. The renovated steam
engine dates from 1881.
The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, in Hanley, tells
the story of pottery production. From its Anglo-Saxon and Roman
past to the local-history exhibits and fine-art collection, every
room stops you in your tracks.
The Gladstone Pottery Museum, housed in a Victorian factory with
its original workshops, cobbled yard, and kilns, is a fascinating
place. Traditional skills are revealed alongside old machinery, a
gallery of decorative ceramic tiles, and a tribute to the lavatory,
Flushed with Pride. You can try your hand at making pots and
bone-china flowers; and there is a tea-room.
Just south of the city, the hugely successful restoration
of the historic 750-acre Trentham Estate has made it one of
Britain's top attractions. Splendid formal Italian gardens stretch
down to a lake edged by wooded hills, there is a shopping village
and vast garden centre, and monkeys roam free in their own forest.
The gardens are a picture, and, with 100,000 bulbs in place, spring
should be spectacular.
The Monkey Forest is brilliant. As you walk among the 60 acres
of oak and beech trees, home to 140 Barbary macaques, the monkeys
swing from the branches. It is the only park of its kind in the UK,
and is dedicated to the conservation of this endangered species
from the mountains of North Africa. Guides are on hand to tell you
all about the monkeys' habits and lifestyle.
The woodland walks, swathed with bluebells and rhododendrons,
are lovely, too. It is a magical place.