With foreign travel currently a quarantine nightmare, more Brits are discovering home pleasures around the UK.
Birmingham probably wouldn’t list very high in most peoples plans for a staycation but that would be unfair. I lived in the city for some years as a pupil and new barrister and there are many places places in and around the city worth checking out.
I’d been dancing at the Belfry once. So, when it was suggested as a weekend away location, I agreed.
Four of us set off up the M6 towards the Royal Borough of Sutton on the outskirts of Birmingham.
The Belfry is a golf resort and 4 star hotel. None of my group play golf. We went because the resort was running a deal. £50 a night per person (with added bottle of Prosecco). Or £129 per night with use of the spa. We missed the latter deal and the spa was fully booked during our short stay but I made good use of the well equipped gym and even a spin class. It wasn’t quite the relaxing sauna and hot tub session I’d hoped for but it worked up a better appetite. There are also tennis courts for the very keen.
A gentle stroll around the resort is a pleasurable one, taking in the beautifully manicured golf courses which have played host to the Ryder Cup on four occasions. The Brabazon is the main tournament course, and the others are the PGA National and The Derby. During our stay a coachload of golfers arrived to make use of the excellent facilities.
The golf courses used to be potato fields, owned by the lord of Moxihall Manor House who once was a local bigwig. He also owned the nearby quarry. The hotel was built in the 1960s when the land and quarry were bought up by a development group.
A large scale, £26 million renovation of all bedrooms, meeting rooms, lobby entrance and amenities in 2013 rejuvenated the place and it now has a modern feel about it but without that impersonal vibe some new hotels can have.
The rooms are comfortable, if a little basic for a 4 star hotel. There are no products to speak of in the bathroom and the tea and coffee making facilities are very standard bed and breakfast fare. Perhaps the rooms that aren’t used for offers are a little more splendid, after all the place hosts international sportsmen. Indeed, there was a minor celebrity staying there the weekend we were.
The Belfry is a busy place, certainly at weekends. The car parks were full when we visited and Sam’s club house, a sports bar/restaurant named after golfer Sam Torrance was heaving with guests enjoying the bar food and sport on large screens.
Another restaurant, the Ryder Grill offers steaks and meat dishes which diners can enjoy while admiring the views across the Brabazon golf course and Roccas, by the spa, with its pizza/pasta menu is popular with families.
The Brabazon bar in the reception area was lively in the evening with non guests coming in for a night out. Ryder Grill guests can also enjoy drinks on the terrace overlooking the golf course.
We opted to eat outside the resort. Not because the resort didn’t offer good food but because we wanted to explore beyond it.
Lunch was a fresh,healthy affair at Chase farm where the dishes are made with ingredients from the farm shop or similar local suppliers. I had a simple but tasty quiche with minimal salad, surprisingly but chunky chips. I’m not a huge fan of chips but even I could appreciate these were the real deal. Due to a mix up over puddings, I ended up with apple crumble and the creamiest custard for free. It was delicious! And a bonus.
Chase Farm Shop & Café Weeford Road, Sutton Coldfield B75 5R
A short drive from the Belfry, in Tamworth, is Middleton Hall. You can while away a good hour or so around this 950 year old hall set in 42 acres of peaceful countryside. Within the Georgian walled garden there’s also an interesting little courtyard/market Square which includes several retail outlets and somewhat incongruously, a Thai massage parlour!
You can’t be in and around Birmingham and not go for a curry! So, dinner was at the frenetically busy but efficiently run Tipu Sultan restaurant which boasts ‘majestic dining.’ With its ornate ceiling, circular booths and velvet sofas, the restaurant aims for a sense of opulence. While that sense is somewhat faded and frayed at the edges, the staff were very accommodating, service was good and the food tastefully spicy.
Tipu Sultan 43 Alcester Road, Birmingham.
There are many places worth visiting around Birmingham. Stratford-upon-Avon is an obvious choice for tourists. Henley in Arden is pretty. Further a field there is Hereford, Worcester and even Shrewsbury is not too far.
We chose Warwick castle. About a 40 minute drive away, it’s a family favourite but romantic enough for couples.
Unlike my companions, I’d visited the 1200 year old castle many times before. But it was still good to see how it has grown and developed as a tourist attraction. You can now stay overnight with a choice of glamping, lodges or suites all with a mediaeval theme. There are lots of activities for children including a horrible histories maze, falconry and reenactments of the war of the Roses.
Tickets to the castle are around £26 per person for an adult but if you book online there are substantial discounts.
When you’ve roamed around and taken all your selfies, be sure to pop into the Thomas Oken tearooms in Castle Street for the most delicious, home-made cakes and cream teas.