Staffordshire : Stoke-on-Trent
Stoke-on-Trent is a city in England, approximately half-way between Birmingham and Manchester. It runs into the affluent town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and the two places are essentially one large city.
Stoke-on-Trent lies on the A500 "D-road", just off the M6 motorway, and can be reached by travelling southbound from Manchester or northbound from Birmingham. It is approximately 45 miles from both of these cities. It can also be reached via the A34. Those seeking the city centre by road should look for signs to "Hanley", once they enter Stoke-on-Trent.
Stoke-on-Trent has a small but busy mainline railway station that has frequent inter-city services to most destinations in the United Kingdom. There are regular services from Manchester Piccadilly Station, which offers a connection to Manchester International Airport. There is a direct fast service from Stoke-on-Trent to the train station at Birmingham International Airport. Stoke-on-Trent can be reached from London through London Euston railway station, with services running every 30 minutes at peak times. Journey time to and from London is usually about 95 minutes on the fastest services. There is a large taxi rank at the rail station.
The majority of bus and coach routes into the city arrive at the decrepit Hanley Bus Station in the City Centre. National Express coach services serve Stoke-on-Trent from most cities in the United Kingdom. There are also services that serve Newcastle-Under-Lyme which is a fifteen minute bus ride from the City Centre, Hanley. The main bus operator in Stoke-on-Trent is First PMT who provide services through out North Staffordshire and South Cheshire.
In general, it's far more pleasant to travel to the city by rail.
Around 10,000 visitors arrive in the city annually by canal narrowboat, on the Trent and Mersey and Caldon Canal. There are free moorings at Trentham, Barlaston, Etruria/Lock 38, Longport, Westport Lake, and at the Harecastle Tunnel.
The city is on the National Cycle Route No.5., which runs through the city on off-road paths.
Stoke-on-Trent has an intricate public transport service and buses are usually easy to come by, although many stops are open to rain and wind. Hanley Bus Station is the main transport hub for buses in the city and virutally all areas of the city are reachable from here. There are tourist information offices located here and maps of required routes are published and easy to find.
The city has over 100 miles of excellent off-road bicycle paths, on old railway and mineral lines, and canal towpaths. A free map is available from the Tourist Office, who will also be able to advise on cycle hire.
Taxis are also widely available.
Stoke-on-Trent is historically renowned for its pottery industry (hence its nickname of The Potteries). Although the industry has suffered from cheap foreign imports and is now in decline, many of the major manufacturers of high-quality pottery still have headquarters in the area including Spode, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton. There are numerous factory shops dotted around the city, including the Potteries Shopping Centre, in Hanley.
Gladstone Pottery Museum is a popular tourist spot for all the family and features numerous activities including a chance to see the famous bottle kilns of the city. Also very popular is Burleigh, one of the last remaining fully working family-run Victorian potteries.
Trentham Gardens is a large public park area served by bus routes from the city centre (Hanley). There is a small admission charge, but various activities are available there such as a petting zoo and children's adventure playground. Depending on the weather it is also possible to rent boats and jet-ski's for fun on the expansive lakes and the natural beauty of the Gardens can be exquisite. "The Monkey Forest" with free-ranging Barbary macaques can also be found here but requires a separate admission fee (currently £5.50 for adults, £4.00 for children from 3 - 14 years, free for children under 3).
The City Museum and Art Gallery in Bethesda Street is well worth a visit, housing a world-class ceramics collection and also a preserved Spitfire, in memory of its designer, Reginald Mitchell, a native of Stoke.
Festival Park has a wealth of activities. There is a ski slope and toboggan run, ten-pin bowling, a large cinema, shopping, a canalside pub, Waterworld, a four-star hotel, and a large park created from the site of the National Garden Festival.
Stoke-on-Trent has a thriving gay community and the city centre features several bars and nightclubs aimed at the gay and lesbian individuals. The Three Tuns and the adjoining The Club are two of the most renowned gay venues in the city along with Bar Monique. They can be found east of Hanley Bus Station travelling towards Bucknall. Other bars and clubs include Pink Bar and Lounge, Number 3, Blush Cabaret Bar and to be opened in March 2008, The Waterboard.
There is a large purpose-built skateboarding park at Forest Park.
There are numerous theatres in the city. The Queens in Burslem, The Regent, Mitchell Memorial and Victoria Hall in Hanley, the New Vic in Basford, the rep at Stoke. The university campus (near Stoke railway station) has a public arts cinema that shows intelligent films.
Near to Stoke are the Keele Arboretum, Biddulph Grange Garden (The National Trust), Alton Towers (a giant theme park), and the Peak District National Park.Consall Hall landscaped gardens are nearby and in a beautiful setting.
The main shopping facilities are to be found in Hanley the City centre of Stoke-on-Trent. One would be able to find the usual high street stores and includes the second largest Primark in the United Kingdom. Shopping is not something that one would come to Stoke-on-Trent for, unless to visit the many pottery factory shops to buy ceramics. The city centre of Hanley offers nothing that cannot be found elsewhere, or cheaper online, however it still offers a wide range of stores which would fulfill the needs of any individual.
Most pottery factory shops will offer a postal delivery service, so that one does not have to carry fragile or heavy items onto a plane when returning home.
Stoke-on-Trent is renowned for a delicacy known as the Staffordshire Oatcake and many Oatcake shops can be found throughout the city. The oatcake resembles a pancake in look and is a mix of flour, oatmeal, salt, yeast and water. It is often served with melted cheese and a choice of either (or all!) sausage, bacon and tomatoes.
The pubs of Burslem are renowned, and The Leopard and The Bull's Head Inn are to be recommended as authentic English pubs.The Congress inn in the Longton area is a nice friendly real ale pub with a large choice of good beers as is The Malt n Hops in Fenton.
The George Hotel in Burslem is a fine hotel, and they have an interesting website too georgehotelstoke . co . uk The Stoke on Trent Moat House is a four-star hotel on Festival Park, part of which was originally the mansion of Josiah Wedgwood. The North Stafford Hotel is directly opposite the railway station, this hotel is adequate for sleeping arrangements only however the hotels restaurant is well known to give customers food poisoning. There is also a fine hotel, The George, in Burslem.
Stoke-on-Trent as a whole is a safe city. As with anywhere care must be taken especially at night, avoid walking alone especially in dark places. Pickpockets sometimes operate in the shopping areas of the city. The centres of Hanley and Newscastle-uder-Lyme are to be avoided late at night at weekends, due to the violent drunkeness seen in the streets. This is especially so if one looks somehow 'different'. The city has a high level of BNP support, and some visitors may encounter racial prejudice.
As with the rest of the UK, in any emergency call 999 or 112 (from a land-line if you can) and ask for Ambulance, Fire or Police when connected. It is free to call the Emergency Services from Payphones.
The locale of Stoke-on-Trent makes it ideal to visit other cities in the Midlands and North-West of England.
Birmingham can be reached on the M6 motorway heading southbound and takes roughly an hour to reach. There are hourly train services most of the day that cost about £12 return and in fifty minutes take one right into the heart of Birmingham (at New Street Station) with its Bull Ring Shopping Centre which features around 140 stores and is one of the largest shopping centres in Europe. Birmingham is home to Aston Villa Football Club, one of the oldest in England and one of the founders of the football league. Their stadium, Villa Park, lies on the outskirts of the city in Aston. They share a healthy rivalry with the more centrally located Birmingham City Football Club based at St. Andrews stadium.
Heading northbound on the M6 Motorway one can reach Manchester, the UK's third largest city (behind London and Birmingham) which is excellent for shopping and sightseeing. It also has one of the biggest gay and lesbian communities in the country. As with Birmingham, Manchester is roughly an hour away by car and cheap train fares are available which will take you right into the centre of the city. Old Trafford is the home of the world-renowned Manchester United Football Club and tours of the ground are available.
Liverpool is another location that is easily accessible from Stoke-on-Trent, being slightly north of Manchester and roughly a ninety minute journey by car. Cheap rail fares are available but often require a train change along the way and consequently can take up to two hours to reach. Liverpool is famous for its docklands, museums and being the home of The Beatles. It is also the home of the historic Liverpool Football Club.
The historic city of Nottingham lies to the east of Stoke-on-Trent and once again is easily accessible by car or train. Many coach operators run regular services to Nottingham taking around ninety minutes to two hours and details are available from the tourist information office at Hanley Bus Station. Nottingham is a city renowned for its beauty and medieval architecture and Robin Hood enthusiasts will find much to do there.
The county town of Stafford is a place to visit to sample traditional British life and culture. It is around twenty minutes from Stoke-on-Trent via car or train and bus services take around forty minutes from Hanley Bus Station. Stafford is known for its magnificent parks, architecture and its bustling yet traditional high street.