If you’re a regular reader of Edits Of Jo, then you’ll know that I’ve recently started a Local’s Guide to Series to end 2018 with a bang and hopefully give you some travel inspiration for 2019. I often find that the best travel tips come from those who are local to the area. I’m thrilled to have a fellow publishing pal, Sam, feature on the blog this week. He’s written about his hometown of Stafford, which I’ll be honest is completely uncharted territory for me! After reading his post though, it’s definitely somewhere I’ll be adding to my UK travel list for 2018 and hopefully somewhere you’ll be adding to your bucket list too.
OVER TO SAM AND HIS TOP 5 STAFFORD HIGHLIGHTS…
Stafford. Most of you reading this are probably thinking “I have absolutely no idea where that is”, but on the off chance you do know Stafford, or have even been (yay!), I’d love to know what people think of my little home town from the perspective of someone who isn’t a local, so do tweet me @Samj234. Fortunately for you dear reader, if you haven’t had the pleasure of stuffing your face with oatcakes (not the Scottish ones) and strolling through Victoria Park, I’m here to give you the top 5 highlights of things to see, eat and visit in Stafford.
Victoria Park is an absolute must for me if you’re visiting Stafford. If ever I have friends visiting, this is usually the first place we go because it’s such a beautiful park; perfect for lazing around in with a book during the summer. If you’re arriving by train, you’ll find Victoria Park directly opposite the station, giving you the perfect excuse for a stroll through on the way into the town centre.
Built in 1908, the Edwardian park houses an aviary, band stand, play area and a bowling green which can be found on either side of the River Sow flowing through the park. Admittedly, Victoria Park isn’t the biggest of parks, but it regularly attracts families and couples to the area and is definitely worth a visit. If you have young kids, the play area at the Stafford College end of Victoria Park would be great to keep them occupied for a few hours. The play area was recently renovated in 2011 with ongoing plans to renovate and rejuvenate the area for locals and tourists alike to maintain its position as the best park in the town. Like all good parks, you’re free to come and go as you please. But do be aware that the park shuts in the afternoon during the winter months, just in case you don’t fancy jumping the fence to get out!
The Ancient High House
If you’re a bit of a History fan like myself and want to learn more about Stafford’s past, the Ancient High House is for you. Despite the relentless school trips to the museum, I’ve never tired of visiting here so much so that I still try to drop in for a quick reminisce if I’m at home for a few days.
So what actually is this piece of stunning Tudor architecture? Found in the middle of the high street before Market Square, the Ancient High House is the oldest surviving town house in Britain, built in 1595 for the wealthy Dorrington family. Since it became open to the public in 1986,it now serves as a museum to tell the story of Stafford throughout the ages. Each room is dedicated to an era from the Stuarts in the early 17th Century up until the close of the Victorian era in 1901, giving a series of snapshots into Stafford’s past as a royal burgh.
The Ancient High House is sewn into the fabric of Britain’s history. The house is most famous for its small role during the English Civil War when the Dorrington family welcomed King Charles I and his nephew Prince Rupert in 1642 for a brief stay in the town. During their visit, Prince Rupert is alleged to have shot the weather vane off St. Mary’s Church to test his accuracy and was never replaced. The weather vane’s remains can be seen from a back bedroom window in the Ancient High House.
The Ancient High House is a gem if you’re on a budget as it’s free to enter, and more importantly a great way to spend an afternoon!
Oatcakes and Milkshakes
By the time you’ve had a mosey around the town, you’re likely feeling peckish and there’s no better place to go than Oatcakes and Milkshakes. Here you can get your hands on a local delicacy, loved by locals and tourists alike, Staffordshire oatcakes. Not to be confused with the Scottish variety, Staffordshire oatcakes are best described as a kind of savoury pancake that can be eaten with a combination of bacon, sausage, cheese, mushrooms, or tomato. There’s no real restriction to what you can or cannot put in an oatcake, but these are the typical options most locals choose.
They may not be much to look at, but they are without doubt a Staffordian classic. The café is almost constantly full, so I’d recommend heading for an early lunch or a late afternoon treat to avoid the queues if you’re keen to get stuck in!
If like myself every time I go to Stafford, you want to fill your suitcase with oatcakes to take home (who could blame you?), you can find them in the large supermarkets throughout Stafford, most of which can be found in the town centre. I’ve had friends from as far as Kent and Aberdeen ask for Staffordshire oatcakes when we meet up, so the people can’t be wrong! Well worth testing out what Oatcakes and Milkshakes has to offer and rolling out the door afterwards.
Stafford Shakespeare Festival
For those of you who love a bit of theatre in general and Shakespeare in particular, I would certainly recommend timing your trip to coincide with Stafford’s annual Shakespeare Festival. Established in 1991, the Shakespeare Festival has become a staple of cultural life in Stafford, holding its annual open air production in the grounds of Stafford Castle. The festival’s popularity has gone from strength to strength, especially in the last 5 years or so, as it has started to garner greater local attention. A record breaking 11,000 visitors snapped up tickets in 2018 to see Macbeth, almost 3000 more than attended the 2017 production of The Tempest, a testament to the festival’s growing popularity.
In recent years, the Stafford Shakespeare Festival has performed classics such as Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream,Othello and most prominently Macbeth in 2018 that attracted their largest crowds to date. With 2019’s production yet to be announced, I’m personally hoping for The Merchant of Venice or Richard III as they’re two of my favourite Shakespearean plays. If you’re interested, you can keep up to date with festival announcements here.
Most of you will have already spotted Stafford Castle as the backdrop to Stafford’s Shakespeare Festival above. Stafford Castle is the most iconic landmark in the town and has been an ever present feature of its skyline since being built by the Normans in the 1070’s. I was once told by my history teacher at school that the castle was originally been built so that it could be seen from anywhere in the town to act as a symbol of Robert Stafford’s power over the burgh. Unfortunately with high-rise flats and the loss of its prominent towers, featured below, this isn’t always the case anymore, but still the views from the castle are worth the climb up the hill.
Frustratingly the castle has fallen into disrepair on several occasions throughout its 900 years of existence, and is now much diminished from its original state. Even though the castle is no longer in its prime,there is plenty to explore including the Visitor Centre and a plethora of information boards peppered throughout the grounds to teach you about the once great castle’s history. Here you can get to grips with Robert of Stafford and his descendants (who still live in the area), as well as the castle’s involvement in the Norman Conquest to the English Civil Wars and beyond. Another must for the history fans. You even have the chance to get your hands on medieval weapons, armour and costumes if you’re feeling super enthusiastic! Entry into the castle’s grounds is completely free, but you may want to catch the bus for this trip as the castle is located on the edge of town.
FINAL NOTE FROM GUEST BLOGGER, SAM JOHNSON
Hello! I’m Sam, and firstly I must admit that I’m not the most experienced of bloggers, so I hope you enjoy having a little read about Stafford and what my unassuming hometown has to offer. I’ve loved having the opportunity to write more (thanks Jo!), so who knows, maybe I’ll start writing blogs more often after this. If you’re interested in what I’ve got to say, or you’d like me to contribute to your blog, you can find me on Twitter at @SamJ234.