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What to do in North Staffordshire, from pottery throwing to mountain climbing

Between the pillars of its industrial past, Staffordshire’s rural north offers scenic lakes, easy canal paths and epic hikes on the outskirts of the Peaks.

By Caroline Butterwick
Published 2 Oct 2021, 06:11 BST
 Tittesworth Water, near Leek. The market town, on the edge of the Peak District, makes an ...

 Tittesworth Water, near Leek. The market town, on the edge of the Peak District, makes an excellent starting point for exploring the country's rural north. 

Photograph by Getty Images

Why go

It’s perhaps fair to say North Staffordshire’s best-known attraction is Alton Towers, with its thrills and spills, but this sometimes-overlooked part of the Midlands has plenty to offer travellers after a little less high-octane activity. Fans of Channel 4's The Great Pottery Throw Down will already know of the county’s starring role as the location for the show, and indeed, there's an abundance of museums and factory tours that explore North Staffordshire's world-renowned ceramic heritage. Signs of its manufacturing heyday are everywhere, not least in the distinctive-shaped bottle kilns that still punctuate the landscape; there are 47 of the factories in the city of Stoke-on-Trent alone.

Away from the potteries, however, and the county’s bucolic charms become clear. Fuel up on the local delicacy of Staffordshire oatcakes — savoury pancakes made with oats — before tracing the walking routes that ribbon the county’s north. Towpaths lead walkers alongside canals that played a pivotal role in the area’s industry, passing through the perfect mix of city and rolling green countryside, while the Staffordshire patch of the Peak District provides days' worth of trails to try. 

What to do

Set in the Staffordshire Moorlands, the market town of Leek is the perfect place to get your bearings, as well as rummage through its wealth of independent cafés and shops. The author Rudyard Kipling was named after nearby Rudyard Lake, where you can hire a rowing boat or walk around the lapping waters. If you’re after more scenery, Leek is also well positioned for exploring the Peak District. Try the moorland hike up The Roaches, with stretches of purple heather beating in the breeze. Listen out for red grouse, buzzards, and sparrowhawks as you trek to the top of the 1,657ft ridge and take in the expansive views that reach as far as Snowdon on a clear day. Reward yourself with a plate of oatcakes at Roaches Tea Rooms.

It would be remiss not to delve into North Staffordshire’s proud history of pottery. The 18th-century potter Josiah Wedgwood was born in Burslem, in the north of Stoke-on-Trent, and his world-renowned ceramics were produced in the city. Visit the World of Wedgwood in Barlaston, where you can join a factory tour to see just what goes into making ceramics today. There's a chance to get stuck in and throw your own pot in the clay studio. Stay for afternoon tea — served on Wedgwood china, of course.

Where to eat

No.26 at Aston Marina, in the town of Stone, has an extensive menu including flatbread pizzas and spiced samosas. Eat outdoors and watch the barges ease past on the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Whether for a cappuccino and cake or tapas accompanied by live music, The Quarter in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent always a hit with locals. The sharing platters are particularly good, ranging from seafood with garlic prawns and Chinese salmon fillet to the all-vegan option featuring patatas bravas and quesadillas. 

Don’t miss

Be sure to give yourself a couple of hours in the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. Here you'll find the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver treasure ever found, and the museum is a fascinating way to learn about life in the seventh century. Naturally, there's an extensive ceramics exhibit, too, exploring the history of ceramics and the ways the pottery industry has shaped the area. 

We like

While away the day at Trentham Estate, just outside Stoke-on-Trent. In the shadow of the ruined manor, indulge in an al fresco cream tea or stroll around the mile-long lake, swaddled in gardens designed by Capability Brown. The shopping village has a range of shops and restaurants, from decadent desserts at The Crepe & Waffle House to Mediterranean-inspired meals at Willow restaurant. Keep an eye out for the steel-wire fairy sculptures dotted about the estate or, for the more daring, try the Treetop Adventures high ropes course. No visit is complete without a stroll through the Monkey Forest, where 140 Barbary macaques wander freely among the trees.

Where to stay

On the edge of the Peak District near Leek, the Three Horseshoes Country Inn & Spa is an ideal base for exploring the area. There's a variety of rooms, including Garden Rooms featuring private patios and hot tubs. The restaurant uses local ingredients to cook up comforting British classics, while the onsite spa is wonderful for relaxing after a long country walk. Doubles from £120 per night, room only.

Published in the October 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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