Birmingham defies expectations. It is one of the UK’s best-kept secrets, a green city crisscrossed with canals and parks which is easy to fall in love with – but there is so much more beneath the surface waiting to be found by the keen explorer.
Think you know Birmingham? Here are our five favourite hidden gems scattered around the city which you might not be aware of…
Where better to start a list of Birmingham’s hidden gems that with a tour of the city’s Jewellery Quarter?
When the owners of Smith & Pepper retired in 1981, they simply closed the door, locked it and never looked back. As well as clearly being the ideal way to retire, this act also had the happy side effect of preserving perfectly a historic jewellery workshop in the heart of Birmingham which is now a museum.
At one time, 40% of all jewellery sold in the UK was made in Birmingham, and this museum gives you a close up look at exactly how it was all done. See the tools of the trade, watch live demonstrations of how jewellery is made and discover Birmingham’s incredible heritage.
From jewels, we move onto gold – the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, in fact. The Staffordshire Hoard is made up of hundreds of individual pieces which were buried in the Birmingham area approximately 1,400 years ago.
Ranging from exquisite jewellery to an extremely rare and beautiful helmet, visitors can find out about the impressive craftsmanship behind the hoard and the story of how it links Birmingham to the rest of ancient Europe.
Birmingham is also home to some of the country’s most beautiful natural treasures, and first among these is Saltwells Local Nature Reserve. Planted in the 18th century by Lady Dudley, Saltwells is now one of the UK’s largest urban nature reserves and is used as a model by the UNESCO Man and Biosphere project.
Covering almost 250 acres, Saltwells is home to 16 species of dragonfly at the tranquil Daphne Pool; rare tree creepers, jays and great spotted woodpeckers making their homes in the old stands of beech and oak; and carpets of bluebells and wild garlic complemented by graceful anemones and delicate orchids.
It is hard to imagine a better-hidden escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Everyone has heard of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but maybe you haven’t been to visit the Birmingham equivalent. This is a place with no shortage of local heroes, and the Walk of Stars is the city’s way of celebrating them.
Stars for a whole range of figures including Lenny Henry, Ozzy Osbourne, Ellie Simmonds, Malkit Singh, Julie Walters and the Birmingham Royal Ballet brighten up Broad Street and showcase the city’s cultural heritage.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. When you hear ‘Lord of the Rings tour’, you see New Zealand in your head – but the inspiration for story came from somewhere a lot closer to home.
While this isn’t strictly a tour, fans will find a lot they recognise in sites like Sarehole Mill, Shire Country Park, Moseley Bog, Perrott’s Folly and Edgbaston Waterworks Tower. All were familiar to Tolkien in his childhood and stayed with him throughout his life, eventually being immortalised in his novels.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien wrote, “all that is gold does not glitter…”. It is an adaptation of an ancient poem for a fantasy world, but he could just as well have been writing about Birmingham.
This is a city which rewards any effort made to explore its depths, and hopefully this list provides some good places to start.