There is a wide range of fun-packed and interesting things to see and do in the heart of the UK, in the area known as The Black Country, on the outskirts of Birmingham, the UK’s second biggest city after London. The Black Country lies in the West Midlands, within easy reaching distance of both Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
The Black Country is quite a recent name and was given to the area because of the amount of industrial activity in the 18th century including steel mills, iron foundries and coalmines, which covered the surrounding area in soot.
The main conurbations in The Black Country are Dudley (sometimes referred to as the capital of The Black Country), Sandwell and Walsall. Although Wolverhampton falls slightly outside of the Black Country, some of its districts fall within the Black Country coalfields, causing some confusion as to whether or not the whole city should be considered to be part of The Black Country.
Dudley is often referred to as the capital of The Black Country and there are a number of fascinating things to do in the Dudley area, including a trip to Dudley Castle, home to Dudley Zoo, the Black Country Living Museum, The Leasowes and Himley Hall, Dudley Canal Tunnel and Limestone Mines, the Red House Glass Cone, as well as days out in the local nature reserves or take in some local sporting events.
For a day out, why not visit The Leasowes in Halesowen, near Dudley, a 57-hectare public park, with gardens that were originally designed by the poet William Shenstone, beginning in 1743 and ending in 1763. The gardens have a landscape of streams and lakes set amidst wooded valleys and open grassland. It is thought to be one of the first gardens to use a natural landscape setting, when other gardens at the time were being built to more formal designs. If you like parks and nature reserves, then pop along to Walsall and see the many parks and the arboretum.
Himley Hall, is a Palladian mansion situated between Kingswinford and Wombourne, with 180 acres of grounds designed by Capability Brown, with a great lake and a series of waterfalls. It is a premier events venue with a range of activities throughout the year, including classical vehicle shows and an annual bonfire night fireworks extravaganza.
The Black Country Living Museum is easily accessible by road, one mile from Dudley town centre, close to Junction 2 of the M5 motorway, and is well sign-posted. By train, it is one mile from Tipton Station on the Birmingham to Wolverhampton line; the nearest intercity station is Sandwell and Dudley. It is a large Open Air museum that authentically recreates the way we were in days gone by. Members of staff are dressed in costumes and take part in traditional activities. You can exchange your money for pre-decimalised currency of pounds, shilling and pence, and use it to buy traditional sweets and delicacies from a range of old-fashioned style shops. There are a range of authentic workshops, shops and houses to explore. Why not take a ride on the tram to explore the canal-side village, or explore the underground mine? There is a traditional style fairground to have fun on and a schoolroom where you can sit in wooden pews and experience a class as it would have been in the Victorian times. The museum is open throughout the year, with reduced hours in winter.
Dudley Zoological Gardens is a 40-acre zoo situated within the grounds of Dudley Castle with over 1000 animals from 200 species, ranging from lemurs to lions, Orangutans and tigers.
The Red House Cone is one of only four high conical brick structures used originally for the production of glass. It is now used as a museum with a range of craft shops, glass-blowing demonstrations, and a café.
On the outskirts of the Black Country lies Wolverhampton, which boasts a thriving Creative Industries Quarter, including the Light House Media Centre. It is also home to the Wolverhampton Art Gallery, a Grade II listed building which houses a small selection of Old Masters and a collection of Bilston enamels, from nearby Bilston and a collection of japanned artefacts or Asian lacquerwork. There was a large demand for japanned ware in the 18th Century and Bilston and Wolverhampton were significant areas in its production.
There are a number of Nature Reserves to visit in The Black Country, including: Bumble Hole and Warrens Hall Local Nature Reserve, Barrow Hill Local Nature Reserve, Wren’s Nest National Nature Reserve, Cotwall End Local Nature Reserve, Saltwell’s Nature Reserve and Buckpools and Fens Pools Nature Reserve.
Dudley Museum and Art Gallery includes a collection of 19th and 20th century collection of oil paintings as well as a range of fossils, with a geological collection that contains over 15,000 specimens of rock, fossils and minerals, including the famous “Dudley Bug”, the local Calymeme Blumenbachii trilobite from the local Silurian rocks.
There are lots of things to do in the Black Country and Wolverhampton for sports enthusiasts. Wolverhampton Racecourse is at Dunstall Park , to the North and greyhound racing can be enjoyed at Monmore Green. Also at Monmore Green is Wolverhampton Wolves, one of the UK’s leading Speedway Clubs. Football fans can follow Wolverhampton Wanderers, one of the UK’s oldest football clubs, who play at the city’s Molineux Stadium. Or watch West Bromwich Albion play at their pitch, The Hawthorns on the Birmingham Road in West Bromwich.
There are a number of leisure centres in The Black Country, including Dudley Leisure Centre, Crystal Leisure Centre and Halesowen Leisure Centre if you want to take a swim or take part in a sport.
The many canals in the area that were once used to transport heavy cargo are now transformed into a peaceful haven where you can walk or cycle along restored towpaths. Why not take part in one of Dudley Canal Trust Trips and experience over 420 million years of history in just 45 minutes with a narrow-boat trip through limestone caverns, with mannequins demonstrating how life was for the miners. Watch the music and light show in the Singing Cavern and pass through 2 tunnels and 2 locks.
For those who enjoy some retail therapy, both Wolverhampton and Dudley boast a wide range of shopping outlet, with the latest range of department stores and the Merry Hill Shopping Mall complex in Dudley, the largest shopping centre in the West Midlands, with over 200 shops.