Stoke yourself up for some real adventure
Takes his family to Staffordshire to experience some of the best attractions in the UK...
IF the industrial history of pottery is not really your thing, you’d be forgiven for glazing over at the prospect of a weekend in Stoke.
But throw down those preconceptions and the Staffordshire Potteries can be the perfect destination for a fun-filled family trip.
Less than an hour’s drive away from Manchester (allowing for the M6 roadworks), Stoke is at the heart of some of the best attractions in the country for families with young kids.
Alton Towers, Monkey Forest and Trentham Gardens Estate are all within casting distance of the Potteries.
We booked ourselves into a family room in a city centre hotel and started our spin around Stoke’s tourist trail. Alton Towers For decades, Alton Towers has been Britain’s number one theme park and with the addition of CBeebies Land in 2014 the attraction now caters for kids of all ages.
The horror-themed TH13TEEN ride is dizzyingly good. The creepy soundtrack pumping out of the speakers started off sounding eerily atmospheric but was beginning to grate slightly by the time we got to the front of the line.
However, the ingenious twist in the tail-end of the ride caught us completely by surprise and gave a huge adrenaline rush.
Galactica is another one of the Alton Towers ‘Big Six’ rides which more than lives up to its billing.
Away from the screams of the main rides, CBeebies Land offers a change of pace but retains the high standards.
Our three-year-old was enthralled and delighted by the journey along the waterways of the In The Night Garden boat ride and looking down from the Get Set Go Treetop Adventure. Monkey Forest For our second day in Stoke, we visited Monkey Forest in Trentham, about 15 minutes’ drive from the city centre hotel. Here, visitors step through a gate and enter another world.
More than 140 Barbary macaques live freely within the 60-acre woodland, swinging from the trees and ambling around on the grass.
To the delight of the kids, human visitors are also welcomed in and allowed to walk freely among the monkeys, which are often just a few feet away gazing curiously back at their guests.
Monkey Forest rivals any zoo or safari park we have visited for the sheer thrill of being so close to monkeys living as they would in the wild. Trentham Gardens Estate It’s just a five-minute drive from the car park at Monkey Forest plus a stroll through a ‘shopping village’ of retail and food outlets to reach the entrance of the Trentham Gardens Estate. Trentham Hall was once one of the grandest country houses in England with gardens originally designed by Capability Brown and spreading over 300 acres.
The hall is now derelict but the 19th century gardens have been brought back to life in recent years as part of a £120m restoration project and attract three million visitors a year.
Facing the large lake is the Italian garden with its formal geometric pathways and delicate out-of-bound flower beds, all undeniably impressive but less than ideal for visitors trying to keep three young children in check.
However, keep going round the lake and just beyond the rose bushes is a large adventure playground set among the trees and close to a cafe with toilet and picnic area.
There’s also a toddlers’ section newly opened in 2017 with sandpits and nautical-themed climbing frames.
Even at the busiest times, there is plenty of space for the kids to take turns on the slides and swings while their parents relax in the shade with a coffee. Where to stay Finding a hotel room big enough for a family-offive is not always easy but there was just about enough space for our tribe at the Best Western Plus Stoke-on-Trent Moat House. Children under 12 stay and eat for free at the hotel when accompanied by an adult and we were well fed staying in the hotel restaurant for our breakfast and dinner.
The four star hotel was built just over 25 years ago right next door to historic Etruria Hall and is a sprawling complex with spa, swimming pool and conference centre.
A glass walkway connects the hotel to the grand structure of Etruria Hall, which was the home of Stoke’s most famous potter Josiah Wedgewood, founder of the Wedgewood company.
Josiah built his pottery works here in 1769, naming it after the vase-painting Etruscan civilization of ancient Italy and this suburb of Stoke is still known as Etruria.
We didn’t come to potter around relics, but any visitors wishing to further fire their interest will find plenty of industrial museums on Stoke’s Ceramics Trail.
The new adventure playground at Trentham Estate. Right, the Th13teen ride at Alton Towers