Travelling from the south to the north of Staffordshire you get the sense that you’re leaving the Midlands and arriving in the North of England.
The landscapes change from dairy pastures to the untamed sandstone moors of the Peak District.
Staffordshire’s two cities, Stoke and Lichfield couldn’t be more different: Stoke is earthy and industrial, and has a hard-earned reputation for craftsmanship, while Lichfield is historic and cultured, the birthplace of Samuel Johnson.
If you have teenagers in your clan the theme parks at Alton Towers and Drayton Manor are two of Britain’s most popular days out, and ale connoisseurs can drink to many generations of brewing knowhow in Burton and Stone.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Staffordshire:
You could make the case for Lichfield to be one of England’s most beautiful towns.
There are many streets of sublime 18th-century architecture, and the breathtaking Lichfield Cathedral, built in the 13th century and the only medieval cathedral anywhere to have three spires.
Lichfield has brains as well as beauty, as two of 18th-century Britain’s cultural heavyweights are associated with the city.
The writer Samuel Johnson was born here in 1709, and is considered among Britain’s greatest men of letters.
Johnson’s birthplace has been preserved as a museum, while the home of the polymath Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) is a enthralling museum in a beautiful property.
A complete contrast to Lichfield, Stoke, in the north of the county, has a gritty character but is no less appealing if you know what you’re looking for.
Stoke is actually a federation of six different but contiguous towns, and its claim to fame for hundreds of years has been the pottery industry.
This has faded since the Second World War, but brands like Royal Doulton and Wedgwood are still based here.
The Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton is a functioning coal-fired pottery, with the signature bottle kilns that used to pepper the landscape.
Go deeper at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, which has exquisite displays of local ceramics, but also has some of the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest cache of Anglo-Saxon metalwork ever discovered.
The county town is a small but attractive place crammed with historical buildings, and with elegant country houses like Shugborough Estate and Sandon Hall minutes from the centre.
On the pedestrianised Greengate Street, Stafford’s main shopping artery, feast your eyes on the Ancient High House.
This remarkable four-storey cantilevered house was built in 1594 and the carpenters’ marks etched into the timbers indicate that they had once belonged to an even older house.
Charles I stayed at this very property in 1643, shortly after the start of the Civil War.
A siege took place at Stafford Castle in this war, and once it fell into Parliamentarian hands it was pulled down.
Staffordshire’s second-largest town has been around for a very long time, and was the capital of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, which took up almost all of central England in the 8th century.
The majestic Tamworth Castle, perched above the confluence of the Anker and Tame rivers has Anglo-Saxon origins, having been fortified by the Mercian Queen Æthelflæd and then rebuilt by the Normans.
Now it’s one of the most complete original motte and bailey castles in England.
Tamworth’s old town is replete with lovely period properties, many now housing independent shops.
5. Peak District
Staffordshire has the southwestern corner of this National Park, and the area is known as the Staffordshire Moorlands.
There’s a load of individual beauty spots to visit and an inexhaustible choice of footpaths, bridleways and cycling tracks wending through the brooding moors.
Rudyard Lake is an 18th-century water reservoir created to feed the Caldon Canal.
The Victorians turned it into a little resort, and, with its wooded hillsides and miniature steam railway, it’s still a big draw today . The writer Rudyard Kipling, whose parents were frequent visitors, was named after Rudyard Lake.
As Staffordshire’s last town before the Peak District, Leek is a tourist-friendly destination welcoming walkers and anyone enticed by the blend of verdant countryside and wild moorland all around.
The town itself is a former centre for the silk and textiles industries.
These granted Leek a host of dignified Georgian and Victorian buildings, best seen at the Market Place which is a pleasure to wander around for a while.
One of Leek’s most imposing buildings is the old Nicholson Institute, and inside is a museum with, among other things, an assortment of the embroideries that won the town fame in the 19th century.
For awesome rocky scenery there’s the Roaches, a sandstone ridge above the Tittesworth Reservoir, and the Manifold Way on the route of an old train line past limestone rock formations.
A coal town for hundreds of years, Cheadle switched to high-tech manufacturing in the 1990s, although none of this industry intrudes on the picturesque town centre.
The standout landmark in Cheadle is St Giles’ Catholic Church, one of the definitive examples of 19th-century gothic revival architecture.
It was designed by Augustus Pugin, who also designed London’s Houses of Parliament and took responsibility for even the tiniest decorative details, which grants this building a coherence that is hard to find anywhere else.
Being on the edge of the Peak District Cheadle is in prime walking country, while the old Foxfield Steam Railway also courses through the region and is a glorious way to experience the countryside of northeastern Staffordshire.
8. Burton upon Trent
From the 1700s, Burton’s presence on the navigable Trent and England’s growing canal network helped it become one of Europe’s big brewing towns.
Burton’s ales were soon delivered across the country and also exported to the Baltic states.
The National Brewery Centre is set in what was once the brewery for Bass ale, and give you fascinating insights about how beer-making developed in this part of England.
There are also stables with shire horses, a variety famous for its “feathered legs” and bred to transport barrels of ale.
On the north side of the town is something you won’t find very often: A completely restored Victorian public utility.
In this case, the Claymills Pumping Station, which once pumped sewage with the help of four large beam pumping engines.
There has been a market in Newcastle since 1173 and in the 21st century it’s still flourishing.
Safe to say the town wouldn’t be the same without it, as the high street market runs six days a week.
The best days to visit are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays when the general market trades cheese, meat, fruit and vegetables and well as hot food like freshly baked pies.
There is acres of well-tended green space around the town, and Newcastle has been recognised by the Britain in Bloom campaign for its flowery parks and roundabouts.
Drama fans should find out what’s on at the New Vic Theatre, which became the first ever purpose-built Theatre in the Round (a stage entirely encircled by seating) when it opened in 1986.
On the southern side of Stoke, the village of Trentham is best-known for the Trentham Estate, which was dominated by a magnificent hall up to the 20th century when it was torn down.
The hall’s clock tower, church and sculpture gallery survived and offer a sense of the splendour of the estate.
The Italianate gardens backing onto the River Trent are still here too, and are fabulous, boasting formal lawns, stone vases and balustrades.
Also wildly popular is the Trentham Monkey Forest, an exceptional animal attraction in which some 140 Barbary macaques live in semi-freedom in the boughs of woodland above your head.
Established in 1759, Wedgwood is probably the most prestigious name in English ceramics, producing porcelain and fine china.
The Wedgwood Estate covers almost 100 hectares, and is a place where you could easily lose a day if you’re into decorative art.
You’ll be shown around the factory to see time-honoured skills in action, and learn about the storied history of the Wedgwood family at the museum.
The Wedgwood factory shop is also on the estate and has discounts on the retail price, and there are tea rooms naturally using Wedgwood china.
A brief drive down the road and you’ll reach Barlaston Golf Club, on the banks of the Trent and rated as one of the best courses in the county.
Like Burton, the town of Stone has a brewing legacy that can be charted back to the 1700s.
There were two big brewers in the town, harnessing the exceptional water quality of Stone’s springs and then using the Trent & Mersey Canal for distribution.
The old brewers have shut down, but you can get a good look at the solemn brick warehouse of Joule’s Brewery beside the canal, which is now popular with narrowboat holidaymakers.
The craft beer trend has prompted a rebirth of the industry in Stone: The new Lymestone Brewery is only too happy to show you how they make their ales and uses the old facilities at Bents, one of Stone’s defunct breweries.
Every year there’s a county-wide competition to pick the “best-kept” village in Staffordshire, and in 2015 and 2016 Haughton has come out on top.
This sense of pride is obvious at Christmas when the residents decorate their homes with lavish light displays to raise money for charity.
The countryside is dairy pasture bounded by hedgerows.
The Red Lion Farm makes ice cream containing milk produced on site by a herd of Jersey Cows.
You can introduce little ones to the farm’s cows, goats, horses and alpacas, and book a table at the restaurant that has a menu with lots of ingredients that come right from the farm.
In the east of the county, Uttoxter is a market town by the River Dove and folded into a green landscape.
The meadows by the river are particularly lush, and after a ramble through the local countryside you’ll note that dairy farming has a role to play in Uttoxeter’s economy.
One local boy made good was Joseph Cyril Bamford, whose initials are given to the JCB construction machinery company, known for their excavators and founded just after the Second World War.
The JCB plant is in Rocester near Uttoxeter and offers tours.
If you’re in town in March you could go and see the Midlands Grand National, a steeplechase run at Uttoxeter Racecourse and the most valuable meeting on the calendar.
In hilly north Staffordshire, this twee old village of sandstone cottages on a few sloping streets betrays few signs of the gigantic attraction that is right on its doorstep.
Alton Towers is in the grounds of the former home of the Earls of Shrewsbury and also occupies the site of the Alton’s former copper works.
It would usually be placed in the top ten-attended theme parks in Europe but for a well-documented accident in 2015. If that doesn’t put you off then you can make the most of the shorter queues for a massive range of splash rides, rollercoasters, themed shows and an indoor water park, for the next couple of years at least!