I tend to describe myself as a Northerner even though I'm not really, because it's easier than saying I'm a Midlander and then having people think I'm from Birmingham.
I can have some sympathy with this, people don't seem to write books called going to the middle and if they go there it tends to be like Charles Jenning in Up North! to Birmingham (before any of you Northerners get irritated, like one Amazon reviewer, that Birmingham is not Up North the book is subtitled Travels North of the Watford gap).
Unlike the North the Midlands is dominated by a single city. Think the midlands and you think Birmingham and its accent. The problems is what is the midlands? If you think about it it will include the following:
- Lincolnshire (or at least part of it),
- Nottinghamshire (a county I don't really know well)
- Leicestershire (another county I don't really know well)
- Oxfordshire (apparently)
- Northamptonshire (or at least a part of it)
- and Birmingham
Lets take an example. For your average traveller Derbyshire is the peak district and the peak district is gorgeous. So Derbyshire is a nice county. Nottinghamshire? what does the average person know of Nottinghamshire. Uh thinks, Nottingham! And apparently there's a lot of gun crime there oh so its a bit of a dump. Lincolnshire is also a bit of a dump isn't it ? A bit flat?
Now I don't know Nottinghamshire that well but I do know it contains the Dukeries . And part of that is the lovely Clumber Park. Nottinghamshire is Derbyshire neighbour and I do know that as you cross the border it doesn't suddenly become stunning scenery. Actually you think what a dump and then you arrive at Bakewell and Buxton and think ooh lovely.
I mentioned Lincolnshire as a bit of a dump to see if CP is awake. Lincolnshire is not a dump its just bloody confusing. North Lincolnshire feels Northern, Barton on Humber I expected to HATE but actually thought it looked a decent place to live (she'll tell me I'm mistaken) certainly preferable to another Lincs town I'm about to mention. As you head down you arrive at the likes of Market Rasen, Grantham, Boston and Gainsborough (which is a dump) which all feel midlands to me. And by the time you reach Stamford it feels different again. Its confusing, yeah the East is flat but at least they keep there Churches open (are you listening Nottinghamshire??).
Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire are sort of midlands or at least in part. Or are they? I really don't believe Oxfordshire is the midlands, it feels much more Southern in places than Essex (we'll do that soon enough) and though Corby is a Midlands town I have trouble thinking of Northamptonshire as the midlands. Probably because its lovely villages are full of Londoners no doubt.
Warwickshire is the midlands but its very genteel. Oh it includes Coventry (the Luftwaffe only destroyed the place we built the damn thing that replaced it), sorry i've been to Coventry for a few hours and I thought it a dump (prejudice or what, I've spent the same amount of time in Derby and liked it!!) and it used to contain the big car plants but generally, once you get away from the cities, Warwickshire is very nice with some fine villages and small market towns, part of it is the Cottswolds for goodness sake!
North of Warwickshire you get to Birmingham and the Black Country and what people mean by the Midlands. The accents are dense, the people nice enough but its bleak. If you want to know what I mean drive to Lichfield from the south (a nice small city, worth a visit for the area around the cathedral). As I headed North into Staffordshire for the first time I thought WHAT A DUMP, but as I headed out of Lichfield I thought ooh this is quite nice. Go figure. The stereotypical midlands is just bleak.
To the west of Birmingham you get to Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. And you know what I like the lot! Oh Worcestershire has the odd rummy town but it has its fair share of nice villages, small market towns and rolling hills. Shropshire must be one of Britain's least discovered counties and long may it remain, if you have paid attention you will remember my tour earlier in the year. Herefordshire is delightful, no one lives there (its only "big" town is Hereford and that would be nothing in most counties) it has lovely villages and small towns and the scenery is to die for (the Golden valley).
So my quick guide to the midlands. We have East Anglia, the South East and the South West to come.