Stoke-on-Trent , a city at the heart of England, U.K. In a nutshell, this is the World’s largest and most famous pottery (ceramic) producing city. Although much of this industry has now been outsourced to overseas operators, it is still the largest manufacturing employer in the city. Historians think it probably became such a significant skill for this area due to the availability of coal and clay along with Stoke being right in the middle of those important Industrial Revolution conurbations – Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.

Much evidence of its industrial past still exists to this day and probably the five most important reference points, from a tourist’s point of view, can be found at
www.stoke.gov.uk                  The local government Council

www.visit stoke.co.uk           The local tourist information site

www.thepotteries.org             Local historians describe and explain their city

www.thesentinel.co.uk          The city’s newspaper site

www.bbc.co.uk/stoke             The city’s BBC radio station

Getting to the city

By road we are close to the M6 motorway, the busiest in Britain because it links most of the large ex-industrial centres of the North. From junction 15 of the M6 (if travelling from the South) or junction 16 of the M6 (if travelling from the North) it is just a few minutes into Stoke-on-Trent.

The train service from London to Stoke-on-Trent is run by Virgin Trains. They are very fast and clean, Virgin is the company run by Richard Branson who also runs Virgin Airlines. They are popular though so can get busy, the best fares are those purchased in advance and don't forget to reserve seats. Timetable at :
http://www.virgintrains.co.uk

The London to Manchester Virgin Trains route passes through Stoke-on-Trent. Their website even has a small feature on Stoke-on-Trent :
http://www.virgintrains.co.uk/citygui...

National Express coaches also stop at Stoke-on-Trent [Hanley] between Manchester and Birmingham.

Getting around the city

The main local bus company's teleophone enquiries line is 0871 200 2233 and they displays all their routes and timetables at :

http://www.firstgroup.com/ukbus/north...

The potteries

This is the nickname that the city is known by around the World. The pottery tours are very enjoyable where genuine bargains can be picked up – fancy porcelain or china perhaps – and all purchased for a fraction of what they might cost in a shop. Some of the the main ones are :

http://www.wedgwoodmuseum.org.uk/home

http://www.emmabridgewater.co.uk/Come...   youtube presentation of this company at : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifcb0t...

http://www.portmeirion.co.uk/template...

http://www.moorcroft.com/

http://www.stoke.gov.uk/ccm/navigatio...


To move from one part of the potteries to another however does require some planning. This is because the city was, until federation in 1910, actually six separate towns. (Although the local author Arnold Bennett referred to them as ‘the five towns’ !) So, you might be forgiven for thinking that a small to medium sized city of a quarter of a million people is going to be easy to navigate around – in reality it is actually quite spread out.

Hanley [City Centre]

This is the main shopping area and has all the usual chain stores as well as many independent traders.

Stoke-upon-Trent Town Centre

This is the town after which the City is named.  It is a few hundred metres from the main rail station and the North Stafford Hotel.  It is often overlooked by tourists but has much to offer and is compact in size.  Historic Stoke Minster is a short walk from the station.  Stoke has the historic former Spode works which is currently open only occasionally.  The factory shut a few years ago and the local authority is currently developing new uses for the site.  There have been artistic events on site and in Autumn 2011 the Ceramics Bicentennial will be held there.  There are many independent traders and a market is held on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday each week.  There is also the headquarters, pot bank [pottery factory] and factory shop of Portmeirion Ceramics.  Over the last few years Stoke has become well known in the area for many good pubs and nightlife.  They nearly all serve high quality real ales.  Recently refurbished "The Glebe" and "The White Star" are run by local breweries.  The "Famous Lion" is well known for its evening entertainment at weekends.  "Grays Corner", "Kings Arms" and "Staff of Life" are more traditional local Stoke hostelries.  Most of the pubs do food at various times during the day.  The town has for many years been renowned for its restaurants.  These mainly serve Indian/Pakistani/Bengladeshi/Balti cuisine.  There are two branches of the famous "Sangam" - well it is famous throughout the area!  Also to be recommended are "Planet Bollywood", "Rose of Kashmir" and "Taj Mahal".  Recently opened is the wonderful "Apple's Coffee House" which in addition to good coffee offers authentic Thai snacks.

Green areas within the City

Stoke-on-Trent today is transformed from the dirty industrial city of 50 years ago.  There are many green areas which locals enjoy.  For tourists perhaps the best areas to explore are the canals and rivers which wind their ways throughout the city.  Many are now easily accessible on foot or cycle.  There are also many hidden areas of tranquility between each of the six towns and their suburbs.

Accommodation

There is plenty of choice in the city, we have two Holiday Inns and Travelodge chain hotels can be found at local road intersections. Traditionally, the North Stafford Hotel was favoured by business class visitors because it was situated conveniently opposite the city’s main rail station.
http://www.hotelnorthstafford.co.uk/

Also, the Quality Hotel (formerly the Grand Hotel) in Hanley was viewed as convenient because it was right in the city centre.
http://www.choicehotelseurope.com/hot...

The most popular today would seem to be the 4 Star Moat House Hotel, recently taken over by the Best Western chain. www.bestwestern.co.uk/stokeontrentmoat

Although the Moat House is set in a busy retail park (Festival Park, which was previously a large steelworks !) there are some surprisingly quaint bits too, including the lovely hotel itself. Just around the corner from the hotel, 400 yards, literally 2 minutes on foot, is a traditional style English pub where they do what the British call a ‘carvery’ (the chef carves the beef, lamb, turkey, whatever) and then you help yourself to potatoes, vegetables and so on. The pub is called The China Garden. (The name referring to china which is a key component material of making pottery) Better still, the pub stands on a small marina where there are usually 40 or 50 canal barges parked up - these barges travel up and down the canal running alongside, this is a famous canal ('The Trent and Mersey') as it linked Liverpool to Stoke-on-Trent during the industrial revolution meaning coal, clay and other heavy materials could be moved a lot quicker than using horse and cart !! (Obviously, this was just before railways came into play around 1830) If you walk along the canal, past the marina, you then have to cross a road (because the canal goes under a bridge temporarily with no path) you then re-join the canal and only have to walk for about 10 minutes and you come to an industrial museum. 
 

Just behind the hotel, 500 yards walk, is the Royal Doulton pottery retail store. On Festival Park itself there is a dry ski slope, huge water slide park, multiplex cinema and ten pin bowling alley so you won’t be short of things to do !

Stoke-on-Trent on a budget

There are plenty of well-priced small hotels and bed and breakfast guest houses in or around the city. I've named some here, two relatives of mine have stayed at the first - mentioned and both rated it highly, it's the only smaller establishment to have its own website :

www.kenwoodguesthousestoke.co.uk  

Kenwood

Stoke Road

Shelton

Stoke-on-Trent

Tel :01782 765787   Mobile : 07917 319790

Star Hotel
92 Marsh St North Hanley
Stoke-On-Trent
Staffordshire
ST1 5
Tel: 01782 207507

Trentham Gardens

Recently enjoyed a huge re-vamp and now boasts a wide range of leisure and retail opportunities whether it involves visiting the monkey forest, walking around the lake or beautiful Italian gardens, water-based activities or staying at the new Premier Inn Hotel. (approx. 3 miles South of city, number 101 bus from city centre in direction of Stafford stops right outside)

Theatres

The Regent Theatre and the Victoria Hall are both in Hanley – the city centre. You can find out what’s going on at any given time by looking at :
http://www.theambassadors.com/stoke/

The Mitchell Arts Centre in Hanley has recently been refurbished at a cost of £4.3m.  It stages high quality local performances of theatre and dance.

The Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre has a full regular programme in a new building on Leek Road, Shelton.

There is also the New Vic Theatre which is situated on the main Stoke-on-Trent to Newcastle road. (Not Newcastle-on-Tyne which is a large city about four hours away but Newcastle-under-Lyme, a quaint 700 year old market town about three miles from us !) Details are on :
http://www.newvictheatre.org.uk/

Alton Towers

A major theme park (but not QUITE on the same scale as DISNEY !) is about 20 miles from Stoke-on-Trent. As the connecting roads are country roads / lanes then it takes about 45 minutes. There are buses from Hanley (Stoke-on-Trent's city centre) and Stoke -on-Trent railway station and some of these buses do a combined journey + entrance fee deal. There is now a large hotel at Alton Towers so people can spend a couple of days - a little bit on the pricey side !
Transport from Stoke can be found on :
http://www.firstgroup.com/ukbus/north...

Believe it or not there only 3 or 4 buses going out there in the morning and then 3 or 4 coming back late afternoon / early evening !! Most people go there by car. You will have a good time though !

For some of the bigger rides it's possible to get a pre-queue ticket from a machine which gives you a time slot and so you don't have to spend half the day in queues. There is no extra charge for this facility.
The Alton Towers website is at :
http://www.alton-towers.co.uk/themepark/

Surrounding countryside

There are numerous historic cobbled-street towns and villages which surround the Potteries. The X18 bus service from Hanley (Stoke-on-Trent's city centre) to Sheffield stops at Leek, Buxton (a spa town) and Bakewell (where the famous 'Bakewell Tart' was made and eaten). These towns are all known for being part of the Peak District, a walker’s area.
It is not far from Bakewell to Chatsworth House (a massive stately hall) where they filmed part of the movie 'Pride and Prejudice'. Also between Bakewell and Sheffield (just a mile or so from the main road) is the village of Eyam which is known as the plague village because the famous plague of 1665 almost destroyed the whole population and there are plaques over the cottage doorways telling you who died there.

You could also make your way to Ashbourne which is another quaint town, antique shops, nice cafes, etc. (I think there are buses from Leek - which is on the X18 route) A beautiful part of Staffordshire is Ilam. A website which shows you how you can get there using public transport from places such as Leek is at :
http://www.carlberry.co.uk/rfnshowl.a...
Local walking groups could be a good way to ensure you’re on the correct trail and do not get lost ! I know most weekends there’s a group heading out to the Peak District. I’m sure they’d welcome any visitors along.
Hanliensian Ramblers Club (a local, friendly walking group) are at :
http://www.hrcwalks.org.uk/