Warwickshire (abbreviated ‘Warks’ or ‘Warwicks’) is a landlocked county in England’s West Midlands. The area is best known as the birthplace of the ‘Bard of Avon’, William Shakespeare – regarded the greatest writer of the English language. Road signs at the county boundary describe Warwickshire as ‘Shakespeare's County’. The Lonely Planet guide also named Warwickshire as the sixth of Europe’s best 2016 destinations.
There are no cities in Warwickshire but its county town is Warwick – while the largest settlement is Nuneaton. It shares borders with Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, the West Midlands, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. Its five districts are North Warwickshire, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Rugby, Warwick and Stratford-on-Avon.
During the Middle Ages, Coventry (now set in The West Midlands) dominated Warwickshire; its textiles trade making it one of England’s most important cities. During the Industrial Revolution, Warwickshire became one of Britain's foremost counties. Declining heavy industries are gradually being replaced by the likes of distribution centres, light-to-medium industry, and service sectors, such as tourism.
These days, most of Warwickshire's population of just over half-a-million live in the north and centre of the county. Its principal towns include Nuneaton, Rugby, Royal Leamington Spa, Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon, Kenilworth, Alcester and Wellesbourne. The county’s predominately rural southern area hosts a small part of the Cotswolds. In 2014, the freedom of the county was bestowed on the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
Road: Several major motorways run through Warwickshire: the M40 bisects the centre; the M6 passes through the north; and there’s also the M69. Other major thoroughfares include the M45, M6 Toll, and M42 motorways and the A45, A46, A452 and A5 trunk routes.
Rail: The two main railway lines are The Chiltern Main Line (with stations at Leamington Spa, Warwick, Hatton and Lapworth); and London Midland (Birmingham to Leamington only). The West Coast Main Line (WCML) and The Honeybourne Line also serve Warwickshire. (The only major town without a station is Kenilworth.)
Air: Coventry Airport is located in Warwickshire’s village of Baginton.
Water: The canal network includes the Grand Union Canal while The Saltisford Canal Arm dates back to 1799 and now moors colourful narrowboats (and a waterside park). The River Avon is navigable from just north of Stratford.
Informed house-hunters are driving Warwickshire’s booming property industry. At Southam Grange, homes are being snapped up extremely quickly – often as soon as they become available. This suggests a strong local market featuring “moderate” housing prices, according to uSwitch's ‘Best Places to Live in The UK Quality of Life Index’. This suggests that it's an advantageous time to buy.
Country Life named Dunchurch "a charming, large village to the south of Rugby" as among its best places to live for commuters. Its best address was Guy Fawkes House "for historical cachet". Alternatively, the magazine highlighted Ashby St Ledgers as "a thatch-and-stone estate-built village built by Lord Wimborne and designed by Lutyens, it was bought by The Queen in 2005."
Two Warwickshire locations made the ten Midlands towns named in the Top 101 Best Places to Live in Britain by The Sunday Times: Leamington and Barford. It’s worth nothing that local housing associations are working with the government to deliver another 394,000 homes by 2037.
Warwickshire is home to a wide variety of shopping experiences. There’s everything from major malls and retail parks to independent boutiques in historic market towns. Waterside Food and Craft Market in Stratford-upon-Avon offers a surprising amount of variety on its stalls – from fudge and marshmallows to crafts, clothing, footwear and food. Warwick Retail Market offers a bounty of produce – including locally produced scotch eggs and cheeses, artisan chocolates and fantastic sausage.
Locally known treasures include The National Herb Centre, which does what it says on the tin – also offering plants, shrubs, fruit trees and roses plus an excellent little café. Can you guess what Nuts in Ya Mouth in Stratford-upon-Avon sells? However, these varietals come in mind-boggling flavours – from salted, caramelised, spicy, cinnamon to vanilla and more.
The county also hosts numerous retail parks – such as Warwickshire Shopping Park. Maybird Shopping Park, on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon, sets itself apart by aiming to embrace sustainability and a green environment. Leamington Shopping Park includes high-street brands like Argos, Next, New Look, Clarks, Halfords and much more.
Sport: Warwickshire doesn’t host any professional football clubs; its primary non-league teams are Nuneaton Town, Leamington and Stratford Town. Warwickshire County Cricket Club play at Edgbaston, Birmingham. Gaelic Sports take place at Páirc na hÉireann. The county has more hockey clubs than any other in The Midlands; Old Silhillians Hockey Club is the home of Warwickshire hockey. There’s also Dallas Burston Polo Club near Southam. Warwick Races showcases a year-round calendar of events.
Family: The MAD Museum in Stratford-upon-Avon offers quirky contraptions, dancing lasers, rolling ball machines, roaring mechanical dinosaur heads and whirligigs. Arachnoland at Stratford Butterfly Farm is home to spiders, stick insects, beetles and vibrantly hued butterflies flying over fish-filled pools.
Cultural: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon both stage plays in the great bard’s hometown. Visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, explore his family houses – and learn what life was like for the world’s greatest playwright. The Warwickshire Museum preserves the county’s natural and cultural heritage. Check out the atmospheric remains of Kenilworth Castle; and experience the mix of Tudor, Georgian and Victorian architecture in Charlecote Park.
Events: The annual Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival has previously hosted former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, BBC reporter (and author) John Simpson, and crime writer PD James. Workshops are held to hone your literary talents – and there’s plenty on for young readers too. Warwick Races offers exciting days out throughout the year – including Classic Chase Day, Countryside Day, Ladies Night and more.