The West Midlands is a landlocked metropolitan county in western central England. Its estimated population of almost three million makes it the country’s second most populous county. It’s a hive of activity – and within easy reach of some of the UK’s top beauty spots. Of its 23 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Sutton Park, one of Europe’s largest, enjoys National Nature Reserve status. Sarehole Mill in Birmingham inspired The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.
The West Midlands shares borders with Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and Staffordshire – and consists of seven boroughs: the cities of Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, and the towns of Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, and Walsall.
With its flourishing wool and cloth industries, Coventry was one of England's primary cities during The Middle Ages. Birmingham and Wolverhampton share a tradition of metalworking. The county grew and developed rapidly during the Industrial Revolution. Cadbury chocolate was founded in Bournville 200 years ago. These days, the West Midlands is one of Britain’s most heavily urbanised counties. Birmingham, Wolverhampton, the Black Country and Solihull form the third most populous conurbation in the UK.
However, stretches of greenbelt land retain their rural character – including the Meriden Gap, Barr Beacon and the Sandwell Valley. Numerous waterways bisect the county, including the River Tame and the River Stour. As a ceremonial county, The West Midlands has a Lord Lieutenant and a High Sheriff – and there’ll be an elected Mayor from 2017.
Road: The M40 motorway connects to London via Oxford. The M6 motorway also connects Birmingham to London and the south, the northwest of England and Scotland. Junction 6 of the M6 is a Birmingham landmark – ‘Spaghetti Junction’ – though it’s officially called the Gravelly Hill Interchange.
Rail: The county contains large, integrated rail networks. Services run across all major West Midlands lines. You’re also at the heart of the National Rail network; London, Manchester, Scotland and Wales are all easily accessible.
Air: Birmingham Airport is one of the UK's fastest growing. The airport is served by a frequent train service connecting major regional and national centres.
Bus: Hundreds of eco-efficient buses navigate the county’s roads. Services are frequent and the network is integrated with train and tram travel across the region.
Tram: Midland Metro trams run every 6-8 minutes during the day and every 15 minutes on evenings and Sundays.
Cycle: Millions of pounds are funding safer cycling routes in the West Midlands.
Water: Birmingham is at the hub of the country's canal network – and is often said to have more miles of canal than Venice. Narrowboats sail the BCN Main Line, the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, The Worcester and Birmingham Canal and The Grand Union Canal.
Moseley in south Birmingham was named the best place in the UK for city living by The Sunday Times. The leafy suburb of Edgbaston is popular with families and students. Coventry was named one of the top 10 places to live and work in the UK by PwC and think-tank Demos. Meanwhile, Wolverhampton was named the sixth best place for families to live in England and Wales in the 2015 Family Hotspots Report.
Dudley is popular with first-time buyers, young professionals and families.
Earlsdon is known for its village feel; Sutton Coldfield hosts numerous luxury properties.
Rightmove have said that buyer enquiry levels are consistent with the same period in 2014. The vote to leave the EU doesn’t seem to have put sellers off coming to market. Miles Shipside, director of Rightmove, has said: “The housing market remains steady, underpinned by the same fundamentals that have led to its recovery since the last downturn.”
The Office for National Statistics ran a nationwide survey to ask people how they felt about their lives. The West Midlands has grown happier since 2011-12 – and the happiness score has increased faster in the region than anywhere else except Northern Ireland. Reporting on the index, The Birmingham Mail highlighted Solihull's residents as among the happiest in the West Midlands while Stratford-on-Avon also featured.
In the West Midlands, you can combine a visit to a historical town with some leisurely browsing around independent and unique stores. For under-one-roof convenience, try Tamworth’s Ankerside Shopping Centre, which hosts 60 high-street favourites in the old town overlooking beautiful castle grounds. The Co-op Department Store (est. 1885) is still trading from its lovely heritage building. Tamworth also has an historic market dating back to 1560.
In the heart of the Black Country, popular Churchill Shopping Centre in central Dudley is found just off the town’s pedestrianized Market Place. Resident retailers include Home Bargains, Iceland, Holland and Barrett, Bodycare and Virgin Media.
As well boasting the UK’s largest casino, the seven-storey Resorts World Birmingham development, based in a cruise ship design in Birmingham's NEC, encompasses 50 shops and 18 bars – plus restaurants, a spa, and cinema. Resorts World Birmingham is Europe’s first Resorts World, following branches established in New York, Singapore and Manila.
Sport: West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Coventry City, Walsall, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers are often referred to as the West Midlands’ ‘Big Six’ football clubs. Its rugby union teams include Wasps, Sutton Coldfield, Spartans, Moseley, Birmingham & Solihull RFC, Dudley Kingswinford, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Coventry. Warwickshire County Cricket Club are based at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, which also hosts international fixtures. There’s also the Birmingham Panthers basketball team.
Family: Cadbury World pays homage to the county’s sweet-toothed heritage. The National SEA LIFE Centre is an aquarium with over 60 displays of freshwater and marine life in Brindleyplace. It houses giant green sea turtles, blacktip reef sharks and tropical reef fish – with the UK's only fully transparent 360- degree underwater tunnel. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston is an independent educational charity.
Cultural: Coventry Cathedral (also known as St Michael's Cathedral) is the seat of the Bishop of Coventry. National Trust property, Moseley Old Hall, is located at Fordhouses north of Wolverhampton. The Black Country Living Museum has been an open-air collection of rebuilt historic buildings in Dudley since 1978. It portrays life spanning 300 years of history (focusing on 1850-1950).
Events: Every March, the innovative Flatpack Film Festival provides cinematic treats for film lovers in cultural venues across the whole of Birmingham. Lakefest is an award-winning music fest held in the grounds of Eastnor Castle. It’s a family friendly event, offering yoga sessions, watersports, face painting, tightrope walking and cycling stunts at the UK BMX Dirt Series Champs Final; there’s usually an impressive line-up of bands, too.