Summer in the UK: Make tracks around the Midlands

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It's not all factories and motorways – there's great Shakespeare and seafood too, says David Atkinson

The cultural heart of the Midlands will unveil its new look this autumn when the Royal Shakespeare Company stages the first performances at its £112.8m new theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The 1,000-seat thrust-stage auditorium is still under wraps, but the stylish Arden Hotel (01789 298682;, located directly opposite the RSC's theatre building, has opened following a multimillion-pound refurbishment. It has 45 boutique-style rooms with sonnet-inspiring views of the River Avon and a chic champagne bar fit for a budding bard.

For a self-catering break, Hodsock Priory (01909 591204; hodsockpriory .com) near Worksop, Nottinghamshire, has completed an extensive renovation of the Old Dairy to offer 10 self-contained suites. Set within the grounds of the country-estate priory, the rooms feature French windows leading to private courtyard gardens and make for a comfortable retreat after exploring the postcard pretty local villages.

For Midlands-based gourmets, Nottingham's Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains (0115-986 6566; still dominates the region. The Good Food Guide recently placed it sixth in its latest top 10 restaurants list, coming in ahead of Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London. Meanwhile, Coventry claims the region's latest opening: the Petit Gourmand at the Belgrade (024 7684 6762; petit-gourmand is a new French-motif eatery at the city's Belgrade Theatre. Sister property to the award-winning Petit Gourmand Kenilworth, its seasonal summer menu features locally and ethically sourced trout with new potatoes and hollandaise sauce among other dishes.

After working up an appetite exploring Wicksteed Park Castle or Ashby Gardens in Northamptonshire, you can enjoy the fish on the menu at North-ampton's new Seafood Café (01604 627989; It specialises in fresh seafood, sourced daily from Billingsgate market. Check out the yummy deserts and the two-course kids' menu for £4.95 to round off a family day out.

Urban regeneration continues apace in Derby, where the latest heritage development is The Roundhouse (, a £48m makeover of Britain's first-ever railway roundhouse, built in 1839. On the periphery of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, the refurbished space today houses facilities for Derby College and has introduced guided walks at weekends, priced at £6 per person. The one-hour tour explores the transformation of the once derelict, Grade II-listed building and gives an insight into Derby's rich industrial heritage; tickets are available from the tourist information centre at Market Place (01332 255802;

In Gloucestershire, works by such artists as Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst and Lynn Chadwick will form part of Crucible (01452 528095;, the largest exhibition of contemporary sculpture in Britain for more than a decade. The free exhibition opens this Wednesday at Gloucester Cathedral, with more than 70 works of art to be displayed throughout the crypt, cloisters and grounds. Some of the works have been made especially for the exhibition and many have never been seen in public before.

The Cotswolds' new Decorative Arts Trail ( combines exploring rural villages with celebrating Cotswold design. It traces a route around the many interior design shops in the South Cotswolds Stroud Valleys, covering everything from wallpaper to flooring via decorative furniture. Download the trail map, free, from the website then set off, and pop into The Old Fleece (01453 872582; fleece.htm) at Woodchester, near Stroud, for sustenance on the way.

To round off the summer with a quirky and quintessentially Midlands day out, head to rural Derbyshire for the final well-dressing displays of the season. The region's well dressers decorate springs and wells with entirely natural materials. The tradition is thought to have originated as a Celtic thanksgiving rite for fresh water and it has become a cornerstone of Derbyshire's rural heritage. At Holymoorside, near Chesterfield, the bi-annual dressing is currently in full effect with the flower-dressed well open to visitors until 8 September (

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