Staffordshire

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Part industrial, part rural, the county of Staffordshire is one of a few parts of the United Kingdom where thrill rides coexist with crockery and a National Park. As well as the bucolic joys of the Staffordshire Moorlands, there's the industrial heritage of Stoke-on-Trent's potteries and the county's castles. The brewing industry as we know today began in Staffordshire, with its epicentre being Burton-upon-Trent. Courtesy of the brewers' yeast residue, another national institution was born there: Marmite.

Though Burton-upon-Trent isn't quite the brewing metropolis it was in the Victorian times, a sizeable amount of the UK's beer is brewed. This time, for Molson Coors who own Bass' brands, and Marstons - who remain a significant UK owned player today. The town's brewing heritage is celebrated at the National Brewery Centre, where a limited range of 'heritage' brews are made for exhibitive purposes. It is also a fantastic conference venue with live music and events.

Further south, is the city of Lichfield and the nearby town of Tamworth. Both places have castles, whereas Lichfield is known for its cathedral - the only one in Europe with three spires from the medieval era. It is also the birthplace of the poet Samuel Johnson, whose birth is commemorated in its own museum. Tamworth Castle is built on a site dating from 913, and is one of the best preserved Norman motte and bailey castles. A more modern day attraction in Tamworth is the Snowdome. Opening in 1994, it was the first full-sized indoor ski slope in the UK. Close by is the Drayton Manor Theme Park with rides including Shockwave - Britain's only stand-up roller coaster.

Close to the M6 and M6 Toll in the southern part of Staffordshire is Cannock Chase. It is the smallest part of mainland Britain to be designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and has a mix of woodland, plantations. heathland and old mine workings. On the fringes of Cannock Chase are the towns of Rugeley, Hednesford and Cannock. Close by is Shugborough Estate - a complete working historic estate with farm, grounds, gardens, the Mansion House and Servants' Quarters. Besides being an historical attraction cared for by the National Trust and Staffordshire County Council, it is also a fine conference venue.

Continuing up the River Trent then along the River Sow is the county town of Stafford. It includes a castle and has an important railway junction with trains to London Euston, Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly railway stations. Other landmarks include the Elizabethan Ancient High House and the Shire Hall Gallery, built in 1798 as a court house and mayor's office. Staffordshire University is also established there.

As we go further north, we see the six towns which make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent (Fenton, Burslem, Stoke-upon-Trent, Tunstall, Hanley and Longton). From the 17th Century, all six towns made their fortune in industrial scale pottery. It was the abundance of local clay and coal which led to the establishment of Royal Doulton, Dudson, Wedgwood and numerous others. Today, it is possible to visit the factory shops, their visitor centres and view the city's ceramics collection in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. Hanley is the commercial centre of Stoke-on-Trent and has a number of chain stores and independent retailers.

Well away from its industrial setting in Stoke-on-Trent, whilst a short drive away is the Staffordshire Moorlands district. This takes in the small market town of Leek, the delightful Churnet Valley and its preserved line, and a rather famous theme park: none other than the Alton Towers Resort. Though a popular recreational gardens in the Victorian times thanks to the coming of the railway, it was sold to a group of local businessmen in 1924 by the Earl of Shrewsbury. Since the 1950s, a modest fairground was established before becoming today's theme park from the 04 April 1980.

Sports fanatics will be spoilt for choice, with league football courtesy of Stoke City and Port Vale. Non-league sides include Tamworth and Hednesford Town. Speedway takes place at the Loomer Road Stadium where Stoke Potters hold regular meetings. Stock car and banger racing takes place at the Hednesford Hills Raceway. Uttoxeter Racecourse is the county's main horse racing venue - also a suitable conference venue.

Staffordshire has excellent road communications with the M6, M6 Toll and A500 among its main roads. It has good inter-city rail services with fast trains to Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston railway stations. Its road network allows for a wide variety and quantity of hotels. As potential conference venues go, one not to be missed.