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A tale of two towers; Graham Young rues the closure of one of Birmingham's famous landmarks linked to its most famous author.

Byline: Graham Young

Christmas is a lovely time for catching up with relatives or putting your feet up in front of the telly.

But within a few hours of sitting down for dinner, you'll probably be feeling like me: eager for the fresh air of the great outdoors.

So why not do what we do... and go for a free walk in one of the region's traditional parks? Whether it's Dartmouth Park in West Bromwich; St Nicholas Park, Warwick; Bancroft Gardens, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bantock Park in Wolverhampton or Elmdon Park in Solihull, you'll be amazed how green the West Midlands is.

Likewise Birmingham, if you try Handsworth, Aston, Cannon Hill or Highbury Park.

Then there are the big country-style parks at The Lickey Hills, The Clent Hills, Sheldon, Woodgate Valley, Sandwell Valley or Sutton Park.

My days out year of adventures in the Midlands for 2011 was bookended with tower stories.

In January, I was one of the first visitors to make the most of Stratford's sensational new 36 metre tower, built next to the RSC during its pounds 112.8 million revamp.

The sheer novelty of this view over such an historic town - which even enables you to peer into the backyards of the houses where many of the actors live in RSC properties - makes the trip worthwhile.

Tower tickets are pounds 2.50 per person (pounds 1.25 under 18s, other concessions available).

There's a maximum of 20 at the top at any one time, but timed tickets are available. Theatre tours are pounds 6.50 each, under-18s pounds 3. Call 0844 800 1110 or book online via There is also a Riverside Cafe and a Rooftop Restaurant (reservations 01789 403449), various exhibitions and children's activities to enjoy, too. If the whole development doesn't win any tourism awards I'll eat my hat.

In complete contrast, I recently tested Birmingham's so-called Tolkien Trail to mark the tenth anniversary on December 19 of the release of the first film in the multi-Oscar winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring.

And it was no surprise to realise I would not be able to take a guest from Spain inside the 29-metre Perrrott's Folly in Edgbaston, one of the inspirations for JRR Tolkien's The Two Towers.

Padlocked and forlorn despite its magnificent architecture, even the old sign outside explaining exactly what it is had disappeared and the entrance garden was seriously overgrown with weeds.

A tale of two cities? Not quite, because on this form an alien would be surprised to learn that only Brum is supposed to be a city and Stratford is just a town.

Elsewhere, the year positively flew by.

We had very rewarding trips to Lord Leycester Hospital and St John's Museum in Warwick; Astley Book Farm close to Nuneaton - the region's largest second hand bookshop, on a farm!; Hartlebury Castle in Worcestershire; Redwings Horse Sanctuary at Oxhill in Warwickshire; Evesham Country Park; Cotswold Wildlife Park, Burford; West Midland Safari Park, Bewdley; the Black Country Living Museum, Tipton; the National Trust's Kinver Edge in Kinver and the fabulous lemur walk at Dudley Zoo.

Other memorable days out included Arbury Hall, Nuneaton; the Domestic Fowl Trust, Honeybourne and the chance to see Lord Lichfield's private rooms at Shugborough Hall, Milford near Stafford.

Amongst the most unexpectedly memorable sights, an extraordinary 1790 Crimean pine tree at Arley Arboretum, Upper Arley - in its own way another unforgettable tower.

With all of this to see and do in the Midlands, what a shame that the following headline should appear on March 25: 'Museums to charge pounds 4 to visit'.

After a similar charge had been introduced at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter in January, for the first time in a decade adults visiting Birmingham's remarkable Aston Hall, Blakesley Hall, Soho House and Weoley Castle ruins were all facing a similar charge from April, with pounds 3 for Sarehole Mill.

It felt like rough justice considering those of us who live in the city might think that we each already own a tiny part of these gems.


Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeare's last resting place, from the top of the theatre tower by the River Avon The accessible Royal Shakespeare Theatre Tower and, right, the inaccessible Perrott's Folly in Birmingham
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 22, 2011
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