I was born in and spent the first 21 years of my life in Coventry. Over the past 12 years I’ve made frequent visits to my family who still reside there, yet I’ve barely had a good thing to say about the place itself. In fact, I must admit to being downright scathing. I now live but 2 minutes from the seaside on a UNESCO World Heritage Site and am spoilt for beautiful locations to visit; the familiarity of my birthplace seemed dull and dingy in comparison to my adopted town in Dorset.
However, much has changed over the past decade and what was once urban decay is now urban development, with a good portion of Coventry City Centre enjoying a long overdue makeover and dose of modernisation. With its central location, manufacturing industry, multiculturalism and large student population, there are things that always made Coventry a very practical place to live – but I never once saw it as a tourist stopping point.
On the suggestion of a friend, we decided to take time to peruse a display about children’s television in the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. This was to be a brief point of interest en route to the outdoor store in order to buy tent pegs and guy ropes, the initial reason for a trip into town.
Serendipity had other ideas, and we ended up whiling away half the day following our whims . . .
It had been years upon years since I’d set foot in this place – it was great to see the museum revamped, complete with a plentiful supply of hands-on activities for the kids.
We began in the Story of Children’s Television display, FreeToBeP aptly sporting a ‘Button Moon’ t-shirt in order to get his photo with Mr Spoon.
Between dressing up as a dalek and a teletubby, puppeteering with Sooty, Sweep and Sue, and being bemused by mummy’s reminiscences, the kids got their morning-time energy out in this bright and noisy display.
Yet FreeToBeP surprised me by being most fascinated with the art gallery, even engaging in the suggested activities supplied by the museum which included something of a ‘PSHE through art’ lesson:
We were pleasantly surprised to be greeted with video footage of Durdle Door in the ‘Elements’ gallery, a section of the museum exploring natural history through the concept of the four elements. Full of crystals, fossils, shells and taxidermy specimens, this was packed with interesting sights and sounds. Even the driftwood and beach stones got a look-in from my coastal-bred children – I did wonder if the artefacts had also made their way up from dear Dorset.
And the main item of intrigue – narwhal tusks:
My personal favourite in the museum was the ‘History of Us’ display by street artist Pahnl. This funky, visual history of humankind was really captivating – from the work of art itself (fully stencilled), to the supporting information, to the video of the installation in progress. Further information and snapshots of the work can be found on the artist’s website – but I urge you to visit if you can to take in the detail of the artwork and the laugh-out-loud content of the supporting text.
Thumbs up to the museum café too – definitely not the worst place you could choose to have lunch if you’ve got slightly ‘hangry’ children (I recommend the salad bar), and they sold off their chicken kebabs to the kids for 50p each due to lack of chips for the full meal on the menu.
After lunch we intended to make our way to the shops, but Coventry had other ideas . . .
We cut through town via Coventry Cathedral. FreeToBeP wasn’t interested in going into the new cathedral to enjoy/endure the lunchtime organ recital, but he was taken with the idea of visiting the ruins of the old cathedral.
Bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, the shell of Coventry’s old cathedral remains. This is actually the second of three cathedrals that the city has had. It is still a popular place for visitors of Coventry to seek out, with remnants of its former glory clear to see – not least the surviving tower which is open to the public to climb.
Tourist Information is also housed at the base of the tower, and what a friendly reception we had – free boiled sweets for the kids while the lady on duty and I chatted about the sights of Coventry (newly appreciated from my point of view) as I purchased postcards for our Postcrossing habit.
FreeToBeP also took interest in the Traidcraft shop which shares premises with the cathedral’s souvenir shop – cue discussion on Fair Trade products plus a useful information leaflet for his home education folder.
Upon the recommendation of the Tourist Information receptionist, our feet next led us not to the shops (plan scuppered again) but to the Guildhall next door . . .
Apart from a precarious spiral staircase if you’re wearing a baby and supervising a 3 year old (gulp!), St. Mary’s Guildhall proved a great family attraction.
With its decorative ceilings, chambers to explore, carved furniture, slanting floors and collection of armour, it was intriguing enough for both adults and children alike. Whilst I admired the stained glass, they wowed at the ancient furnishings – huge door bolts, mysterious storage chests and imposing wooden chairs. I even managed to hold their attention on The Coventry Tapestry for all of two minutes, thanks in part to the laminated information sheets provided by the Guildhall.
And, of course, there was the token children’s activity courtesy of replica armour:
Eventually, we made our way through the cobbled back streets to the main shopping precinct, albeit still in ‘tourist’ mode with camera at the ready . . .
Times really do a-change – fifteen years ago you could have found me at the pub above, much more interested in the beverages and giant Jenga than the City Centre Trail signage. I might just have to find out what that City Centre Trail entails now!
The penultimate item on our spontaneous itinerary was a typical tourist shot – the local celebrity of olde, Lady Godiva! After taking such things for granted for many years as a born and bred Coventrian, it had to be done. For the first time in all our visits to my family home, I stood beside the statue excitedly telling FreeToBeP the story of Lady Godiva, Earl Leofric and Peeping Tom.
To use a Marcel Proust quotation that I have utilised before for my 10 Mind-Altering Family Travel Tips post, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Coventry, I apologise for my less-than-complimentary remarks about you in recent years. You are not the city I remember.
And, yes, I did finally purchase my tent pegs and guy ropes.
(At the time of publishing this post, all the attractions we visited were free admission – donations welcome.)