Wednesday 26 June 2019

A Summer Road Trip to Stoke-on-Trent and The Potteries

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to visit The Potteries which are situated in the beautiful Stoke-on-Trent. If you aren't acquainted with Stoke, it's in the Midlands or the Heart of England. With its rich history in pottery (it is the pot making hub of the UK both today and in the past!), there are some fascinating places which you've got to add to your itinerary when you visit. If you've been reading Coconut Couture for a while, then you'll already know there are a few things which I personally really love. Afternoon Tea being one of them. With our whistle-stop tour of Stoke jam packed on the three days we were there, there was time for an immersive dip into all that the area had to offer, from historical pottery factories, a fashion talk at the Emma Bridgewater Factory, Afternoon Tea (yay!) and a night at the theatre. Visit Stoke invited me to explore the area as part of their Cultural Destinations Campaign, so if you're thinking of visiting, you can search the hashtag #MyStokeStory and share your own photos with this too. The list of exciting activities I took part in goes on so go and grab a good cup of tea and let me take you on an immersive journey around Stoke-on-Trent and tell you all about what this area has to offer!
On the morning of Thursday June 6th, we packed up the car with our suitcases and embarked upon our UK road trip from Durham all the way down to Stoke-on-Trent. It was a journey which too about 5 hours or so and we did stop for a break on the way. It was gloriously sunny and I am quite the car karaoke pro so it was a thoroughly entertaining journey! The Potteries are all in the area of Stoke-on-Trent but they are spaced out so you've got to get your bearings fast and make sure that your satnav is fully charged! We arrived just after lunch time and parked up at the Emma Bridgewater Factory which was having its annual literary festival between the 6th - 8th June. Using this as our base, we left the car and as our designated talk about the life of Christian Dior wasn't until later in the afternoon, we seized the chance to walk into the nearby town and pay a visit to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. It was a beautiful sunny arrival in Stoke and it was a nice walk into the town centre to stretch our legs and see the sights too. Upon arrival at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, we were immediately taken on a historical journey through the ages, looking at the world's largest selection of Staffordshire pottery and ceramics. It's also home to the Staffordshire Hoard and the Queen Victoria 200th Anniversary of Her Birth exhibition (she was monarch for 63 years so it was an amazing exhibition to see!). This was part of the art on display because throughout Victoria's reign, the potters of North Staffordshire commemorated every detail of her life as well as momentous events for the nation throughout the artwork which was displayed on the plates and pots.

There was even a section of the museum which was all about space exploration to the moon which I thought was really fascinating and immersive. (Who doesn't find space exploration incredible?!).

After we had been to the museum, we walked into the part of the town where all the shops are and grabbed a bite to eat before heading straight back to the Emma Bridgewater Factory for their Literary Festival called  'Festival in a Factory'. It was still gloriously sunny and I loved the quaint garden which the factory is home to. With its neat wild flower patches and arched does created with climbing plants, it was a total sun trap and a perfect place to take a sate and bask in the summer sun before the talk. Check out more of my photos over on Instagram.

 How beautiful is the Emma Bridgewater Garden?! You can visit the Emma Bridgewater Factory website here.
The talk we attended was entitled 'V and A Meet The Curator: Christian Dior' at 5pm. It was a talk perfect for those who are fascinated about the back story to some of fashions most highly esteemed designs and of course the designer himself as well. The curator talked about all aspects of the life of Dior and how his designs came to life and why there is such a fashion legacy around the house of Dior which is still in full flow to this very day. Whilst in the Festival In A Factory talk, thunder and lightening started up outside which if anything just added to the whole atmosphere of the riveting lecture! Across the course of the days the festival was on, many authors, world-renowned experts and entertainers visited to deliver talks on topics which were their speciality so if you love to learn new things or to delve deeper into a subject you already love, this is the festival for you.

The Gift Shop had so many cute and kitsch designs in it, perfect for adding some colour and artistry to your kitchen. Time to find a new favourite mug?...

After the talk, we headed over to our hotel which was nearby. Upon arrival, we unpacked the car, collected our key from reception and went up to the room to take a time out before heading downstairs for dinner and talking about the full day we had just had. It had whizzed over! Also, from our hotel window I spotted three of the biggest rabbits on the green opposite, that I have literally ever seen in my life, just enjoying that twilight hour and having a munch of some grass. When I say they were the size of a small dog (and not a skinny dog either) I'm not even exaggerating!
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Friday 7th June
For our official first full day in Stoke, we got up nice and early, got dressed and headed down for a continental breakfast before heading straight out to our first destination of the day. I had long been awaiting visiting this place. We were to spend the day at World of Wedgwood, a gorgeous modern factory which is the home of production for today's Wedgwood pottery. If you haven't seen Wedgwood before, it's traditionally a beautiful matte bluebell, dusty blue colour with intricate white decoration upon it. Highly collectable, beautifully ornate and utterly timeless, there's no wonder why it's been a highly sought after and collectable make of ceramics for so many years! 
Upon arrival, we started the day by jumping straight into things and having a full factory tour. The factory opened in 2015 and it is truly a beautiful place that is really immersive and has a lot to offer for everybody. There's the chance to throw your own pot on a potters wheel, design your very own artisan Wedgwood plate with whichever design you like and even go for afternoon tea is the most plush afternoon tea conservatory lounge! There's a huge flagship store too, so you can purchase something to take home and remember the trip by! 
On the factory tour, we saw skilled craftsmen at work, using a variety of different skills  which have been honed over a 250 year period, at each work station. The pottery is passed from station to station in order to create the end product, a piece of perfect Wedgwood pottery. We also found out that pot holes are so named because the holes that occur in roads are actually filled with pottery that has been fired in the kiln a couple of times but had a fault so cannot be commercially sold! It's then smashed up by 'the 'masher' (yes somebody is actually employed under the title 'the smasher' to just break stuff!) into manageable, pot hole size pieces to fill the uneven surface of roads, as it is a strong enough substance to take the pressure of vehicles driving over it.
We saw pottery in each stage of production, the intricate decorating process in action and even held one of the world's most expensive plates that was adorned with gold and cost £125o! wow!
The factory is huge and there are so many interesting parts to creating the end product. It was certainly a team effort. After our tour, we went down to the Decorating Studio and began to design our very own Wedgwood plates! I had been wanting to do something crafty like this for AGES so it was amazing to be having a go and creating a one off piece! I'm currently looking forward to its arrival in a few weeks time!
I'm a total perfectionist so naturally my design was going to be a labour of love, so we decided to return to complete our art work after we had been for afternoon tea. I LOVE afternoon tea as it's just such a treat and the food is always so dainty! We opted for a vegetarian afternoon tea and there was such a wonderful selection of everything to choose from! To begin with, I selected the Earl Grey tea and my guest chose the English Breakfast. There were lots of fabulous teas to choose from so you are definitely spoilt for choice there!
This afternoon tea experience is contemporary and oh so indulgent! The sweet and savoury dishes are all delicious and we were even given a glass of bucksfizz each to celebrate the 260th anniversary of Wedgwood! (and when I saw we were given a glass of bucksfizz each, I mean I had two as I wasn't in charge of the wheels! Cheers to that!)

What a delicious selection!
The cucumber sandwiches were delicious and as I have a sweet tooth I loved the coffee cake! Such a treat! We took some of it with us for later that day as couldn't manage all of it in one sitting but oh wow it was yummy! 10/10 I'd highly recommend the World of Wedgwood Afternoon Tea experience! It'd be a lovely gift for a loved one or a fab surprise for your other half. Mums also adore an afternoon tea from my experience so it'd be a perfect birthday present!

 After tea and two glasses of bucksfizz my creativity was well and truly flowing, so we went and completed our plate designs in the design studio. I went for a summer solstice moon and sun design as I love that vibe and it'll also match my bedroom really well! It was great to really immerse myself in the whole creative process. There are lots of designs that you can trace / stencil as well if you need a helping hand.
After we had completed our designs, we went for a look around the Wedgwood Museum to admire all of the UNESCO protected collections of detailed pottery designs that were created throughout the last 260 years! It was interesting to learn about Josiah Wedgwood, the founder of the brand, and how his innovative designs have left a lasting impression on society and the pottery industry as well.  

World of Wedgwood is located at:
Wedgwood Drive
ST12 9ER
The sunny disposition of the previous day's weather did not stay that way (wow it rained!) so when we left World of Wedgwood and went straight to the Trentham Shopping Village which is a part of the Trentham Estate. We were meant to head to the Trentham Gardens if the weather had been better but we would have been flushed away in the rain and I don't think my lace dress that I'd specifically brought along for a photographic opportunity at the maze would have made it in the mud! The Trentham Gardens are an award winning location which have even had their Italian Gardens revived and re-landscaped by none other than the multi-Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner Tom Stuart-Smith. The centre of the gardens has the mile long Capability Brown designed, Trentham Lake, which from the photographs I can see, is beautiful. It has a walk along side it which leads you to atmospheric woodland trails and new meadows which are havens for the wildlife and honeybees. Not to be deterred from experiencing part of the Trentham Estate, the fabulous and very 'hygge' style wooden cabins which housed the shops were our next stopping point. With 65 shops and 19 cafes and restaurants as well as the Trentham Garden Centre, it was a shopping village unlike any which I had seen before! It really blended in well with the natural surroundings and had a really eco friendly feel to it.

We then nipped back to the hotel and quickly got ready before heading straight back out to the New Vic Theatre to see the production Brassed Off. This show is all about community spirit and triumph in the face of adversity. There were some talented musicians in this show and as The New Vic theatre is a theatre in the round, it was an immersive and inclusive experience which the whole audience were taken in by. The story is set in 1994 in Yorkshire and touches on topics which are relevant to the North of England. Here's a quick synopsis of this show:-
"1994. Yorkshire, England. Returning to her hometown up north, Gloria discovers a community in crisis. The local Pit is on the brink of closure, money is scarce and morale is at an all-time low. Only the Colliery Brass Band is keeping spirits up, sights set firmly on reaching the national brass band championships at the Royal Albert Hall, but as conversations turn to talk of picket lines and redundancy packages, the miners are falling out of tune… Flugelhorn-playing Gloria brings hope to the band and the town. But is she all she seems? And how will the miners react when they find out who she works for? The award-winning smash-hit film captured the hearts of a nation when it was released in 1996 and this new version of the BAFTA-nominated story is sure to captivate you this season."
It was a riveting show and something completely different to what I have seen at the theatre before!
Saturday 8th June
On our final day in Stoke, we were scheduled in to pay a visit to Gladstone Pottery Museum, the only complete Victorian pottery factory from the days when coal burning ovens made the world's finest bone china. Most of these were pulled down many years ago but this particular one was actually saved with minutes prior to its imminent demolition! Today it is a historical site which helps to educate people about what life in The Potteries was really like may moons ago.
We arrived early that morning so we were personally shown by the skilled workers the traditional techniques of hand rising a pot on a traditional potter's wheel, clay flower moulding and free-hand creation, how ceramics are removed from their moulds and how the delicate painting and varnishing is completed! It was all done in the 'olde wolde' traditional setting without any modern additions to retain complete authenticity and stay true to the roots of the area and the past trade. As we walked through the atmospheric cobbled yard and viewed he huge bottle kilns and the ginormous pieces of machinery which were still in moving operation for demonstration purposes, it was as if we had gone back in time and were walking in the footsteps of the hundreds of people who would have worked there day in day out all those years ago. If you're a history buff, this is the place for you!

Middleport Pottery was our next and final stop before heading home. If you watched the BBC's Great pottery Throw Down, then you will have seen part of this location before as it was the setting for the filming of the show. They are another pottery producer which use traditional techniques dating back to the 1880s. This keeps production and products artisan and one of a kind. With a huge mould archive and historic collections, I felt like I had really learnt about the area over the course of the few days we were visiting. The detail and craftsmanship that goes into pottery production is really vast as the number of stages pieces go through prior to completion are so numerous, by the time you have a hold of the finished piece, you really have a piece of art in your hands. 
We had a lovely few days in Stoke-on-Trent experiencing all that the area has to offer. I absolutely loved the World of Wedgwood, going for afternoon tea and designing my own collectable piece of Wedgwood memorabilia. The Emma Bridgewater Factory and gardens were beautiful on the first day and the historical pottery museums all depicted a true reflection on what it was like to be a part of the UK largest pottery producing factories hundreds of years ago. A big thank you to Visit Stoke for inviting me along and for planning my trip, we had a lovely time! You can check out for more ideas and inspiration when visiting the area too! Have you visited Stoke and The Potteries before? Let me know! Bilgi    x
This was a sponsored Press Trip in collaboration with Visit Stoke-On-Tent. All views remain honest and my own.  

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