Ian Weightman

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12 for '12 Alternative Olympic Venues

We keep being told that the eyes of the world will be fixed on London during the Olympic Games.  Some of us beg to differ.  So here’s our “Twelve for ‘12” reasons to cast your eyes elsewhere in Britain this summer.

1. Much Wenlock, Shropshire

Who can resist the story of the “birthplace of the modern international Olympic Games”….in a lovely little medieval town, in Shropshire?  Not the world’s press – that;’s for sure!  It’s been told and retold the world over.  And – who knows?  Without the 1850 Wenlock Olympian Games, and the 125 which have followed year-on-year, would we even be looking forward to London 2012?  Follow the self-guided Olympian trail around the town, and visit the newly refurbished Much Wenlock Museum to discover the full story.

2. The Cotswolds Olimpicks, Gloucestershire

2012 will always be remembered as the year that…The Cotswolds celebrated 400 years of the Olimpick Games!  A true forerunner of the modern Olympics, they were created by Robert Dover who took as his blueprint the ancient games of Greece. Now, 400 years later, they are still alive and shin-kicking, on a hill above Chipping Campden.

3. Be a happy camper

And you couldn’t possibly be any happier if you’ve just found a way of staying in London at the time of the London 2012 Games for just £7.50 a night.  That’s exactly what the Camping & Caravanning Club of Great Britain are offering visitors from around the globe - in four temporary pitches in London, and one in Windsor Great Park.  With all the facilities you’d expect from a Camping & Caravanning site, they will also have giant TV screens, and all the atmosphere of an international Olympic village!

4. The Cotswolds Artist

Jeremy Houghton is one of the country’s official Olympic artists, and lives in the beautiful Cotswolds village of Broadway – which just so happens to have its own, major Arts Festival in June.  A celebration of the village’s artistic heritage and its enduring relationship with a world-famous colony of American artists and writers who visited and worked here in the 19th century, the Broadway Arts Festival commemorates the fact that painters, actors, writers, their families and friends visited and worked here in the 19th century, including John Singer Sargent, William Morris, Francis Millet, Alfred Parsons, Henry James and JM Barrie.  One great “insider tip” is that from time to time, Olympic artist Jeremy Houghton offers guided tours of his beloved Broadway to visitors to the Cotswolds.

5. Let’s get the party started

Of all the pre-Olympic celebrations being scheduled to take place around the UK in 2012, a key highlight in the calendar will be those taking place in Derby - especially as it will be adding to the occasion the largest free outdoor classical concert and firework display in Britain.  Perfectly located geographically to attract a massive crowd, Derby is already planning one of the nation’s “super parties” for the night of Friday, June 29th.  The City is determined to make the most of the fact that it will be one of only 10 UK venues chosen to host the flame on a Friday night, and has moved its annual Darley Park classical music concert to Saturday 30 June to coincide with what promises to be one of the biggest weekends on the Midlands calendar in 2012.

6. A non-Olympics sailing event

Not everyone wants to sit in front of a TV screen watching sport throughout the whole of August.  So what better way to escape all the furore of the Olympic Games than by joining a gentle cruise - without going abroad?  English Holiday Cruises are the UK equivalent of the Rhine cruises, with regular sailings along the River Severn.  And best of all for anyone wanting to avoid the Olympics, there isn’t a TV on board!

7. 20.12, but not 2012

Hadley Park House Hotel in Shropshire has come up with a novel way of marking one of the most important years in UK history.  Sunday lunches have been re-priced £20.12 for the coming year, and it’s also possible to book a room at £20.12 per person (room only, based on two people sharing), so long as you also buy breakfast and an evening meal.  But when it comes to making a great escape from the endless coverage of the Games - this has been designated an Olympics free zone throughout August.

8. Step back in time at Mainoaks

This is another of the UK’s self-proclaimed Olympics-free zones.  There will be no giant TV screens, no street parties, and no obvious connection with whatever happens to be taking place in London this August.  Just make your way along the single-track lane, and back through more than six centuries of history, to hide yourself away in one of the recently refurbished cottages on this magnificent 15th century farmstead.

9. Ironbridge – exhibition on sport

A vibrant, and technologically advanced exhibition, on show in Shropshire up to September 9th, 2012, focuses on the relationship between science and sport, including how technological advancements have shaped achievements and performance in the elite sporting world.  The star exhibit is the Olympic 8 rowing boat that won gold for Great Britain in the Sydney Olympics.  There are also interactive displays using techniques such as stop-motion photography and sporting timelines to examine the technologies behind ball sports including squash, developments in cycling and recent technological advances in swimming and gymnastics, along with modern Paralympic sports including archery.

10. Olympic souvenirs

Head to Stoke-on-Trent at The Potteries for some of the nation’s best official merchandise.  You can buy it anywhere in Britain, but if you really want to go the extra mile, then you really need to visit Stoke-on-Trent to buy some of Jan Constantine’s cushions from her first ever flagship store at Trentham, or to go behind-the-scenes at Wedgwood to see how the fine china souvenirs are actually manufactured.

11. Become an Olympian athlete

If you enter the road race in the 126th Wenlock Olympian Games in July (and manage to finish it!) then you, too, will be able to call yourself an Olympian athlete.

12. Celebrate in style

Where is the best place in Britain to celebrate gold this year?  We’d argue the case for Derby.  Why?  Because the Good Beer Guide named it ‘The First City for Beer’, with the ‘Perfect Pub Crawl’ in Britain.  With more real ales per head of population than anywhere else in Britain, and several micro-breweries producing over 245 different ciders and ales, the city has long promoted its microbreweries and Real Ale Festivals as one of the main reasons for visiting the city.  Better news still is that it’s now possible to experience Derby's thriving real ale culture with one of the new mini bus tours around some of Derby's hidden real ale gems.  The tour includes time at one of Derby's many microbreweries, as well as a selection of carefully chosen real ale establishments.

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