Tracing my family roots has been another key part of my travels and has taken me, to start with, into the heart of the Midlands, somewhere I have never ventured before.
I started in Solihull, on the outskirts of Birmingham trying to find the church where my grandparents got married over 60 years ago. I got there just in time, before it closed and a volunteer within the building kindly gave me a personal, guided tour. It was a really special visit, and Solihull near Birmingham turned out to be really beautiful.
I discovered the Midlands is criss-crossed with a network of canals. Everywhere I went I was never far away from the waterways. Having water nearby really makes a difference to quality of life. Even in the most industrial and built up areas, I found you can escape to the peace and quiet of a canal (apart from when Leicester football team won their game recently), find a good pub and go for a stroll and a cycle ride. All of which I did!
The area turned out to be full of historic places, from Warwick with its ancient old buildings and awesome tea shop to Chester with completely preserved Roman walls, stunning Cathedral and brilliant dinky donut shop. Along with finding the houses where my grand parents and great grand parents lived I also got to experience the beauty of Britain and get a feel for the landscape my ancestors lived in.
One place that really impressed me was a church I came across in Cotteridge. Whereas most churches I found were locked, this one in the heart of a busy part of Birmingham, was full of life. I stepped inside and found a hive of activity. There was a cafe with people chatting and drinking, a GP’s surgery, an old people’s day centre, a food bank bustling with volunteers filling boxes and people being helped with job hunting – I even bumped into a Ranger who happened to be there. This is or should be the future of church. A vibrant, community hub that brings all people together. It was awesome to see.