Have you ever seen Pointless, the BBC quiz show where contestants have to give answers to questions that those surveyed have not given? A sort of reverse Family Fortunes. Well, I was watching it once when the question was: Name one of the seven English cities beginning with the letter L. Mmm, I thought, the obvious ones are London, Leeds, Leicester and Liverpool – that leaves three. Lincoln and Lancaster leaves just one to get. What could it be?
I had to admit defeat, but I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know the 7th L. Which is why, a few Sundays later, I made the 30-mile trip north from my hometown of Coventry to the Staffordshire city of Lichfield to see what all the fuss was about.
On the approach road to the city centre, we were greeted by a sign: “Welcome to Lichfield, the birthplace of Dr. Johnson”. Kat and I looked at each other blankly – she thought he had something to do with Sherlock Holmes, I thought he might have been the man behind the cheesy 90s single It’s My Life. This is why neither of us will ever appear on a quiz show.
Although it only has a population of around 30,000, Lichfield has two train stations – Lichfield City and Lichfield Trent Valley. The former is closer to the centre and there’s a pay and display car-park just opposite, so we parked up and went to explore.
We soon came to the Museum of Dr. Johnson and found out the doc in question was Dr. Samuel Johnson, who created the first English dictionary back in 1755. We didn’t actually go in the museum, but I read a potted history of the great man on the museum’s front door while Kat was in a shop.
Lichfield’s big draw is its cathedral, and it’s a beast – one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. Like Coventry, Lichfield is known as the city of three spires, with all three belonging to its cathedral – two spires of equal height at the entrance, and one much larger spire right in the middle, respresenting the father, the son and the holy ghost. This makes it the only medieval cathedral in England with three spires, a fact the city seems to be very proud of.
As we entered the cathedral, we were given a map (yes, it’s that big) with a fact sheet and asked for a donation (apparently it costs £5.30 per minute to keep the cathedral open).
In 2009, in a field near Lichfield, a man unearthed over 3,500 items of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver using a metal detector. Some of this collection, known as the Staffordshire Hoard, is now on display in the cathedral’s Chapter Room. You’d be a bit upset if you’d paid to see it though – the best bits of the Hoard are held at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) leaving a few knick-knacks here that you’d never guess were gold and part of a £3.3m stash.
There’s just about enough here to keep a heathen busy, with some stunning stained glass – reputedly some of the best in the world and plenty of statues and gargoyles (our fact sheet told us there are 797 stone gargoyles on the cathedral’s exterior).
When we’d had enough, we left the cathedral area and wandered past a small lake full of swans back to the city centre and up pleasantly chav-free pedestrianised shopping streets thinking Lichfield really is quite nice.
For such a small city with relatively few tourists, it has a surplus of coffee shops, so we didn’t have far to walk for a cake and a cuppa. We settled on The Lounge (every town and city seems to have a bar/coffee shop called The Lounge), but we could easily have stopped at any of half a dozen which looked pretty tempting.
After a nice slice of lemon drizzle cake and a hot chocolate, it was time to get back on the A38 for the short drive south, enriched with knowing all about the Pointless 7th city beginning with L in England.