We had arrived in Rugby via train from Birmingham New Street, the journey takes approximately the same time as it does to play one half of the eminent game that this market town gave birth to… That’s 40 mins. Rugby's trainline ensures it is easily accessible from all parts of the country - it takes under an 1hr to reach from London!
 

Our intentions were to see the highlights of the town, and our first port of call was the World Rugby Hall of Fame.  A short walk from the station and we had arrived at our destination, a quick snap each with the large rugby ball that quashed any doubts that we were in the right location, and we winged our way inside to meet with our guide for the day.

The Rugby Hall of Fame was opened in 2016 as part of the legacy that was generated from the UK hosting the 2015 Rugby World Cup. During the tournament Rugby was, understandably, an official Fan Zone. Every year new inductees are ordained into the Hall, the first to be given this honour (posthumously of course) - William Webb Ellis, the pupil of Rugby School who in 1823 famously caught a football and ran with it. Ordinarily, this would result in a free kick, but on this occasion it gave birth to the game now played worldwide – Rugby Football. 

Being rather unfamiliar with the players (I jump on the Six Nations bandwagon) the only other person I recognised was Bill Beaumont from ‘A Question of Sport’, but never the less, there is plenty to enjoy here for the unversed.

I was particularly impressed with how interactive the museum was, with plenty of HD touchscreens to scroll and things to play with to present the history of the game and relive the greatest moments in an enthralling way. Our guide told us about a talk programme that has recently begun that invites the famed members to well…talk. For the millions of you that are fans, this will be a mecca and just one stop of many in this town with connections to the game.

The floor above houses the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, which tells the history of the city from its Roman beginnings.  There are many objects in the collection from local digs that tell how the city has evolved from Tripontium ‘the place of three bridges’ to the market town it is today.  As it’s Easter there’s also a splendid 'Peter Rabbit' exhibition for the kids.

The next stop on our tour was Rugby School and its Museum, it’s just a short stroll from the  Rugby Hall of Fame, which takes us through some of the town's lovely quaint streets that are packed with independent restaurants, cafes and shops of all trades. We also pass a multitude of real ale pubs, I’m told by our guide that the town hosts 17 in all and a new trail is up and running.  One of these pubs 'The Merchant's Inn' sits just across the road from the school and has twice been voted ‘Britain’s Best Pub to Watch Rugby’, well, where else really? 

Unfortunately, a game is not in progress, and besides, we have a date with the hallowed turf of where the game was birthed - ‘The Close’.

The school and its grounds are beautiful, it’s a very impressive space and we’re told there are 16 houses in all. ‘The Close' looks glorious in the sunshine and a number of rugby posts stand tall as proud markers that this was the birthplace of the game (ironically there is a cricket match in progress just beyond them)!

We enter the school shop - a charming space where the 800 or so pupils can get stationary supplies, uniforms and books. If Hogwarts had an on-site shop rather than Diagon Alley I imagine it would be rather like this. 

The shop is also where we encounter our second guide of the day who will take us on a tour of the School Museum.  The School Museum houses many artefacts including the first written rules of Rugby Football.  Our eyes are also drawn to the ceiling to what we are told is ‘The Death Cart’ – a cart that resided on the side-lines of the rugby pitch to carry off those wounded in the game.  It appears Rugby Football may have been slightly more gladiatorial in those days!

Our school guide tells us some great facts, including such nuggets as… the rugby kit was the sports uniform that resulted in England wearing the famed white and the capping system for players also began here.

With so many famous former inhabitants we see a number of blue plaques dotted around – the city boasts 32 in all and it’s not just sporting history that this town can lay claim to.  Literary fans will take pleasure in the fact that both, Charles Dodgson - better known under his pen name Lewis Carroll of 'Alice in Wonderland' - and Salman Rushdie of 'The Satanic Verses' - as well as the famous war poet Rupert Brooke all attended the preeminent school. Furthermore, the play ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ was also inspired by author Thomas Hughes’ time at the school. An impressive back catalogue of pupils!

Our hosts tell us that the 90-minute School Tours are adaptable and can be tailored to focus on the main interests of the group be it the sporting heritage, the fine literary legacy or the scientific prowess – many pioneering scientific and engineering breakthroughs that were made in the town include the jet engine, the discovery of helium and holography.  The main tour takes in the museum and the history and development of the game, the school chapel, the quads, the upper bench (the fabulous old classrooms) and naturally, The Close.  N.B. Tours of the school and its museum are on set days/ times, scroll down to the end of this blog to see when (remember to come back though!) 

Across the way I see a BBC van… somebody is filming in the school’s splendorous grounds... no doubt a period piece that requires some opulent backdrop. 

As we walk around the school’s main building for a selfie with the William Webb Ellis statue we pass the headmasters ‘office’, actually it’s more akin to the turret of a castle and our guide informs us that the door is supposedly always open for any pupil wishing to speak to him. I’m not entirely sure I would darken this doorway, only because of the climb naturally!

A snap with the statue of Rugby’s most famous son and we cross over again to another spot of rugby recognition the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum, this was also the premises of William Gilbert, ring a bell? Yes, he of the famed Gilbert rugby ball!

The musuem is a fabulous little gem that houses many trinkets and memorabilia from the game, including the first Webb Ellis Cup.  If you have a guide they will also show you how to stitch your very own rugby ball. 

There are many ways to experience the town and another is via the ‘Pathway to Fame’.  This is a collection of 51 bronze plaques that celebrate legendary players and key moments in the game. There are 14 locations on the pathway that are all notable Rugby landmarks and buildings. You can pick up a guidebook at the Rugby Visitor Centre.

There’s plenty to fill a weekend in Rugby, but if you want to couple your time here with other activities, Rugby has a rich calendar of events including Rugby Bikefest in May; a two-week Festival of Culture and Rugby School’s Festival on the Close in June and the Rugby Food and Drink Festival in September.  There are some lovely green spaces to enjoy too including the award-winning Caldecott Park and the Jubilee Gardens where we encounter a pensive statue of aforementioned poet Rupert Brooke and a brilliant sofa sculpture by Michael Schuermann.

On our short walk back to the train we discuss how impressed we were with Rugby and both concurred that it makes the perfect place for a weekend break.  You definitely don’t need to be a fan of the game to appreciate the town and its many charms - if you are you’ll be in seventh or should that be sevens heaven. We were converted!

Get Booked... (times and things)

Rugby School Tours are on Saturdays only (remember this is a working school!) and leave from the school shop at 2pm.  There is no need to pre-book, but do remember to check the website as a handful of Saturdays throughout the year are excluded.  Larger group tours or private tours can also be arranged but these must be arranged in advance.  For prices, availability and pre-booking see here.

The Rugby Weekend pass is an ideal way to take in all the aforementioned attractions, including the tour of the school, entry to the Rugby Hall of Fame and access into the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum.  Like us, you will also benefit from a Rugby Town Guide who will give you a tour of the historic city and if you’re like us you can probe them for additional information.  The pass also gives you discounts around the many boutique shops, cafes and restaurants around the city, including the 17 real-ale pubs! The pass can be obtained from the Rugby Visitor Centre.

Groups are also catered for, The Rugby Experience is a group trade offer for 10 or more people.  This can be booked in advance for any day of the week - prices are approx. £15 per person and yes coach drivers, there is coach parking within the town!

If you travel to Rugby using West Midlands Trains you'll enjoy fantastic fares and discounts.  Book tickets via West Midlands Railway here or, if your travelling from the south, via London Northwestern Railway here.

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