The UK town that inspired the Olympics

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Perhaps the next most telling trail stop is the Raven Hotel, which now sports a 2 AA Rosette restaurant. In 1890, after visiting the Wenlock Olympian Games and hearing of Brookes’ dream to stage an international Olympics revival in Greece – despite failed efforts to persuade the government in Athens – it was here that educator and historian Baron Pierre de Coubertin gave a speech that expressed his affinity with the doctor’s ideals. The young Frenchman went on to cofound the International Olympic Committee in 1894 and its first Summer Olympics event was held in the Greek capital in April 1896, sadly four months after Brookes died at 86.

Brookes’ grave in the grounds of Much Wenlock Parish Church, movingly just opposite his birthplace, is a tragic reminder that he outlived four of his five children. It’s a poignant spot on an otherwise uplifting trail adorned with themed plaques and sculpture that paints a vivid picture of Wenlock Olympian Games history, from the pageantry that once saw band-led marches parade through decorated streets to the Society’s first honorary member, Petros Velessarios, winner of a 1,400-yard race staged in Athens for which he received 281 drachmas and an olive crown.

The route ends as it begins, at the Much Wenlock Museum and Visitor Information Centre, where resources include printed trail leaflets for adults and children. Charmingly described by Lanyon as a “small museum with big stories to tell”, it charts the town’s Olympic story through sporting veterans to royal visits and carnivals. Geological and archaeological exhibits also feature, such as two fine Romanesque lavabo panels from Wenlock Priory, as do several cups awarded to champion tilter Charles Ainsworth during the early Wenlock Olympian Games, all of which have been added to the museum’s collection since its major renovation in 2012.

This was of course the year in which the Olympic Games came to London, and it saw Much Wenlock’s heritage celebrated worldwide. Global sales of Wenlock, the London Games’ strange but endearing one-eyed mascot, totalled nine million, and images of the town’s 2012 Olympic torch relay were viewed everywhere from China to Mexico. Meanwhile, a special version of the Wenlock Olympian Games was held involving 2,385 competitors aged eight to 80, including four young Brazilian athletes aspiring to compete in Rio 2016.

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