The British city that inspired the Olympics
Perhaps the next most telling trail stop is the Raven Hotel, now home to a 2 AA Rosette restaurant. In 1890, after visiting the Wenlock Olympics and hearing about Brookes’ dream of staging a resumption of the International Olympics in Greece – despite unsuccessful efforts to persuade the government of Athens – it was here that the educator and historian Baron Pierre de Coubertin delivered a speech which expressed his affinity with the ideals of the physician. The young Frenchman then co-founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894 and his first summer Olympic event took place in the Greek capital in April 1896, sadly four months after Brookes died at age 86.
Brookes’ grave on the grounds of Much Wenlock’s parish church, just across from his birthplace, is a tragic reminder that he outlasted four of his five children. It’s a poignant location on an otherwise exhilarating trail adorned with themed plaques and sculptures that paint a vivid picture of Wenlock’s Olympics history, pageantry that once saw marches led by groups parading in decorated streets until the first honorary member of the Society, Petros Velessarios, winner of a 1,400 yard race organized in Athens for which he received 281 drachmas and an olive wreath.
The route ends as it begins, at the Much Wenlock Museum and Visitor Information Center, where resources include leaflets printed on the trails for adults and children. Charming described by Lanyon as a “small museum with great stories to tell”, it traces the city’s Olympic history through veterans of the sport, royal tours and carnivals. There are also geological and archaeological exhibits on display, such as two beautiful Romanesque washbasin panels from Wenlock Priory, as well as several cups awarded to rocker champion Charles Ainsworth during the first Wenlock Olympics, all of which have been added to the museum’s collection since. its major renovation in 2012.
This was of course the year the Olympics arrived in London, and Much Wenlock’s legacy was celebrated around the world. Global sales of Wenlock, the odd but endearing one-eyed London Games mascot, totaled nine million, and images of the city’s 2012 Olympic Torch Relay have been viewed everywhere from China to Mexico. Meanwhile, a special version of the Wenlock Olympics took place with 2,385 competitors aged between eight and 80, including four young Brazilian athletes aspiring to compete in Rio 2016.