I hadn’t been near a potter’s wheel since a school trip – and feared disaster might strike.
But images of clay flying off in all directions as I tried to sculpt the grey lump into earthenware were unfounded, thanks to the patience of potter David Barker.
Minutes later , I shaped it into a vase – which will be fired and sent back to me.
Not a bad effort, considering it takes six years for potters to complete apprenticeships for real.
The chance to get hands-on came at the famous Wedgwood factory in Stoke-on-Trent – one of several places providing visitors an opportunity to roll up their sleeves. Visitors can also paint plates, create lithographed designs and make ceramic flowers.
Wedgwood, which still makes its Jasper, fine bone china and prestige pottery in Stoke, also offers guided tours as well as having a museum, restaurant and factory shops.
The award-winning museum details more than 250 years of the company’s history, from when founder Josiah Wedgwood started out in a small village pottery.
Pottery is showcased from Georgian times up to the present, from objects made for royalty to the iconic Portland vase - based on the Italian, Barberini vase - which was painstakingly recreated after several years of experiments.
There’s no need to go hungry as the visitor centre’s Ivy House restaurant provides generous meals served on Wedgwood, of course.
The award-winning centre will soon get even better with a £25 million redevelopment.
Hands-on is also very much the approach for visitors to the Emma Bridgewater pottery.
Emma, famous for her spotty designs, offers visitors the chance to decorate their own pieces of pottery.
You can paint free-hand (tricky and you need a steady hand) or choose from a range of sponge stencils. As at Wedgwood, items can then be fired and posted to you.
Hands-on experiences at both factories are great fun, family-friendly experiences.
Emma Bridgewater’s Eastwood Works include a cafe – with interior designed by her and husband Matthew - with a menu featuring home-baked cakes made on an Aga decorated with trademark spots. The site has regular events – the next will be a Christmas market and lights switch-on, on November 23 and 24.
High-end, fine art ceramics are crafted at Moorcroft Pottery, which is also open to the public and offers guided tours showing how products are made, from liquidy ‘slip’ poured into moulds (no potters’ wheels here), which are hand-painted to become ornate pieces worth thousands.
Burleigh, based nearby at Middleport Works -being revamped by Prince Charles’s Prince’s Regeneration Trust at a cost of £8.5m - currently has a factory shop but will be expanded to have a cafe and visitor centre.
If you want to know more about the lives of pottery workers, Gladstone Pottery Museum offers a real insight – particularly into the grim realities of the Industrial Revolution. To lighten the mood, the museum has live demonstrations.
On my visit, Jeanette Seebridge, who worked at Royal Doulton for 30 years, showed how to make stunning floral decorations in just a few minutes, from simple strips of bone china.
Away from the world of clay, Stoke is also home to the fantastic Trentham Gardens. Surrounding a mile-long lake which reflects like a mirror in sunshine, the centrepiece is a stunning Italian garden with 80,000 plants set among fountains. Elsewhere is a maze and adventure playground, classical and contemporary sculptures, and a miniature train.
The gardens are open year-round, during which people can see its changing colours.
If you have a few more spare hours, the neighbouring Monkey Forest is unique in the UK as a home to 140 endangered Barbary Macaque monkeys. Visitors can walk among the monkeys, which roam freely, and watch as they feed, play-fight and swing from trees.
A good place to stay is the Best Western Moat House at Festival Park, which incorporates pottery pioneer Josiah Wedgwood’s former Etruria Hall home. The four-star hotel is off the A500 dual carriageway, providing a quick link to all areas of the Potteries within minutes.
Three things to do:
1 Visit and get a stamp from five of two dozen shops and attractions on Stoke’s Ceramics Trail to receive a commemorative gift. Details online at Ceramic Trail
2 Stoke is currently hosting the British Ceramics Biennial - a six week ‘celebration of ceramics’ which includes special activities and events until November 10. Visit British Ceramics Biennial
3 The Staffordshire Hoard - Anglo Saxon gold and treasure worth £3 million - including objects such as swords and ornate battle helmets – is on display from October 26 at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.
■ Best Western Moat House Stoke-on-Trent has rooms from £30 per person bed and breakfast or £45 dinner, bed and breakfast. Family rooms are available. Call 01782 609988.
■ Trentham Gardens costs £8 per person to enter. Discounted family tickets are available. Entry to the Monkey Forest and Aerial Extreme is for an additional fee. Visit Trentham for information.
■ Entry to Wedgwood Visitor Centre and Museum is £10 per adult, and factory tours are £2.50 extra. Concessionary and family tickets available. Making your own pottery is £10 including firing and delivering your finished item. Details at Wedgwood Visitor Centre
■ Emma Bridgewater offers factory tours for a £2.50 charge – which can be redeemed against items in the factory shop. Pottery painting charges depend on the size of item you wish to paint, plus £5 for firing, glazing and delivery.
■ Guided tours at Moorcroft Pottery cost £4.50 for adults and £3.50 for concessions.
■ Entry to Gladstone PotteryMuseum is £7.25 for adults, £5.75 concessions and £5 for children. Family tickets are £21.
■ Visit Stoke provides full details of attractions.