Getting cultured in Shakespeare’s hometown: Stratford upon Avon
Wandering through the house he was brought up in, hearing the stories from the guides inside, seeing the small four post beds, the nooks and crannies – it’s hard not to be astounded that baby William Shakespeare was born and grew up in this very house.
Just two hours out of London with a super cheap train ticket (£6 each way!) I find myself in the stunning town of Stratford upon Avon. I’ve heard from so many people how lovely the town is and finally made my way there on a very rainy day. On the bright side, I came with an umbrella and there was no wind (unlike rainy days in London) so I was kept pretty dry. The difficult part was manoeuvring my SLR camera whilst holding an umbrella (which I think I’m pretty skilled at now).
Arriving just as the buildings were opening, meant I was able to see all the main sights in the town centre bright and early without many tourists. First stop was Shakespeare’s birthplace, where he was born and grew up. His father made gloves so the home functioned as both living and working quarters. It’s been through its paces over the years (even transformed into a pub at one stage), but it is incredible to see it still standing with the Shakespeare shield on its front door.
One of neat tales one of the guides inside Shakespeare birthplace told me about was that beneath the beds were trundle beds for the children, these were made of rope in a wooden frame very close to the ground. Each week the rope would need to be tightened, so this is where we get the saying ‘Sleep tight don’t let the bed bugs bite’. This was just one of the many sayings I came to realise comes from this lovely wee English town.
Next up were ‘New Place’ and ‘Nash’s House’ where the grounds once held Shakespeare big glorious home where he lived once he became a successful businessman. It once had 22 rooms and 10 fireplaces I was told! Amazing to imagine given the area doesn’t look big enough for that many areas in a house. Now just stands Nash’s Tudor house, named after Thomas Nash, a husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Elizabeth. It was definitely worth chatting to the guide at the door about the house and location, as he was very informative.
Then there was Hall’s Croft, where Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr. John Hall lived. Wandering through you get the chance to see all these old medicine bottles and admire the woodwork and decorations set up as they once were lived amongst.
The best way to see all these houses is to buy the five house pass, which gives you entry into all the amazing Shakespeare-related houses. Visit the website for the Shakespeare birth trust for more information.
Rushing around all these spots I squeezed them all in just before the Town Walk at 11am. As the rain became torrential a small group formed and were guided around the city and told different tales about William Shakespeare to imagine in our minds.
We wandered through Stratford and were told about Shakespeare school. In this building students would stand for 11 hours a day learning from their teachers!
We visited the place where Shakespeare was first baptised and where he was laid to rest in the Holy Trinity Church. The detail in the architecture was exquisite, even down to the seats where the priests sat. Wandering back past all the houses, gave me a little bit of added information, but I was still pleased I had gone inside the homes and spoken to the guides inside too. Our guide had special tales to remember the different Shakespeare plays and sayings that were impressive that he could remember because they weren’t short!
The Town Walks run everyday no matter what the weather conditions, which is pretty impressive since the river Avon is known for flooding. On top of this they give you vouchers to give you discounts around the town and point the places out as you go, so it’s well worth doing early in the day and making the most of your time there.
Nearing the end of the day I had a bit of time to check out the Butterfly Farm. To be honest, this was the only disappointment of the day. I’ve been to a butterfly exhibition in London outside the Natural History Museum and felt it had seemed to have more variety of butterflies to see. Maybe if I hadn’t experienced that I would have found this one more enjoyable. One thing to notice was the gigantic fish in the pond. You wander along thinking ‘that’s a nice pond for butterflies to fly around, I guess they must have goldfish in there,’ but instead there are these massive golden and white fish that look like goldfish on steroids.
After all this wandering and sight seeing I was pleased I’d planned on experiencing an Afternoon Tea in Stratford. From the tasty menu I opted to try out the Afternoon Tea at the Church Street Townhouse. I was really impressed by the friendly service and the beautifully fresh sandwiches with lovely fillings (the leftovers were still fresh when I got home which was great).
I’ve been to a lot of Afternoon Tea’s in London for two or three times the price ,so I felt this one was very reasonable for what you got for the price. One of my favourite pieces were these delightful little donut buns that were just the right amount of sweet. Unfortunately the sweets did lack chocolate and I am a bit of a chocoholic, but I was still satisfied and filled to the brim by the time I left.
As I wandered back through the streets it was just my luck that the sun popped out to say goodbye as I caught my train back to London. I wish I’d been able to spend more time in Stratford as the riverboat cruises and punting look lovely and relaxing. I would have also liked to get out to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm, but maybe that gives me an excuse to return for another day!
Stratford upon Avon was a delightful town to visit, but really does deserve at least a weekend to investigate properly. There are lots of little lovely eating spots and boutique shops, alleyways and interesting things like statues on lampposts (and lampposts donated from different cities/countries around the world) to stumble across! Not to mention the theatre opportunities, lovely old houses and scenery to appreciate.
All the thoughts and comments in this post are my own. To make this day the best day it could be, I was kindly provided a complimentary press pass that allowed me to enjoy all these experiences. Many thanks to Stratford Town Walk, Church Street Townhouse, Shakespeare’s England (shakespeares-england.co.uk), the Butterfly Farm, The Holy Trinity Church.