This is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and there have been a number of tributes all over the UK this year to commemorate his, life, legacy and massive body of work. Some of you who read my blog on a regular basis know that one of the things I did during my 30 day culture challenge earlier this year was to learn more about Shakespeare’s will because it was released from the national archives.
When a girlfriend mentioned that she was trying to find someone to go with her to Stratford upon Avon in lieu of her (now ex) boyfriend. I jumped at the chance to check it out and visit. How did the bard get started and why has he been so freaking successful for 400 years. Do you know who Mae West is? William Marlowe? Maybe you do but if you don’t the main point is that lots of famous people come and go. I would love to have his level of success one day (wouldn’t we all).
If you are looking for a fun weekend trip, this is a great place to go and visit. You can easily get there from Marylebone Station, which is in central London. I recommend getting in on a Friday night or very early Saturday morning so that you have two full days to explore. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and everything felt really, really tight. I will tell you about our dramatic departure later…
We arrived in Stratford upon Avon at around lunchtime on Sunday having taken a train that connected through Lemington Spa. There are some direct trains? While it had been sunny in London, by the time we got to Stratford, it was raining big time. Worse, there were no taxi’s as they had all been taken by a big wedding party (they were all wearing
dresses and suits, so I can only assume). At that point, we decided to walk the 20 minutes in the rain to our Bed and Breakfast called No.82 (+44 07581571585), which meant the proprietor’s daughter missed her dance lesson (sorry kid!). Ideal Taxi (+44 01789290444) is one of the main companies in town and they are really good. Once we had their number, we used it to schedule pickups. I recommend calling on the way if you want a pickup.
After putting our bags down, the very kind B&B owner drove us to the town centre and we had a very tasty lunch at XX. They served a mix of pub favourites and I opted for the set menu. It felt good to be in the warmth and have a long, lazy lunch. They were really accommodating with my friends dietary requests too.
Afterwards, we walked across the street to Shipton & Co., which is a cute little jewelry shop. The were having a sale, so we spent another 30 minutes trying on gems. I ended up buying two beautiful rings. If you like jewelry, it is a fun place to pop into. They had some really amazing designs and I found out that the owner of the shop is actually a designer and creates some of the pieces himself. My favourite was the Poet’s Ring.
We then braved the rain and went to Shakespeare’s birthplace. It may not look like much but at the time, the house would have been quite an expensive one. My friend was excited as she recognised parts of the house from an educational video she has seen in school. There were lots if signs, guides and details to help explain more about Shakespeare’s life. I had not realised that he had done so many different things and that he was also a solid businessman, property investor and government leader.
The home was interesting and not too crowded that afternoon (probably due to the rain). We bought passes that gave us access to the house, as well as about five other Shakespeare properties for the next year. It was good value as we ended up seeing three of the sites. Apparently, you can get a two for one deal with a gold card or some other brochure coupon but we didn’t have one.
The Swan Theatre
That evening we went to the Swan Theatre for dinner and (what else) a play by Shakespeare. I had never seen ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ before and it was an amazing play. First, we kicked things off with dinner at the rooftop restaurant. I highly recommend asking for a table with a view of the river. Once again, I had the set menu and some wine. My share of the bill came out to £34.
There is more than one theatre in the venue, so don’t be alarmed if you see people heading off or the alarms reminding people that a show is about to begin (unless it is actually your show). Gallery One is very small and intimate, which made it the perfect place to see the play. Tickets were £40 each and there is a cool gift shop for any aspiring bards in your life. Once the play was over, we called Ideal Taxi to pick us up.
Our last day
On our last day, we spent most of the morning having breakfast with some of the other guests at the B&B. It was a lot of fun chatting and sharing details about what we had seen and most things open late on Sunday anyways. Our hostess recommended another jewelry shop so we set off into town to see it but it turned out that it was closed. We decided to head to Holy Trinity Church instead, as that is where Shakespeare was baptised and is buried. On the way though, we realised were right near Shakespeare’s ‘New Place’, which was the site of one of his other homes. The original home is not there but there are more artifacts and information. It is worth a visit. We continued onto the church and passed his old school and Hall’s Croft, the home of his daughter and son-in-law.
Eventually, we reached Holy Trinity and made a donation of around £5 to see the burial site of Shakespeare and some of his other family members. Always a writer to the end, there was a poem on his gravestone warning people from disturbing his tomb. The church did a good job of managing all of the tourists and had a number of information pieces regarding his life and legacy – including photos of the church register entries for his baptism and death.
Hathaway to Home
Once we left, we thought about heading to the home of Anne Hathaway – not the actress – his wife. whose family lived there. It was amazing and probably my second favourite after his birthplace. The staff has created a beautiful garden and furnished the home with period pieces, so if you are into design history, check it out. I was enjoying myself right up until the moment my pal told me that our train was leaving in 15 minutes. Yeep. She called the taxi and he zoomed to the B&B where we picked up our bags and then speed off to the train station. I wanted to see more of the house but I have the annual pass and have a feeling I might go back again.
I highly recommend this town for a visit. If you have a chance, drive up there yourself. You’ll have a lot more flexibility as there are a lot of nooks and crannies in this town that you’ll want to explore.