by Ann Evans
Photos: Rob Tysall www.tysallsphotography.org.uk
Immerse yourself in the life and times of William Shakespeare as you enjoy a day in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. Although to be honest a day isn’t nearly long enough to see everything this picturesque town has to offer. One way of making sure you don’t miss out on any of the major attractions is to take a tour on an open-topped bus which will take you to all the major places of interest and you can hop on and off all day.
But if you’ve plenty of time to spare, get your walking shoes on and explore the lovely old cobbled streets of the old town and take a leisurely stroll along the banks of the River Avon. If the weather is fine you could even take a boat out on the river.
One of the most famous landmarks along the River Avon is the Royal Shakespeare Theatre which enjoyed a multi million pound transformation a few years ago. Along with a new theatre there’s a Rooftop Restaurant as well as exhibition and event areas plus a 36 metre tower where you can view Stratford from new lofty heights.
No visit to Stratford would be complete without visiting the five Shakespearian houses, namely Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Mary Arden’s House, Anne Hathaways Cottage, Halls Croft, Nash’s House and New Place.
Mary Arden’s House is the home of Shakespeare’s grandparents and childhood home of his mother, Mary Arden. The kids will love it as it’s a working 16th century farm with animals, traditional farming methods, crafts and characters from Tudor times. It’s situated in Wilmcote three miles from the town centre.
Another of the Shakespeare Houses just outside of Stratford is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage – childhood home of Shakespeare’s wife, which nestles in the village of Shottery. If you love thatched cottages that are as pretty as a picture on a chocolate box, then you will love this, particularly if you go in spring or summer time. There are some wonderful long country walks around the area too.
The remaining three Shakespeare Houses are in the heart of Stratford. Shakespeare’s birthplace in Henley Street is where he grew up and is the centre for all things Shakespearian. Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s eldest daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall is a short walk away and here you can explore the gardens full of herbs and flowers that the eminent doctor wrote about in his medical notes. Finally Nash’s House and New Place. Nash’s House was home to Thomas Nash the first husband to Shakespeare’s granddaughter, and adjacent, although the building has been demolished, is New Place where William Shakespeare lived – and died in 1616. The spot is preserved now as gardens.
To actually see the burial place of the great man, which is also at the church where he was baptised in 1564, you need to walk along to Holy Trinity Church in the Old Town. Each year on 23rd April, William Shakespeare is remembered with a parade through the town. Starting at his grave where flowers are laid, the colourful parade is heralded by costumed actors and people in traditional attire from the Shakespearian era. The parade attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Stratford isn’t totally about the world famous playwright. Another attraction that the kids in particularly will love is the Butterfly Farm. Situated just across the river from the town centre you’ll discover a tropical hothouse where you walk amongst hundreds of huge spectacular butterflies brought in from all over the world. An enchanting experience.
With the town of Stratford being so old and historical and so many of its buildings dating back centuries, it’s not surprising that many places are reputed to be haunted. Ghost Hunts are a popular activity held after dark, or you could send shivers up and down your spine by day, by visiting The Falstaff Experience. This museum played host to the TV series Most Haunted and is in fact thought to be one of the most haunted buildings in England. Creepy…
If you’re not into scaring yourself silly, then get some healthy retail therapy in by perusing the shops. While you’ll find many of the High Street stores in Stratford, you’ll also find lots of unique little shops and boutiques to browse for something a little out of the ordinary. There’s even an all year round Christmas shop. But if you want to take home a typical souvenir of your day in Stratford, I can guarantee you won’t have to look too far to find something with a hint of William Shakespeare about it.