Lan and Jane 'do' Western Europe travel blog

Strolling in Stratford

Wicker sculpture in front of Anne Hathaway's Cottage

At Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Crossing the Shottery Brook, near Anne Hathaway's Cottage

The primary reason for most tourists to visit Stratford-upon-Avon is of course to visit the sites linked to the Bard.

We started the day with a leisurely breakfast at Bistrot Pierre in the Macdonald Swans Nest Hotel. Part of the leisureliness was imposed on us by the slow service, but once esconced at the table we decided to wait it out.

It was then only a short walk to the Shakespeare Centre in Henley Street where we bought the Full Story ticket that allows you to visit all five of the key sites. Shakespeare’s birthplace is at the rear of the centre and we were able to wander around what would have, in the 16th century, been considered a very substantial house. When it was put up for sale in a very dilapidated state in 1846, it was saved from the clutches of P. T. Barnum, who wanted to ship the whole house to America, and restored to its current state by what would become the Shakespeare Heritage Trust, which now oversees all things Bard.

From there we walked out of town through some lovely laneways to Anne Hathaway's Cottage, which has also been beautifully restored. This structure is even older than the birthplace house, having been begun in the 15th century and gradually extended over the next couple of hundred years. We particularly enjoyed the gardens and the mini forest walk at the back, and there were small wicker bowers sprinkled around that featured audio recordings of actors reading some of the more famous sonnets. In another part of the garden the Trust is collecting visitors' comments about Romeo and Juliet as part of a major project.

The nearby tearooms offer traditional scones and clotted cream and other meals using organic produce from another of the Shakespeare related sites, Mary Arden's Farm (which we didn’t get to).

We wandered back towards town to visit Hall's Croft, which was the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susannah. This one dates from the 17th century, and again is a substantial building that has housed wealthy residents for centuries.

Just a little way down the road from there is Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried.

What is evident from all these sites is, of course, how little is known about Shakespeare, given the renown of his works (if they are indeed his!) Very few of the artifacts on display can be pinned down as being owned or used by someone in Shakespeare's life; instead the descriptions are replete with phrases such as “believed to be”, “possibly” and “similar to”. There were even paintings on display that had in the past been thought to be of Shakespeare's family members, but which are now longer considered as such! Even Shakespeare’s birthplace is assumed (albeit logically) to be so because it is known that his father lived there during the years before and after 1564, but there is little other concrete evidence that the Bard was actually born in that house. Bill Bryson's book takes an amusing look at this lack of knowledge about Shakespeare, and is worth a read.

After another day of wearing out our feet, we wended our way back to our lodgings via the lovely Avon Riverside Walk, which follows the river bank on both sides in a long loop. We had already walked on part of this, as it is the path that passes by our hotel and goes into town. So we finished off the rest by heading south from the church, crossing the Lucy Mills Bridge and turning north towards our lodgings, past sports facilities, parks and gardens.

After a decent rest we headed out to dinner, only to discover that on Saturday nights in Stratford, you really should book a table for dinner! Anyway, at our fifth restaurant (Wildwood, in Sheep Street) we encountered an enterprising waitress who offered to squeeze us in before the next guests arrived. Phew! Pizza and burger never tasted so good!

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