There’s more to the United Kingdom than London, a city certainly steeped in its own long and prosperous history, its streets a veritable maze of architectural epochs; yet, there‘s one thing Stratford-upon-Avon has that the British capital doesn’t.
Arriving at this lovely settlement nestled in the beautifully serene countryside of Warwickshire, you’ll not only find the quaint and exquisite Tudor houses of the 16th century, lost to London in the Great London Fire of 1666, but the birth place of one of the world’s most important literary figures – William Shakespeare.
Only two hours and fifteen minutes outside London by train, Stratford-upon-Avon offers an enchanted escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city life. Located among picturesque gardens and fields, 95 miles northwest of the great metropolis and close to the city of Birmingham, here is where visitors can experience true historic England.
As a must-see destination for any history or literature enthusiast, Stratford-upon-Avon is a tribute to its great playwright. Shakespeare was born, bred and finally put to rest at the cemetery of Holy Trinity Church in this town, and his presence in the beautiful town remains inescapable. There are the houses that Shakespeare and his family owned, including his daughter Susanna’s home at Hall’s Croft, his wife Anne Hathaway’s family cottage at Shottery, his mother Mary Arden’s house on Palmer’s farm, Nash’s House museum and, of course, the residence of the man himself, New Place. This is the official residence of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and you couldn’t pay full tribute to the world’s greatest playwright without visiting one of several theatres run by the prestigious group including The Courtyard Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Swan Theatre and Waterside Space.
To ensure an unforgettable experience, the residences of Stratford-upon-Avon accompany the picturesque Bancroft Gardens and tranquil Waterside leading down the River Avon with an abundance of accommodation and places to eat. Enjoy the restaurants at the wonderful Sheep Street, named after the livestock that where once slaughtered and sold there, now famous for ‘Number 40’ –originally built in 1480 –and Shrieve’s House, which is now the oldest residence in town. It boasts the notorious Oliver Cromwell as one if its famous houseguests. Meanwhile, you couldn’t leave town without making the pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s birthplace at his father John Shakespeare’s home on Henley Street. As one of the town’s oldest streets, Henley Street is the major tourist and shopping precinct, where you can enjoy the numerous shops, cafes and street entertainment that keep the spirit of Shakespeare alive.
Naturally enough, the National Trust plays a prominent part in Stratford and district’s integrity, and the most famous National Trust garden in England lies snugly in the North Cotswolds. In addition to the Fleece in Stratford-on-Avon, the only National Trust pub in the nation, you will find Hidcote Manor Garden, Snowshill Manor – once home to Charles Paget Wade – and Dover’s Hill, just two miles from Chipping Campden.
Stratford-on-Avon also lays claim to a charming trans-Atlantic connection, in the form of Harvard House, which was owned and occupied by the founder of the eponymous university in the United States.
Another popular attraction is the Shakespeare Theatrical Experience, a rare treat for the aficionado of both theatre generally and The Bard himself. The programme incorporates a four-day holiday staying in the centrally located 4-star Shakespeare Hotel, combining a pleasurable educational experience with a great performance of one of the master’s plays each night of your stay. There are also a couple of 90-minute morning seminars each day exploring the major theme of that night’s play and then how to approach a key scene in dramatic terms. You then enjoy a visit to the Shakespeare Centre, and after lunch the afternoon is yours to wander at leisure around the town.
For a more relaxed and romantic experience, enjoy and absorb the beauty that could very well have inspired Shakespeare’s own artistic impulses. For the more naturally inclined visitor, there are the farms and fields of nearby counties Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, as well as Stratford-upon-Avon’s Butterfly Farm. Explore the network of cycle paths in and around Stratford-upon-Avon, visit Holy Trinity Church or enjoy the serenity of a walk or boat ride along the River Avon.
“A contract of eternal bond of love confirm’d by mutual joinder of your hands” wrote Stratford-on-Avon’s most celebrated inhabitant in Act V Scene I of Twelfth Night, so what a dream of a conclusion to your courtship – saying “I do” to your fiancée in one the hotel’s or stately home’s grounds to be enjoyed throughout this idyllic corner of England. In a fairytale departure from the reception for your honeymoon, take your Lady Fair away in a punt on the beautiful river Avon.
Whatever your sightseeing predisposition, Stratford-upon-Avon is bound to provide the ‘Shakespearience’ of a lifetime.