Thursday, 14 April 2011

A week in Stratford upon Avon

Whilst visiting this quiet little town, buried on the borders of the Cotswolds, I got the strong feeling that Stratford upon Avon has some kind of connection with a little known playwright called William Shakespeare. It may have been the prominent theatre that tends to almost exclusively put on a lot of plays by this guy and is the home of a tiny bunch of enthusiasts who call themselves the Royal Shakespeare Company, or the many old Tudor houses that seem to bear names like ‘William Shakespeare’s birthplace’, ‘Anne Hathaway’s cottage, ‘Mary Arden’s Farm, Halls Croft and ‘The New Place’, all of which lay some claim to his immediate family. These subtle clues made me realise that this was some kind of local celebrity.

Shakespeare's Birthplace

I imagine that many of you reading this will have never heard of this little known playwright, who although recognised by the residents of this tiny country town, may not have spread far outside his home town.

Halls Croft, Shakespeare's daughter's house

Amazingly, for such an obscure playwright, there seemed to be a large number of tourists wanting to visit the town, many arriving from distant lands just to see his birthplace. Coachloads of tourists were constantly arriving and jamming themselves into the tiny hovels which had once been occupied by this local hero.  

Anne Hathaway's cottage, later Mrs Shakespeare

By the last afternoon of our visit, a Saturday, the open grassed area between the bridge over the river Avon and the Theatre, an area of at least two acres, which had been a pleasant place to stroll in the sunshine, was so crowded it was just a sea of people.
I think I should warn anyone from overseas who has yet been persuaded to spend good money in order see the place, that it is not very good value for money. Whilst there are many perfectly good modern clean, spacious and well lit buildings around the town, the tourist guides insist on sending their clients to see some really ramshackle buildings that are obviously very old and built to very low standards that would be firmly rejected by today’s more discriminating citizens.
There is no double glazing, the central heating and sanitation is primitive to say the least. The floors are extremely uneven and could cause accidents due to their irregularities. The windows are tiny and let in little light and the ceilings are so low that anyone over five foot in height stands a good chance of injuring their head on the low and protruding beams that abound in all these buildings.

This notice mind your head should have read mind your back.
Bending down so far was not good for lumbago.

Some of the local people were able to quote a few lines from the plays written by their local bard and will put on an impromptu play for the benefit of the tourists as a part of different guided tours.


We were able to watch an extract from two plays, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer night’s Dream. They were very good and The Granddaughter (TG) was entranced.
Unfortunately the theatre was closed for refitting and so we were unable to watch the real thing.

Although the weather started cold for the first two days, despite weather forecasts of rain and clouds, we had the most glorious weather for the rest of the week.

A visit to Mary Arden’s Farm was interesting, since it is run as a Tudor period farm and as far as possible keeps the traditional methods in use. The staff are all dressed in Period costume and provide a lot of information about how people lived and worked. They have a falconry exhibition and display certain birds of prey whilst explaining how they would have been used in medieval times to augment people’s diet by hunting with them. They also went through the hierarchy of who could use which kind of birds and the penalties of transgressing these hunting laws.

The Eagle owl refused to co-operate with the handlers and comically walked around rather than fly for them.

A Waddling bird of prey

Another one of the nearby places to visit in Stratford-upon-Avon is the Butterfly Farm. This is quite small but full of tropical butterflies and other insects and arachnoids. Once inside you are surrounded by butterflies, fluttering past and around you.

Food is put on the flower shapes to attract the butterflies

For some reason whenever I stood in a patch of sunlight, several butterflies settled on me. This did not happen to any of the others of my family until finally one settled on The Better Half (TBH) TG was quite disappointed that none settled on her. The one on TBH was able to disguise itself as a dead leaf when it closed its wings, which was obviously a survival tactic for that species. 

 It was quite hot inside, being kept at a tropical level for the insects, but we were glad of the change because the weather had not at that stage of the week warmed up much outside.

Close by is the stately home of Coughton Court, the home of the Throckmorton family since 1409 and we did the tour and listened to the guides give some really interesting stuff about the family history and their involvement in both the Gunpowder Plot and in the English Civil war.

Coughton Court

It had grown really warm by that day, and so for lunch we picnicked outside and whilst we ate, we were entertained by a single crow driving off a buzzard, a much larger bird. Later three buzzards soared above us climbing on the thermals until they were almost out of sight.

The crow chasing the buzzard off
The gardens of Coughton Court are very extensive and well maintained by the family. We were able to wander around and admire the views for the rest of the day.

Some blooms in the gardens

The daffodils were almost over but still had masses of blooms
The Lake in the gardens

A View from the roof of the tower

Another view from the tower showing some of the extensive grounds

Because we were staying in a self-catering place which did not provide an Internet connection, I decided to buy a 3G pay-as-you-go dongle. As I am sure many people will know, these things plug into your laptop and are supposed to connect you to the Internet via the mobile (cell) phone network using the modern smart phone technology but without an actual phone.
It was rather erratic but did allow me to get on line for a while each evening, just enough to get my e-mails reliably but it did not let me get into blogging at all well and most of my comments were often blitzed by it, so apologies to anyone who sees me regularly on their site and got nothing from me.

Apart from poor Internet which, contrary to TBH’s opinion, I can live without, it was a brilliant week and we are now resting our sore hips and knees, the result of being on our feet for several hours every day and being with a lively granddaughter.


  1. I've seen a couple of that bloke's plays. Don't bother - they're really depressing. Practically everyone dies. And I didn't get ANY of the jokes!

  2. It sounds as though you had a wonderful time and I can see that you gave your new camera a good work out - some stunning images. Now, if you want to keep grandaughter really happy go to where you can buy her her very own butterfly feeding flower.

    Never heard of the playwright chap...these places make such a fuss over the least local celeb, don't they? x

  3. M_AJ, the plays were spoiled for me when we had to dissect them at school, I did not get to enjoy any for many years.
    Elizabeth, That Butterfly garden looks like a wonderful idea, I will have to talk to her mum. I have reduced the picture quality considerably since I keep exceeding my broadband allowance if I upload the full size images, so they are not as good as they could be.

  4. These are lovely photos, Pete, and I am so envious of your spring weather. I went to a wedding on Saturday in the midst of a gigantic downpour and galeforce winds. Yesterday it snowed on and off all day; tonight they are forecasting ice, and then rain for the next 7 days!!

    That Bill Shakespeare and his family did alright for themselves, didn't they, considering they are such unknowns....look like nice homes - from the outside, anyway. Unfortunately he turned me right off reading in my high school years -- just couldn't get into any of his plays, even to this day.

    We have a butterfly farm not too far from us - must take the grandchildren one day.