William Shakespeare, is probably the World’s most famous Poet and Play writer, so famous in fact, he has a country named after him.
Well – sort of!
This past weekend, I got to visit it.
Where is Shakespeare Country?
South of Birmingham, North of Oxford, and nestled beside the Cotswolds is an area colloquially known as Shakespeare Country. It is not a country in its own right, but its name derives from the fact that Stratford-Upon-Avon is the birthplace of the English Poet.
The town attracts approximately 4.9 million visitors per year, and I decided to add to the statistic. Having been to Stratford-Upon-Avon once in the past, but not remembering much, I wanted to enlighten myself with history and culture for the weekend.
Getting to Stratford-Upon-Avon (also known locally as Stratford)
Travelling to Stratford-Upon-Avon by rail is the quickest, and possibly easiest way to do so. I travelled from Stafford in the West Midlands, and it took 2.5 hours (owing to the rail works on a public holiday), but it would normally take 1.5 hours. From Birmingham trains can reach Stratford in 45-55 minutes. If you are coming from London, it will take a lot longer; 2-3 hours, but it is worth it.
On arrival into the station, take right out of the main doors, follow the ramp way up to the road and walk straight down; follow your nose basically, and you’ll get to the town centre in 10 minutes.
Within the town, there are plenty of signs to direct you to the main attractions.
I spent just 6 hours in Stratford, but managed to fit in quite a lot. The main attractions surround the history of Shakespeare, which is what I mainly came to see.
Visiting Shakespeare’s Houses
The main house (Shakespeare’s Birthplace), is located on the oldest street in town- Henley Street.
This is also where you can get tickets to visit the houses. If you wish, you can purchase a single ticket known as the birthplace pass, which will get you access to Shakespeare’s house, the grave, Halls Croft, and Havard House. This will cost £14.31, if you buy online (which gives you a 10% discount).
If you have more time to spend, you can get the 5 house pass, which will get you access to all of the above, plus Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farmhouse; this will cost £21.51, if you book online.
This is what I did, although I did not get time to visit all the attractions (I missed out on Mary Arden’s Farmhouse), but take note – all passes are valid for 12 months, so if you don’t get time, and want to come back, you can do so as much as you like within the 12 months.
Even if you book online however, you will have to queue to have your tickets validated. As the houses are incredibly popular, the queues can be substantially long, so get there early if you don’t want to miss things.
Shakespeare’s Houses – the 5 house Tour
- Shakespeare’s Birthplace House and Gardens
This is where you will start, coming from the small museum from the Shakespeare Centre, here you will get a lot of facts and a background on the Shakespeare family. What I didn’t know, is the John Shakespeare (William’s father, was one of the Wealthiest in Stratford), he was a glove maker, and not know to be the norm in those times, he owned many properties. The house William was born in, became his own for a short period with his Wife Anne, before they moved to London.
Within the house are original furnishings, as well as well as flooring, so you’ll be walking on the same floors that William once walked.
There are also some artefacts pertaining to William, including some original writings, the birthplace window, where people later signed after William passed away, and clothing worn in those times.
2. Shakespeare’s Grave at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford
From his birth to the Grave, the church is a short ten minute walk away from Henley Street. If you have a birthplace pass, or 5 house pass, you can gain access to the church and Grave.
William is buried along with his children and wife, and the Grave is within the Church itself, which is a beautiful building, with gorgeous stained glassed windows.
Some say, William was married here also, but there are no records of this. William was baptised here as a 3 day old baby, and there are records of this.
3. Halls Croft
Halls Croft was the home of Susanna Shakespeare, and her husband Dr John Hall, who were also very well off. They had a large townhouse with beautiful gardens. Within their home are artefacts of Johns life as a Doctor. You can peruse the luxurious rooms, filled with items pertaining to that era, as well as the expanse gardens, out in the back.
4. Harvard House
Harvard House, sits on the the main high street, in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was built in 1596, by Thomas Rogers, who was the Grandfather of the benefactor of Harvard University. Where this house connects with Shakespeare is that Thomas Rogers served alongside John Shakespeare (William’s Father), as an Alderman for the Stratford Cooperation.
5. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
6. Mary Arden’s Farm
What else can you see in Stratford-Upon-Avon?
The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and produces around 20 productions per year. It is recognised both nationally and internationally.
There is also the Swan Theatre is also in town, known as Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, and was the oldest theatre until it was destroyed by fire in 1926, but rebuilt, renamed and opened in 1986.
The River Avon
The River Avon is a 137km long river, joining the counties of Leicestershire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire.
The River, runs through Stratford, and is a wonderful place to come and sit by to have a picnic. You can be taken across from one side to the other on the oldest chain ferry, for just 50p, and also hire a rowing boat.
I ran out of time to do either, so I will return one day.
The town Market
Most english towns will have a Market, and Stratford is no different. It is over 460 years old, and is as popular with tourists, as it is with the locals. There are markets on Friday (Charter Market), Saturday (Farmers Market, and Antique and Craft Market), and on Sunday (Waterside UPMarket), where you will find everything from crafts, to food and local produce. Well worth a look.
Stratford-Upon-Avon is full of amazing wee teahouses, as well as other quaint shops, in amazing buildings. From pubs in little thatched cottages to a tea house by the river; Stratford has such a lovely feel to it, for a pleasant day out. A lot of the shops and businesses are named after Shakespeare in some way, which I found amusing.
The tea rooms are a great place to come after you’ve done a lot of walking around town and through the houses. Make sure you get a quintessential English Cream Tea – they’re divine.
If you have got more time, and want to stop in Stratford, there are plenty of accommodation options, from hotels to guesthouses, but these tend to book up, so have a look online before travelling if you intend to stay the night.
To end this post, I’ll finish with one of my favourite Shakespeare Sonnets, and a perfect one for the change in seasons.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnet 18 – William Shakespeare.