A picturesque and inspirational destination, Stratford-upon-Avon is the literary capital of the UK. The birthplace of Shakespeare, arguably the single most influential man in the history of English Literature ‘The Bard of Avons’ presence lives on, within this iconic and historic rural English town. A peaceful environment though it may appear, Stratford-upon-Avon still features as one of the most popular tourist spots in Britain; a respectful serenity pays homage to the iconic poet, playwright and actor who lived here.
Typified by black and white, listed Tudor buildings, Stratford-upon-Avon was first founded during the Saxon era of medieval England. walks , talks, tours, ghost hunts , cycle rides , river boat rides, plays, good food, real ale pubs aplenty and quality shops are all available within this small market town. An ideal getaway, activities fit for everyone are happening everywhere. The friendly disposition of the locals and the laid back attitude which typifies country life makes this a perfect place for a short break.
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Whether you're a fan of Shakespeare's work or not, the tales originating in this, his birthplace echo timelessly within this environment. Such is the world’s obsession with Shakespeare and his influence upon the English Language, that Stratford-upon-Avon has become a living museum and a tribute to his whole life, from his infancy to his marriage to Anne Hathaway.
There are five residences associated with Shakespeare and his family in the area and the house he was born in is truly a must see. One of eight children and the eldest surviving child of the family, William inherited the family home. It was subsequently kept in Shakespeare's family until the late 18th century, bought in turn by ‘ Shakespeare Birthplace Trust ’ in 1847 and expertly maintained. This 16th century Henley Street dwelling is the largest house situated in it’s neighbourhood. Remaining as authentic to Shakespeare's time as possible, using original materials, the building underwent restoration by the Trust between 1857 and 1864 to restore the building to its former 16th century glory. Upon entering the house, the visitor goes on a journey through a bygone age and an exhibition of Shakespeare's work is housed within the adjacent Shakespeare Centre .
Created to exhibit the manuscripts, paraphernalia and official items recovered and preserved during Shakespeare's illustrious career, this is a highly stylised space. Also situated within the Shakespeare centre, Stratford upon Avon themed art of his age decorate the space; Glass panels etched with life-sized figures of Ophelia and Macbeth created by John Hutton , carved timber-work by lettering historian Nicolete Gray and furniture by Gordon Russell sit alongside a sculpture of Shakespeare himself by Douglas Wain-Hobson .
Described as the most romantic spot in the UK, home to Shakespeare's wife Hathaway, her 600 year old thatched cottage is widely discussed as the place where the couples love story began and then blossomed. Set within nine acres of rural gardens, offering a quintessential afternoon tea daily The Shottery is a stunning farmhouse and is only a quick stroll from the centre of Stratford.
Equally impressive is Halls Croft, home to the Bards daughter Susannah. Married to a renowned physician by the name of John Halls, the uniqueness of this location lies in the rare and abundant herbs, plants and buds that were grown by John during his life. Inspired by the healing qualities of plants, John was famous for his use of natural elements in his medicines. Originally constructed in the early 1600’s, the naturally purified fragrant environment of Crofts Hall make for a wonderful place of reflection, or an ideal quiet setting to read that book you have been carrying around with you, left unread for too long.
The pretty sunken garden , designed by english historian Earnest Law and created in remembrance of Shakespeare's family home can be found at ‘Shakespeare's New Place’. Another restoration project, recreated with outstanding architectural likeness to the original, the former home of the bard and his family was demolished in 1759, Shakespeare reportedly lived here from 1597, gaining inspiration and working from this building to create some of his greatest works. Artworks guide guests around the space to encourage imaginations to recreate the world from which the writer would take inspiration from.
Harvard House is a lesser known, discrete Grade 1 Elizabethan townhouse, known more commonly as ‘The Ancient House’. Owned and commissioned by the grandson of John Harvard, who famously founded Harvard University in the United States, Harvard House contains intricate architectural features, stunning interiors and rich furnishings. Even by today’s progressive construction standards, this building remains at the forefront of building design.
So much has been reported here on the great mind which created such brilliant literature that a visit to one of the three playhouses situated in Stratford is a natural next on the checklist.
All owned by The Royal Shakespeare company, first on the itinerary is the ‘ Royal Shakespeare Theatre ’. Whet your cultural appetite with a cocktail at the Royals rooftop bar or enjoy an early pre-theatre dinner at the restaurant, which overlooks the winding River Avon and Bancroft Gardens . Inside, three tiers crescent around the stage, complemented with an art deco aesthetic adding a modern twist to the medieval feel of the playhouse. Over 20 productions a year are programmed here, with over 1000 seats available for every performance; the buzz of excitement and drama within the venue is always palpable.
Product of a multi million facelift, reopening in 2010, after it’s original unveiling in 1986, far more intimate than its neighbouring playhouse, The Swan seats 450 guests within in it’s galleries. The Theatre's stage extends into the audience area and is connected to the backstage area by its upstage end, facilitating audience interaction with elements of ‘The Swans’ productions. Described by many as their favourite of the three theatres, the Swan's decadent proscenium arc is popular with tourists and this Elizabethan re-imaging of an archetypal playhouse of the era is a unique point of interest to many. Thirdly but no means lastly, ‘The Courtyard’ renamed ‘ The Other Place ’ is a steel extension, attached to the RSC studio. Designed as a temporary theatre whilst the RST underwent re-construction work, the Other Place went on to win numerous design awards and is praised universally by theatre goers. Today the cutting edge, heavy duty arts space remains and continues to attract arts enthusiasts.
With so much history and art on offer, alternative light entertainment in the form of shopping, a punt down the river's shallow water pathways or a visit to the butterfly farm are all family friendly activities not to be missed. Pre-book your rowing trip with Avon Boating for the premium experience before hopping across to witness free-flying butterflies and exotic birds at the Stratford Butterfly Farm ; but beware, for those squeamish of creepy crawlies amongst you, this sanctuary contains the world's largest collection of caterpillars!
After your time bobbing around the big drink, it's time for one of your own! Afternoon tea in Stratford is a serious business. Ice cream and cakes in tea houses prevalent in the area are made from fresh farmed local dairy. The Pantry offers a long list of delicious cakes and gelatos, set to the backdrop of stunning riverside views. Alternatively Shakees Ice Cream Boat serves up traditional ice creams and coffee all day and vanilla with a flake enjoyed on a riverside bench in the summer is first rate!
If something with more of kick is to your taste, The Dirty Duck , some 100 yards from ice cream central is the lovies watering hole of choice. A friendly old English Inn, commonly frequented by those treading the boards at the neighbouring Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the food is delicious and fairly priced. Real ales can be found on the menu and the early bird offer allows a choice from ten meals to be enjoyed for under eight pounds between 5pm and 7pm. If something a little more formal is desired, then vegan, veggie and gluten free friendly British, family-run restaurant, The Scullery is a moderately priced, an excellent place to dine in a relaxed environment. Intimate, good value and perfectly presented, a sense of pride is clearly evident in the hard working kitchen and table staff employed there. A wonderful treat for a loved one, The Scullery is the town's number one eating haunt.