Shakespeare country

Sunday 24 February 2013 – Stratford-upon-Avon

I am blaming the bard for causing an almost complete mental block and now I am stuck on how to go about starting this post. If I only I had a small jot of his ability to string phrases together it would all be so much easier.

In true tragic-comedic fashion, now that I am committed to leaving London in less than two weeks time I have met a woman I like and naturally she is unable to travel in the immediate future. We have been hanging out a bit over the past few weeks and have had some good times. For reasons I will not go into I have agreed to not post a picture of El, but she has an impeccable taste in music, likes to read books, has a wicked sense of humour and I think she is very nice.

Anyway, we decided to do something different and went to Stratford upon Avon for the weekend, the birth and burial place of the bard himself – William Shakespeare. I am reading the fabulous Bill Bryson book on Shakespeare and it really highlights how few actual facts there are about old Bill, his name has been recorded as – Shakspeare, Shagsper, Shackspere and another twenty plus variations – a number of those variations were in his own signature.

We caught the train up from Marylebone Station in London on a bitterly cold Friday evening and arrived in our hotel in time for a late dinner in a bar packed with middle aged men in tuxedos – I felt a wee bit out of place in my jeans and boots – Stratford is not London!

On Saturday we took a walk around town, it was quite cold outside so numerous visits to historical houses were made. If you have lived in England over a winter you will know all about the bitter wind that howls down from the Siberian Steppes, it does not bring rain or snow but it cuts through as many layers of clothing as you can possibly wear and even my ‘windproof’ leather gloves were no match. Having said that, there was a constant very light fall of massive snow flakes all day. I was possibly the only person praying for a massive snow fall…

Stratford itself was sort of disappointing, due to my own ignorance I was expecting a cute wee village rather than a proper ‘town’ so the lovely old buildings were scattered and a bit incoherent. Not that there were not beautiful in their own right, just in between were the normal English high street chain store blights like Starbucks, Currys and the soon to be gone HMV. I imagine in not such a long time we will all be looking back at high street shopping as quaint and old fashioned.

First stop was a quick look at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre on the far side of the River Avon. It was great to see a wee bit of Olympic legacy with the number of keen rowers out on a cold morning.

1150452

We were looking for breakfast and coffee and were momentarily tempted by three inches of pure dairy fat in the middle of this scone. Jam and cream scones as part of an “English cream tea” are very common, but I have never seen this much cream – ever. I was not tempted through the shop door (OK I was, but I did not dare!)

P1150456

There are very few real facts about Shakespeare and his life, no paintings of him were made during his life time and no copies of any of his work exists in his own hand writing, most of what we know comes from other accounts of his life. Due to reasonably good record keeping in the UK from a very early time we do know where (not exactly when) he was born, got married, had children and died. Our first stop post breakfast was the house where he was born and lived when he was a child.

It is a museum now and frankly a wee bit odd. I guess the flow of the museum is really designed to cater for the masses of visitors that would come through on an English summer day. As you can see he was not born into poverty, though his family were hardly rich, just well off…

P1150458

P1150460

P1150462

It was a wee walk through town to our next stop.

P1150459

P1150464

I really liked these old alms houses from the mid sixteenth century, partially renovated in the 1980’s and now lived in, the look lovely. What really impressed me with this street and outside our next stop at Halls Croft was the fact there was no parking out the front – finally an opportunity to see these wonderful buildings without cars and vans parked in front. Well done Stratford !

P1150466

P1150468

P1150472

P1150474

Halls Croft is the house where Shakespeare daughter lived once she was married, it is quite ramshackle and I loved in a partially renovated way and I loved it, especially how the floor boards squeaked so loudly as we walked around.

P1150476

I loved this little croft house nearby, and really regret not getting some close ups of the wood of the door.

P1150477

England’s most visited parish church, Holy Trinity is the burial place of Shakespeare and his family. It was an interesting visit, I am used to visiting the big old cathedrals but this is a lovely old building with some very nice stained glass windows as well as the Shakespeare burial site.

P1150479

1150482

1150486

From the church we completed the loop walking back along the side of the Avon and past the Royal Shakespeare Co theatre.

P1150490

P1150501

The building did not impress me at all from the outside, however we went to see a play in the evening and the inside is totally different to the out. The theatre is lovely, a horse shoe shape with steep galleries around the stage. We saw “The winters tale” it was my first live Shakespeare, and the first theatre I have been to in decades. I was very unsure on whether I would enjoy it or not and at three hours long it could have been a long and uncomfortable evening ! However, I surprised myself by really enjoying it, not that I understood half of what was being said. The cast was excellent and really allowed the story to work without needing to understand all the dialogue.

It was a good night that followed a really nice day. Though I slightly criticised the town at the start of this post, it was a lovely place to wander through, with some great things to see. Winter is a great time of year to visit !