Back at the end of June, I woke as usual on a Friday morning to get ready for work. I hopped in the shower, fed and watered the animals, made a cup of tea and went back upstairs to wake Ben. However, this morning had a bit of a difference – I was surprising Ben with the news that he had to pack a bag as we were going away for the weekend to celebrate his birthday!
Having roused himself from his sleep, the news of an imminent surprise trip woke him quicker than perhaps I’ve ever seen him wake before, and he jumped out of bed to pack a bag. I didn’t tell him where we were going – I thought it would be fun if he had no idea and had to guess along the way.
A few hours in the office later, and at lunchtime we met up at London Marylebone station and, rather pleasingly, had time for a quick pint/wine in the pub there. By that point I was in need of a drink as I’d ordered our train tickets online, gone to pick them up from the machine and realised I’d never received the confirmation email so had no way of getting them! They’d cost me a fair few pennies, but thankfully I’d ordered them through Trainline who are an absolute dream of a company and a 5-minute phonecall to them later, I had the tickets in my hand and was in the need of a chilled Sauvignon Blanc to bring my pulse down to a normal speed.
Now, Ben being Ben, he became super vigilant and hyper-aware of his surroundings which is always the way when I’m trying to surprise him with something, and before we had even boarded the train at Marylebone he had already been staring at the train station boards, looking at what connections there were at the changeover station we had to stop at along the way. “Are we going to Stratford-upon-Avon?” he asked. I glared at him like he’d just come into my house on Christmas morning and pissed on my presents and said, “No.” For some reason he believed me, but I only found this out later, and spent the entire journey thinking my surprise plans had been foiled.
The train journey itself wasn’t too bad, taking about 2.5 hours all in all with one change. We had a little M&S train picnic as well, which is always a bonus – you’ve got to love a train picnic!
When we arrived at Stratford-upon-Avon we were both really surprised at how small the station there is. It’s teeny! Because it’s such a popular tourist destination I really expected it to be a large station, but it’s much more of a cute little village station without so much as a shop or cash machine (not that we could find anyway, but feel free to correct me if we missed it somehow!)
Having become a major fan of AirBnB after using it for the first time when I went to see Boyzone last year, I’d booked us in to stay in a beautiful converted stable (linked here for anyone that might be interested in staying there!) It was stunning inside with cream walls and lots of wood, a cute little kitchen and a light and airy mezzanine style bedroom. The bathroom was huge also! It also turned out to only be about 10 minutes’ walk from the station and around 15-20 minutes’ walk from the main town (but I walk slowly because of my bad knee, so it might be a bit quicker for a fully-functioning person!)
The night we got there, we opened a bottle of bubbles I’d brought along to toast Ben’s birthday, before crossing over the road to a rather perfectly located pub called The Bell where I had what is up there as one of the best pies I’ve eaten in my entire life – Peppered Mushroom. I could literally eat that pie again right now, it was so good! A couple of drinks in the pub garden and we headed back to the stable where we watched a little bit of TV before heading to bed to get some rest before a busy day of sight-seeing.
The following day was all planned out with us intending to visit all the Shakespeare sites we could. As you would expect, Stratford-upon-Avon sells heavily on the Shakespeare link (and so they should, what a legend!) and everywhere you go there are references to him – street names, pubs, shops etc.
As I knew that we wanted to see all the main sights when we were there, I booked tickets in advance on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website. There are 5 different locations to visit with them and they’re all priced separately – Shakespeare’s Birthplace £15.75, Mary Arden’s Farm £13.50, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage £11.25, Shakespeare’s New Place £11.25, Hall’s Croft £7.65 (all adult prices and correct at the time of me writing this). Visiting all 5 together and paying separately would cost £59.40 per adult, however, if you go on to their website you can buy a pass which gives you access to all of them for just £20.25 which is a massive saving!
First of all – and as it was only a 3 or 4 minute stroll from where we were staying – we visited Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. It is literally the most perfect, picture-postcard cottage I have ever set eyes on. It’s surrounded by large gardens growing a multitude of fruits and vegetables as well as beautiful floral displays, and there is a little orchard you can take a stroll through too. The house itself has been adapted and extended over the past few hundred years, but you are really clearly able to see which is the original part and it seems crazy to think that whole families used to live in those tiny (often windowless and smoky) spaces. Unfortunately there isn’t too much known about Anne as she’s really only noted in history by default of her marriage to Shakespeare, but the one fact that I did take away from our visit is that the two of them were truly in love – when they met and married he wasn’t the well-known writer he went on to be and was actually below her in the social standing, so she married below her ‘ranking’ in society which was very unusual in those days.
Next on the agenda was a walk into the main town where the rest of the sites to visit are located. We had to make a quick detour to a chemist because I had, very cleverly, forgotten to pack my daily medication and was already starting to get symptoms which meant my body was about to plummet off the cliff into oblivion. However, the chemist there was brilliant and gave me a couple of tablets to tide me over the weekend, then I took my missed dose without any water (because I’m an idiot) and managed to burn the inside of my mouth and my throat because I couldn’t swallow it and all the sugar-coating came off of the outside. A guzzling of a whole bottle of emergency-bought water later and my tongue began to feel like my own again.
Second on our agenda to visit was Shakespeare’s Birthplace. This is plonked right in the middle of the town, between and opposite cafes and shops, just sat there; this little slice of history elbowing its way in to modern life and proudly staking it’s claim – “I was here first”.
The house itself is quite spacious, although the doors are low – not something I have to worry at 5ft2 but Ben had to bend down to get through pretty much every one. There was furniture of the era there – some original, mostly reproductions – and you were afforded the opportunity to see how they lived back then, something I really love. Humanising history has always been my thing, I want to know the people and their stories.
In one of the rooms, encased to escape prying fingers, were some of the old windows. Years and years ago, when people visited, they would etch their names into the ancient window panes to show that they had passed through. If we were to see someone doing that now we would be outraged, but somehow it was acceptable back then and has, in itself, become something to spend a few minutes casting your eyes across. All those names were people.
Next on the agenda was Shakespeare’s New Place. I was vaguely familiar with this as I remember watching a documentary on it many years ago (maybe it was Time Team?) and this is perhaps one of the places we walked around quickest as there isn’t actually a house there anymore as, following Shakespeare’s death, the house was sold and the new owners knocked it down to build a home for themselves. This house was also knocked down and now the land stands empty except for beautiful gardens and the floorplan of the house laid out so you can see how it would have looked all those years ago.
Just across the road from New Place is a little church called The Guild Chapel. This was the church that Shakespeare frequented as a child and he actually helped paint the walls in there to cover up demonic style pictures that were considered to be unfit for public viewing at that time. When we visited they were partway through removing the paint that Shakespeare had put up, bringing those old paintings back to being visible, and it was quite a surreal feeling standing there, knowing I was looking at pictures that haven’t been seen since he covered them.
A few minutes’ walk further and you find yourself at Hall’s Croft. This is where Shakespeare’s daughter lived with her husband, a prominent local doctor. Now, this house is somewhere I would definitely be happy to call home! Flagstone flooring in the hallway with a huge fireplace, wooden panelling, high ceilings, a sweeping staircase… it’s the stuff dreams are made of! In one of the bedrooms there is also one of the original windows, a tiny little leaded glass piece which is around 400-years old. Strangely, despite this being my favourite house of them all, I didn’t take a single photo of it. Excellent work, Penny.
After this we ventured to the nearby Holy Trinity Church which is where Shakespeare was laid to rest closeby to the altar. Unfortunately on the day we visited there was a wedding happening and the doors were shut to visitors, so we decided to take a stroll along the river as our visit that weekend coincided with the River Festival. The water was filled with boats, music drifted through the air, people sat eating picnics and ice cream, and the swans and pigeons were making the most of all the food that was being dropped. It was a blazing hot day so after taking in our surroundings we headed back into town to find somewhere to get a drink and something to eat.
Having had dinner we started to walk back to our accommodation, before being side-tracked by a pub that had a dog in it and live music. After sitting in there for a while and watching the world go by, we headed back to the stable and settled down with a film for the final part of the evening.
I have been saying for a long time that I want to explore more of what the UK has to offer, taking the opportunity for weekends away, and our stay in Stratford-upon-Avon is a perfect example of why. We have such a rich history in this country and I want to see as much of it as possible, so I think 2019 might hold a few more adventures within this little island of ours.
If you’re looking for a cultured weekend away with stunning surroundings, I can wholeheartedly recommend Stratford-upon-Avon, it really is a beautiful place and there’s so much to see and do!
A very happy weekend and now added to Our Adventures – I can’t wait to see what’s still to come in the future!