Last week, I headed to Stratford-upon Avon for a couple of days – a place that most schoolchildren within three hours’ drive visit at least once to check out the multitude of attractions related to the great William Shakespeare. I’d done all that an age ago, so this time was all about relaxing in a trendy hotel (check out how much I loved the Church Street Town House in my previous post), having a relaxed stroll around and seeing what else there was to see besides birthplaces, relatives’ birthplaces, burial sites and places that good old Will went to the toilet in once.
I think even without the links to the playwright, Stratford-upon-Avon would still draw in the crowds. It’s a pretty little town, surrounded by chocolate box English villages and grandly sweeping countryside. But maybe thanks to the tourist pound, lots of traditional Tudor buildings have been kept in one piece. I admired the row of alms houses opposite my hotel, featuring much of the original architectural features. Best of all was watching a man plod up the street in front of me – so old that his hunched shoulders meant he couldn’t lift his head up straight – and turn the key in the door of the last house. Somehow these houses were made more magical for me, knowing that they really were inhabited by at least one elderly person in need and not Land Rover drivers in search of a fashionably quaint holiday home.
I did actually take a wander around the relatively new Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It’s a good place to start a trip to the town, to get a sense of your bearings and After a gander in the shop – I rather liked the eraser featuring a quote from Macbeth: ‘Out, damned spot!’ – I bought a ticket (£2.50) to the top of the viewing tower. Joy of joys, the lift was broken. Therefore, despite the fact that when I started the climb with bright sunshine shining through the glass, the traditionally British spring weather collapsed into a rainy, gloomy mess by the time I reached the top. Still, the wide glass windows allowed views up the Avon and over the Welcombe Hills. As well as a knowledgeable guide, you’ll get a handy map that points out all the landmarks.
If the weather had been better, I’d have spent some time frolicking by the river, or rowing up it. As it was, the heavy showers restricted me to a delicious Italian meal at Sorrento on Ely Street (slightly pricey wine list but fabulous, authentic cuisine), afternoon tea at the Church Street Town House, and dashed between the shops on Henley Street, Sheep Street and Meer Street. The Ely Street Antiques Emporium is an interesting spot for seeking out not necessarily genuine antiques, but quirky ornaments and fashions. There are some good drinking dens around, too. I loved the funky One Elm – with some great ciders on tap – and the charming, more traditional Old Thatch Tavern on Greenhill Street.
The Literary Festival was on while I was in town – check out my alter ego’s blog for the low-down on my chat with Iain Banks – and there are plenty of other events dotted throughout the year.
And if you haven’t been here before, don’t miss the town walk. For a fiver, you can join a 2-hour stroll, come rain or shine, through the town’s highlights. Meet at the Swan Fountain on Waterside every day at either 11am or 2pm – check the website for details.