Michael’s Trip Diary – Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Leaving Ilfracombe, driving to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Today we were going to be driving about 180 miles or so, about twice the distance from Bath to Ilfracombe, but we also weren’t planning to make any stops this time. This is about the same distance from Houston to Austin, a drive I’ve made many times in roughly three hours. We were also going to be on M5 (a big superhighway) for most of the way, so we weren’t panicked about the distance. Not bothering with an alarm, we woke up about 7:30, and showered and dressed before heading down to breakfast.

After another delicious full breakfast, we went back up to the room, finished packing, and carried our way-too-heavy suitcases down the stairs, then rolled them down the hill to our parking space (everything is on a slant, remember). Once Flio was loaded and anxious to get going, we said goodbye to our hosts, Diana and Ron, and were on our way by 9:50.

Or so we thought.

Ilfracombe’s High Street (AmE – Main Street, or main business street through a town) is A361, but it’s also known as Church Street before it becomes St. Brannock’s Road just south of town. Our B&B, Montpelier Terrace, was located on Montpelier Road, which ran parallel to A361, just a couple of blocks away. All we had to do was to drive down the hill, turn left onto the High Street (which was Church Street at that point), and follow it out of town. Fifty miles southeast of the town we would pick up the M5, and then it would be a straight shot to the northeast. Simple, right?

It took us about a half hour just to get out of town, even though Ilfracombe is less than a mile wide. To be fair, it probably only took us fifteen minutes of going around in circles before we actually were heading south, away from town. A few minutes later, we neared our first turn, onto A3123 at Mullacott Cross. We had almost escaped.

A few cars were stopped in front of us, and a flagman was waving us to a stop. Road repairs. Here’s a picture.

Stuck for road repairs, trying to get out of Ilfracombe

Delayed at Mullacott Cross for road repairs, south of Ilfracombe.

See the jeep-like vehicle off to the right, waiting to get into line? He had a newspaper spread out over his steering wheel, and had time to read through ten or twelve pages before they waved us through. A3123 was just a hundred yards ahead of us. It was now around 10:30, and it looked like we were finally on our way, but we were prepared for anything at this point. Nothing happened despite our trepidation. We picked up A361 again (now labeled as the North Devon Link Road), a bit farther on, and saw some amazing scenery as we drove. Here’s a shot we took from a lay-by (AmE – rest area).

Devon countryside, taken from a lay-by on the A631.

Devon countryside, taken from a lay-by on the A361.

Once we got to the M5, it was much faster. The speed limit was 60 mph on the A361, and only 70 mph on the M5, but the M-roads are much bigger, smoother, straighter and wider. With the multiple lanes on the M-roads, even if someone in front of you is going slower, you can go around them (something that’s not always possible on the smaller roads).

One thing I would do differently, if I had to do it over again. I would have driven from London to Devon first, spent a couple of days or more there, then driven to Bath. We drove within about fifteen miles of Bath as we took the M5 toward Stratford-Upon-Avon. We would have saved the driving distance from Bath to Ilfracombe and back again (about 180 miles) by going to Ilfracombe (or somewhere in Devon or Cornwall) first. Live and learn.

We left the A5 at Worcester (pronounced something like Wuhstah, similar to the way it is pronounced in Massachusetts, but you hear more of the “r” on the end in the US), and took the A422 for the last fifteen miles or so. We made it to Stratford-Upon-Avon by 2:00 pm, and (oddly for us) were just beginning to feel hungry. Our breakfast from that morning was apparently doing its job. It was too early to check into our B&B, so we decided to start doing Shakespeare stuff, beginning with Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, which was just off the A422 on Cottage Lane, just west of the city.

We paid a pound ($1.52) to park and walked across the street to have a quick lunch at The Cottage Restaurant & Tea Gardens before we visited the cottage. A couple of ducks were having a great deal of luck begging for scraps at the tables on the patio. It was nice to not be moving, but we didn’t spend too much time here, just sandwiches and hot tea. It wasn’t very expensive, £12.90 ($19.60) for the two of us. We finished quickly, then headed back across the street to the family home of Shakespeare’s wife. The entrance to the cottage would have been £18.00 ($27.36) for both of us, but we found out we could buy two Shakespeare Five House passes for £45.80 ($69.62), and it would give us entry to Anne Hathaway’s, plus Shakespeare’s birthplace, Hall’s Croft, New Place & Nash’s House, and Mary Ardens’ Farm. We did a quick calculation, and found that two entries to all of those (which we planned to see anyway), if bought separately, would be £72.80 ($110.66), so we saved £27.00 ($41.04) by getting the passes. All we saw today was Anne Hathaway’s.

Very little is known about Anne Hathaway and William. There has always been a great deal of speculation about whether they loved each other. They married when Anne was 26 and William was 18. She was already pregnant with their first child, a daughter, who they named Susanna (we went to see Susanna’s adult home, Hall’s Croft, the next day, May 13th). The most prevalent rumor (BrE – rumour) is that Shakespeare was forced to marry Anne because she was pregnant. Possibly the next most widely spread tidbit is that they never loved each other, and that Shakespeare fled to London to get away from her.

Bollocks (AmE – balls), I say.

Evidence for the first rumor is the pregnancy, but in that day many couples were formally married after they were joined by handfasting, which was a vow to be husband and wife by pledging to each other (sort of an instant common law marriage) and marry in the church later. Many brides were already pregnant when they took their actual wedding vows. Evidence for the second rumor comes from Shakespeare’s will, where almost everything was left to Susanna, and the only things he left Anne were the “second-best bed and the furniture.” Giving her the second-best bed doesn’t imply that she was second-rate in his eyes. Beds in Elizabethan times were very expensive, sometimes costing as much as a small house. The best bed in the house was used for guests, which meant the second-best bed was probably his and Anne’s marriage bed. Not a slight at all, actually a romantic gesture.

The house itself was interesting. Amazing to think it’s over 400 years old, and that this was where one of the world’s greatest writers might have played footsie under the table with his favorite babe. I really liked the garden and the grounds, though. The garden was jam-packed with flowers and vegetables. Quite a few of the pictures in Flio’s photo album for today were of the garden. You can check it out here http://fliowiddix.com/albums/flios-photo-album-may-12-2010/

Here’s a couple more:

Bell-shaped flower, about to blossom, Anne Hathaway's garden.

Some kind of bell-shaped flower, about to blossom, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Ye Olde Bird Scarer, ingenious, wind-driven, potato and feather device, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Ye Olde Bird Scarer, ingenious, wind-driven, potato and feather device, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

After wandering around the garden (massive amounts of flowers, tons of tulips, rows and rows of vegetables), and taking dozens of pictures, we moved on to the Sculpture Garden. This seemed to be laid out more freely, some sections were open, other were nicely shaded, and it was all bordered with hedges. Scattered throughout the area was a wide variety of sculpture, most of it depicting something from one of Shakespeare’s plays. This next picture is of me in the middle of a map of the UK.

Michael straddling Brighton, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Michael straddling Brighton, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

I know it looks like I’m doing something unspeakable to part of Sussex. I assure you, Brighton, I meant no offense.

Here, I’m comparing my belly size to Falstaff’s.

Michael and Falstaff, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Michael and Falstaff, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Falstaff won, no matter what it looks like in the picture. No, really!!!

Finally, we realized we had to move on, so we drove on into town, to find our B&B, the Arden Way. It was on Shipston Road, just south of the River Avon, only a couple of miles from Anne Hathaway’s. Easy, right?

We seem to do all right, getting from one city to another, or one part of the country to another, but we (apparently) really suck at getting into and out of towns. It felt like we circled inside the town several dozen times (with the usual directional disagreements) before we made it across the river and found the B&B. It was almost 6:00 before we parked Flio in front of the B&B and went inside to meet our hostess, Jeanne. She had requested (in an e-mail a few days before) that we be there before 6:50 because she had a theatre ticket for tonight, and had to leave by then. She was very gracious, and got us settled into our room before scooting off to see a play (Romeo and Juliet, I think) by the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Courtyard Theatre (the company’s temporary location while the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre were being completely redeveloped. The new theatre opened in November 2010. As much as Minay and I both love theater, both being former actors, it is one of my deep regrets that we didn’t see any plays (either here or in London) while we were here. Maybe next time we’ll do an all-theatre tour of the country.

We poked around in our room for a bit, and discovered that the third shower of our trip was designed differently (naturally) than the previous two.

Another shower to learn, Arden Way, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Another shower to learn, Arden Way, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

This one, at least seems to make sense. Low/Eco/High (water pressure). Blue for cold, red for hot (temperature). Power button for (well …obvious).

This is a picture of our bed.

Our room, Arden Way, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Our room, Arden Way, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Very nice. This is a UK king-sized mattress. It’s actually fairly close to the American Queen size we have at home. Be aware of that when you’re renting rooms in the UK.

It wasn’t dark yet, so we crossed the bridge over the Avon on foot, and walked along the Bancroft Basin toward town. We saw a lovely little park, dedicated to Shakespeare. Many of the herbs and flowers planted in the park were mentioned in Will’s plays. A statue of Shakespeare towered over everything else in the park. Everything except the pigeons, of course.

Poor Will. Perched and pooped upon, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Poor Will. Perched and pooped upon, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Over the bridge, on Bridge Street, we found a Sainsbury’s Supermarket, and browsed in there, leaving with some bread and cheese for £2.79 ($4.24). We headed back to the room and had hot tea, bread and cheese sandwiches, some crisps (AmE – potato chips), and combined that with a pastry Minay had bought yesterday (she was good about gathering snacks for us to have later).

We watched some of the political news on the telly (AmE – TV). They had just formed the first coalition government in sixty years or so. I’m not sure I’m absolutely correct, but I think it would be something like our Republican and Democratic parties actually working together. (Shocking. Unthinkable. I know.) It had been another long day, but a good one. We read a while, then went to bed.

How do you deal with meals on the road? Strictly eat out? Carry snacks to graze on? Something else?

Minay’s version of Wednesday, May 12, 2010, will post next week.


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