In Stratford-Upon-Avon, a Shakespeare Day.
Stratford-Upon-Avon, or just Stratford as it is known locally, isn’t a very large town, especially if you’re doing the touristy thing, most of which is located in and near the town centre. Today we decided to leave Flio parked at the Arden Way, and walk everywhere. It was a beautiful, sunny day, not terribly warm (the high for the day was 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was around 50 when we left the B&B). Good walking weather.
Note: If you’re not driving, but taking a bus or train, be sure to ask for a ticket to Stratford-upon-Avon, There is another Stratford (Stratford Langthorne, where the 2012 Olympics were held). If they send you to that one, you’ll still be about a hundred miles away from Shakespeare’s birthplace.
The Arden Way B&B is located on Shipston Road, south of the Avon River, just a couple of blocks from the main bridge into town, which is also the A3400. Everything we wanted to see was north of the river. We headed toward the main bridge, but cut to the left on Swan’s Nest Road, just before the bridge, and crossed on another bridge, designed especially for foot traffic. It led us past the Avon Ring, a set of canals linking Stratford to Birmingham and the towns of Evesham, Tewkesbury and Worcester.
We wandered past the canal boats and watched the swans and geese before heading into the town and our first stop of the day, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, on Henley Street.
The day was so quiet and peaceful, it almost seemed a shame to go inside. We entered through the Shakespeare Centre next door, using our Five Houses pass from yesterday, and crossed past the garden that separates the centre from the house.
It was a very interesting place, good interpreters, lots of Shakespeare quotes thrown around, one guide was especially funny, doing mini-versions of the plays in verse. We took the time to wander through the garden when we were done. May is the perfect time to go to England to see flowers, almost every kind you can imagine. You’ll see tons of them on this blog by the time it’s finished (except for roses, maybe, I think we were there a couple of weeks too early for them).
Shakespeare’s birthplace is right in the middle of town (see the map below). Most of the historical attractions are located in the Old Town section of the city, which is northwest of the River Avon, and south of Guild Street. I’ve added red dots to the map to show the location of our B&B, and the sights we saw today. You can see the town isn’t very large, and is easily walkable.
Our next stop was Nash’s House and New Place. To get there we walked south along High Street for a block, where it became Chapel Street. Nash’s House was at the end of the block. If we had kept going, Chapel Street would have become Church Street. A lot of the streets across the country are like this, In Oxford, Hayfield Road becomes Kingston Road, which turns into Walton Street, which becomes Worcester Street, which ends at the point where Park End Street becomes New Road, all within less than a mile. Another thing to note (about inner city navigation) is that the names of streets aren’t always posted where you might expect them. In the U.S., they will usually be on street corners, atop a metal pole. In the UK, it seems to me to be more common to find them on the sides of corner buildings. See this pic below for an example.
It’s actually a misnomer to call it Nash’s House AND New Place, as if it were two distinct buildings. There used to be two buildings, New Place (the house Shakespeare lived in when he retired), and the house next door, Nash’s House, but now there is only Nash’s House and a garden where New Place used to be. Thomas Nash was married to Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth inherited both houses (New Place from her mother, Susanna Hall, Will’s eldest daughter, and Nash’s House when her husband died). Eventually New Place was sold, and in the mid-1700’s, the owner (Reverend Francis Gastrell), angry about several things (tourists, additional taxes, etc.) tore New Place down. Read an interesting account of the kerfuffle here.
Nash’s House has been well taken care of, and is a good example of a Tudor house. It’s in good shape for something half-a-millennium old. There wasn’t much to do in the house, but the grounds were amazing. At the time we were there, they were in the middle of an archaeological dig of New House, and it was possible to watch them at work. Here’s a picture of the digs.
We had a very interesting tour through the digs. The dig concluded sometime in 2012, and they began a planning phase for changes to the properties. Nash’s House and New Place are currently (as of November 2, 2014) closed to the public. They are planning to do some major restoration and make the two properties more interactive and informative. It’s supposed to reopen sometime in 2016. In the meantime, visitors who buy the five houses pass will be able to visit Harvard House, an Elizabethan town house, in their place.
Here’s a very interesting (if you like history and archaeology) ten-minute video from May 2010, about the dig and what they were hoping to find.
We were getting hungry by now, so we wandered a few blocks toward the river and found Barnaby’s Fish House. It was packed with people, so we gave it a shot, following the theory that it would be emptier if the food was no good. The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. What it was, was quick, relatively inexpensive (£11.30 for both of us, $17.18), and edible.
A short ramble along the river, led us to the Trinity Church, where Shakespeare’s grave is located. Here’s a shot inside the church.
Notice the guy standing next to the gateway between all of the pews? (at the front of the church) He’s there to make sure he collects £1.50 from everybody if they want to go past his checkpoint and see Shakespeare’s grave. We paid, of course. I’m glad we did, but I think the £1.50 we each paid for the Land Rover ride up the hill at Tintagel was a better bargain. Here’s a pic of the grave.
Modern translation: “Hey, please don’t mess with my grave. Bad stuff will happen to you if you do.”
We took a brief detour after leaving the church, and walked a couple of blocks to the west on College Lane to Bull Street. There on the corner was the SparKlean Launderette. We asked about leaving some clothes with them to be washed tomorrow (while we were out gallivanting around the countryside).
On our way back to the center of town, we stopped at the gardens at Nash’s House, which we had skipped earlier in favor of lunch. They were wonderful. Wide open spaces, lots of flowers, and amazing topiary. Here’s one of me just inside the entrance.
Here’s one that was also in Flio’s photo album for today that shows more of the topiary.
Is it just me, or is that elephant humping another piece of shrubbery?
Our day was almost done as far as sightseeing was concerned. The exhibits all close around 5:00 pm in the summer and 4:00 pm in the winter (if they’re even open past November, some aren’t — check before you go).
We headed back toward the Avon Ring, and apparently all the ducks and geese in the neighborhood decided it was feeding time. We took about forty pictures of them. Here are a few.
We saw a Thai restaurant on our way back, located just south of the bridge. Remembering some of the delicious food we had eaten in Bath, we decided to eat there tonight, especially since it was not far from the B&B, and we were worn out. It was too early to eat then, though, so we took a brief rest back at Arden Way, then walked back to the Thai Boathouse at dusk. It was disappointing. The service was extremely slow, almost as if they were ignoring us, and the food was bland. It was almost as expensive as the food at Yak Yeti Yak, but not half as good.
Back at the Arden Way, we gathered up our dirty clothes so we could take them to a laundry tomorrow, decided where we were going to drive to (the Cotswolds), and sent some e-mails to try to arrange for our lodgings on Saturday (the 15th). We were probably asleep by 11:00 or so.
Does anybody have a good technique for easing the strain on muscles and feet after constant walking? We’d love to hear about it.
And what’s your opinion of the elephant topiary?
Minay’s version of Thursday, May 13, 2010, will post next week.