Visiting Shakespeare country

Over the first May Bank holiday weekend we visited Stratford Upon Avon, a medieval market town in England’s West Midlands that is famous for all things Shakespeare!

Getting there

It’s was easy for us to get from London to Stratford Upon Avon as we just needed to catch a few trains. We bought our tickets months in advance so we were able to secure cheap tickets over what would normally be an expensive weekend to travel in!

We had to change at Leamington Spa. It was a little stressful as our train from London was late, meaning that we had to run to the connecting train. Despite our running, the staff barked at us to hurry up!

Catching the first train from London Marylebone station.
Catching the first train from London Marylebone station.

Our accommodation in Stratford Upon Avon

Our cute B&B was a short walk from the train station, and very convenient to the town centre.

Each morning we were able to choose from several delicious breakfast options including a full English, salmon and scrambled eggs on toast, cereals, and seasoned porridge. Breakfast was served in a lovely dining room, and our hosts were always chirpy and keen for a chat. Especially since, coincidentally, they were fellow kiwis!

Exploring the town centre

After dropping off our bags at our B&B, we had brunch at Boston Tea Party. Yum! They had reasonable coffee, too!

Delicious brunch – a good way to start the long weekend!
Delicious brunch – a good way to start the long weekend!

One thing we enjoy doing shortly after arriving at a new place is a walking tour. We find it helps to get our bearings and learn a bit about the culture and history of the area. The tour which we went on was good, and we recommend it. We liked that our guide was a good storyteller and even threw in the odd golden nugget of local knowledge such as how Shakespeare’s head was apparently stolen from his grave.

The meeting point for the walk was a nice swan fountain.
The meeting point for the walk was a nice swan fountain.
Vines are taking over this place.
Vines are taking over this place.
Lots of countries donated lamps, so this area has become a lamp museum.
Lots of countries donated lamps, so this area has become a lamp museum.
Close up of the pretty flowers!
Close up of the pretty flowers!
Shakespeare's Tudor-style birthplace.
Shakespeare’s Tudor-style birthplace.
More Tudor-style buildings. Some are much older than others!
More Tudor-style buildings. Some are much older than others!
The jester statue.
The jester statue.
Clock tower called the "American fountain".
Clock tower called the “American fountain”.

A Royal Shakespeare Theatre play

You can’t visit Stratford Upon Avon without seeing a Royal Shakespeare Company play. As we’d been to several Shakespearean plays at The Globe in London, we decided that we wanted to see a different style of play. We chose a play called The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, which was written by a female playwright in the 1600’s.

Jase with the William Shakespeare statue outside of the theatre. We waited ages for people to get off that seat!
Jase with the William Shakespeare statue outside of the theatre. We waited ages for people to get off that seat!

The theatre is semi-circular, like The Globe. However, it is fully enclosed and therefore resistant to the elements! We liked that we didn’t have to stand for a change, too! Granted, our seats had very little leg room.

The play had a good mix of humour, gossip, scandal, and mischief. The moral of the story seemed to be “marry wisely”.

We enjoyed the play, even if it was hard to follow at times because of the old fashioned language and fast-paced scenes. It was a little long, and Kimmie wished she had drunken some coffee in advance as she was feeling very tired by the end!

Inside the theatre before the show started.
Inside the theatre before the show started.

Lapping up the river

Who doesn’t love a picnic by a river on a hot sunny day? We made the most of the weather and had some drinks on the lawn in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It’s so great that we can do this in the UK, as back home we wouldn’t be allowed to due to the liquor bans in public spaces.

Enjoying a drink in the glorious sunshine.
Enjoying a drink in the glorious sunshine.

We really enjoyed strolling alongside the river, where we saw lots of locals walking their dogs. Seriously, so many dogs!

On our way back, we decided to try out the funny-looking hand-powered ferry, which didn’t exactly break the bank at 50p per person. The ride took about 5 minutes, and is operated by a man who hand cranks the ferry himself. About 20 people can fit in each time, and our sailing was full. We even had a canine passenger!

The hand cranked ferry crossing the river.
The hand cranked ferry crossing the river.

Kimmie also wanted to enjoy the river in a row boat. It was first in first served due to the stunning weather, therefore becoming a bit of a bun fight. But, we managed to secure a boat before they were all hired out. The boats are only hired for 30 minutes at a time, which is a bit restricting but we felt it was enough time to check out both sides of the river. Kimmie offered to row, but obviously Jase wanted the workout.

There were several obstacles to navigate around, including other boats and swans. Kimmie did a good job at steering until near then end where the boat veered into the side of a bridge…

Jase rowing down the Avon river.
Jase rowing down the Avon river.
Kimmie enjoyed steering the row boat.
Kimmie enjoyed steering the row boat.

Why not take a little Shakespeare home?

As you can imagine, there are many Shakespeare-style knickknacks to take home. Some fairly classic, others a bit more funky and alternative.

Star Wars books written in a Shakespearean style.
Star Wars books written in a Shakespearean style.

So what did Jase choose? A themed rubber duck. Yes, that’s right, and he named it “Shakesduck”.

It's "Skakesduck"!
It’s “Skakesduck”!

Warwick Castle

While in Stratford Upon Avon, we decided to visit nearby Warwick Castle, which is fairly pristine looking for a castle. The original structure was built by William the Conqueror in 1068, so it has quite a lot of history behind it. We learnt about some of the history at one of the history tours, but to be honest the historian spouted around so many names and dates it was quite hard to keep up, let alone retain the information.

An imposing entrance.
An imposing entrance.
Warwick Castle from the side.
Warwick Castle from the side.

The mighty trebuchet

Jase was very excited to see the trebuchet in action, as were the majority of the mostly under 15 year old audience. To be fair to Jase, it is pretty amazing that they constructed a working trebuchet from scratch.

The staff created a big lead up to the firing of the trebuchet, with the speaker hyping up the crowd for about 20 minutes. It was probably just as well really, because otherwise the show would have been over in a mere few minutes!

The trebuchet form afar. The command for firing was "one, two, three, LOOSE!"
The trebuchet form afar. The command for firing was “one, two, three, LOOSE!”
The trebuchet up close.
The trebuchet up close.

War of the Roses jousting tournament

It just so happened that there was a jousting tournament on at Warwick Castle when we visited. The jousting wasn’t proper jousting with knights thrusting giant pointy poles at each other (just as well as there were lots of children in the audience). Instead, the knights on horseback partook in challenges requiring speed and accuracy. For instance, threading a lance through hoops and using a lance to hit scarecrow-like targets.

What was particularity pleasing was that there was a female knight!

A knight completing one of the challenges.
A knight completing one of the challenges.

Flight of the eagles

The birds we saw at this show were amazing – a sight to behold! They were so large and yet so graceful. Some even glided a meter or two above our heads. I particularly enjoyed seeing a bald eagle in flight, as they are so iconic of America.

One of the birds chilling out before the performance.
One of the birds chilling out before the performance.
A bald eagle in flight.
A bald eagle in flight.

Exploring the castle and grounds

We felt fairly energetic when we explored the grounds and walls of the castle. We walked around the gardens and green spaces and also made our way up and down the walls, spiral staircases, and around the castle’s interior.

Peacocks on the lawn.
Peacocks on the lawn.
The castle has a lovely countryside backdrop. In the distance is the jousting arena.
The castle has a lovely countryside backdrop. In the distance is the jousting arena.
Kimmie looking towards the castle.
Kimmie looking towards the castle.
A good view of the castle's courtyard from one of the highest points along the wall.
A good view of the castle’s courtyard from the highest tower.
Collegiate Church of St Mary through the castle wall.
Collegiate Church of St Mary through the castle wall.
A view of Collegiate Church of St Mary from the castle walls.
A view of Collegiate Church of St Mary from the castle walls.
A view from the castle's moat.
A view from the castle’s moat.
A table set up inside the castle.
A table set up inside the castle.
Sharp and somewhat menacing decorations inside the castle.
Sharp and somewhat menacing decorations inside the castle.

Other bits and bobs

Warwick Castle is a great place for kids. We saw kids having a great time learning archery, pretending to be knights with swords, and prancing around as princesses with crowns.

Jase found a partner in crime!
Jase found a partner in crime!

Kimmie also enjoyed ordering a turkey leg since it reminded her of doing so in Florida, but, after a while she got a bit sick of eating the rich meat of the turkey leg. Those things are huge!

Final thoughts

Stratford Upon Avon is a nice relaxing place to spend a weekend. We had beautiful weather which always helps!

We would recommend a visit – even if you’re not a Shakespeare fanatic! In fact, while we were there a big car show was on. There were lots of cars lining the streets and being proudly displayed by their owners, including this one!

"Trotters Independent Traders" yellow car from Only Fools and Horses.
“Trotters Independent Traders” yellow car from Only Fools and Horses.

Jase and Kimmie