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Stratford-upon-Avon + Warwick Castle

UNITED KINGDOM | Wednesday, 8 April 2009 | Views [1715]

The last few days have been really fantastic. On Saturday Tara and I met at Marlybone Station in preparation for our three day, two night trip to Stratford-upon-Avon.

The train journey down there took just over two hours and we were fortunate enough to have a lovely bit of sunny weather so the sights out of the window were beautiful.

When we arrived we found out B&B, dumped our bags and went for a walk around town with our cameras. We walked through the town and marveled at the old Tudor, Elizabethan and Jacobean buildings, we walking along the river Avon and we also had a drink at a lovely river-side pub while we made plans for the next days activities.

After the drink we walked back down to the river via a small canal and found an old chain ferry. (Check out the photos so you know what I'm talking about.)

It's apparently the only one like it in England and runs on a chain across the small river to ferry people from one bank to the other. It cost 50p and since Tara and I were the only passengers the ferry man let us pull the lever that moved the ferry along the chain in the water. Pushing and pulling the lever was hard work and the ferry man said your legs really feel it after a whole days work. I can imagine!

Since we'd arrived quite late we only had enough time to walk around town but we did manage to see a lot as well as make plans for everything we would do during our stay. That evening we had a delicious dinner in an old Tudor pub with a lovely thatched roof. A few glasses of wine also went down nicely and saw me going to bed quite early.

The next day was Sunday and we awoke early to a hot breakfast in the B&B dinning room. Anne was our host and the breakfast we were given was just what we needed: eggs, mushroom, brown toast, tomato, coffee and fruit! Yum yum.

After breakfast we walked further out of town to visit Anne Hathaway's Cottage. Anne Hathaway eventually became Anne Shakespeare and the cottage where she grew up is the apparent site of the courtship between her and Shakespeare.

I can't imagine a more romantic setting. Our walk was so peaceful - through the small town atmosphere of outer Stratford, past farms and tiny old cottages. Tiny spring lams bleated in the fields and birds tweeted as they swooped over-head. It was magical.

In order to get to the house one must first go through a glade where there is a stream full of ducks, trees and flowers. We took lots of photos here and called at the sheep in the adjacent field. It was a really amazing morning.

Anne Hathaway's house is set amongst several acres of gardens, a small wood and an orchid. Obviously in Anne's day it would've been a fully working farm but now it is simply a beautiful place devoted to the history of the Hathaway's, Shakespeare and of Stratford its self. We wandered around the spectacular gardens of herbs, spring flowers and vegetables, and a separate garden where there are many sculptures that have been inspired by the works of Shakespeare.

The house its self is full of furnature spanning the many generations that have lived in the house over the years, including the Hathaways. The walls of the house are made from 'wattle and daub' (a mixture of sticks, hourse hair and manure.) It was fascinating to see and the guides were all very friendly and well informed.

Our next stop was Shakespeare's birth home which is in the centre of town. This would have to be one of the most crowded tourist attractions I've even been to. It was just wall-to-wall people; all of them eager to see EVERYTHING as quick as humanly possible! To be honest it was a bit of a nightmare and we rushed through parts of it just to get away from the hordes.

It was interesting to learn more about Shakespeare's life and the period of history in which he lived. We passed through his fathers glover workshop, the main room of the house complete with a fancy bed left in the sitting room so guests would understand their wealth and the room in which it is though Shakespeare was born. It was all very awesome and I could hardly fathom the amount of historically important events had taken place within those very walls.

After our crowded experience in Shakespeare's house and since it was such a beautiful day,
we were feeling like doing something outdoors. So we decided to go rowing on the River Avon!

We hired a row boat right next to the chain ferry we had visited the day before.
The boat was wobbly and so were the two people in charge of it. I have done some kayaking in my time so I thought it would be easy for me...I was wrong. Kayaking is very different.
The ores were constantly slipping out of their little groves and I was not strong enough or coordinated enough to move them in secession with the other. After quite a lot of panicking I did manage to straighten up the boat and we rowed down river to find a spot to stop and have lunch.

We found some chains an buoys that were blocking boats from going through to the small collection of waterfalls and stopped there for lunch. It was lovely just sitting in the sun, chatting and eating out picnic, but it was soon time to row back. It was Tara's turn and she had just as much trouble as I did. Rowing certainly isn't as easy as it looks. Next time we need a big strong man to do it for us!

Back on shore we decided it was time to visit The Church of the Holly Trinity, the final resting place of Shakespeare and his wife, and the oldest building in Stratford.
Th building dates from 1210 and is built on the site of a Saxon monastery. Shakespeare is said to be buried 20 feet under the church to prevent its theft. The church is fascinating and I could hardly beleive that it has been in opperation for so many years. Indeed it still is today and there was a play being rehearsed one room when we were there.

New Place was our next stop. This was the house in which Shakespeare spent his last few years and in 1616, died at the age of 52. Sadly the house was knocked down in 1759 by the then owner Reverend Francis Gastrell, because he couldn't afford the tax and bills. Next door is Nash's House (Shakespeare's gran-daughter and her husbands old house) where there is a small museum.

By this stage of the day we were starting to get tired but we pushed on to the next house on the list - yet another one with Shakespearean flavor - Hall's Croft. John Hall was Shakespeare's son-in-law, married to his daughter Susanna. This is the house in which they lived until Hall's death at the young age of 35. The house is beautiful with many of the Jacobean fixtures and fittings still in tact.

That evening we had dinner in the oldest pub in Stratford, The Garrick Inn. The food was delicious and the staff were so friendly. We got back to the B&B quite early and after looking at the photos from the day we went straight to sleep.

The next day our adventures continued with a visit to the amazing Warwick Castle. It was so interesting and there was much there was to see and do. The castle dates right back to 1068 when William the Conqueror ordered the building of the mound and garrison. Since then the castle has been built up and re-built. It certainly is a breath-taking structure and so full of history.

We saw archers, knights and various other people dressed up to resemble historical characters. We wandered around the grounds and inside the castle its self where there are countless works of art, beautiful furniture and wax statues of famous historical figures like Henry VIII and his wives.

At 11am we made out way down to the river to watch a display of the HUGE trebuchet - the largest operational catapult in the world. We were on the other side of the river so it was hard to see exactly what was going on but they explained how the trebuchet works - two man run in two giant wheels in order to push the arm back so it can be loaded and then a series of ropes and pullys are loosened and the arm is thrown forward. They threw a 15kg stone forward about 100 meters. It was pretty impressive and you can imagine what damage they would've done with something more substantial being thrown.

We also saw a bird of prey show - a bird handler talked to the crowd about the birds as he fed them. There was an American bald eagle, a white-tailed sea eagle called Archie, a young brown eagle owl called Erine and a very impressive vulture called Emma. The show was fantastic - I've never been that close to such amazing creatures.

We did quite a lot of exploring of the castle and it's grounds; I throughly enjoyed it. I would love to go back in the summer to see the jousting.

Tara and I in the gardens at Hall's Croft.

Tara and I in the gardens at Hall's Croft.

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