Day trips on a Monday
During my last week as an expat in the UK, I decided to take one final day trip. After some tossing and turning the weekend before, it soon became clear that it had to be Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespeare’s hometown. I’d spent a lot of my time in London reading Shakespeare plays and watched some being performed on stage. Obviously, it made most sense for me to come full circle by visiting the Great Poet’s home.
So off I went on a Monday morning and took the train from Marylebone Station in London heading west. The total journey took just over two hours – the perfect duration for a day trip.
Medieval market town
I’d heard a lot about the birth town of William Shakespeare. Perhaps that’s why I was slightly hesitant before going there. Wouldn’t it be too touristy and therefore ‘cheesy’ as an experience? The short answer to that question is a wholeheartedly: ‘no.’
What it is about Stratford-upon-Avon – or Stratford for short – is that not only the Shakespeare-related museums are absolutely worth a visit, but the medieval structures and infrastructure of the town is worth a wander just as much. When even a coffee chain like Costa Coffee finds a home inside a half-timbered house, you know it’s good. The river Avon runs right through the town, providing pleasant walking opportunities and the countryside surrounding Stratford radiates a sense of calm that is nowhere to be found in London.
The British poet William Shakespeare was born and bred in the Warwickshire town in the 1500’s as the son of a successful glover. William’s mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a wealthy landowning farmer. He was the third of eight children and attended the King Edward VI grammar school for free – a novelty in the Elizabethan era. The philosophy behind providing boys with tuition fee free education was that the country would thrive when led by educated men. The grammar school is where William would receive an intense grammar programme based on the Latin classical authors. This is where he seems to have drawn a lot of inspiration from for his later works. Funnily enough the school is still in use and over 500 students between 7-13 years of age go to school here. While I visited, the boys and girls were enjoying their lunch break in the schoolyard, right next to ‘Shakespeare’s classroom.’
William married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway (not to be confused with the Hollywood actress) at the age of 18. They had three children, of which only Susanna and Judith survived. The family lived on Chapel Street, close to the grammar school William attended as a child. The author would soon move to London to work on the plays he is so famous for. Flash forward some years, William and Anne’s daughter Susanna married physician John Hall, and together they moved into Hall’s Croft on Old Town. William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, at the age of 52 and was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Visiting Shakespeare’s heritage
Without mentioning it specifically, I’ve noted a collection of the places you can still visit today: Mary Arden’s home, Shakespeare’s birth house, the house he lived with Anne and his children, Anne’s family home, Susanna and John’s home, the grammar school and the Shakespeare grave at Holy Trinity Church. That to me is the beauty of it: Shakespeare’s heritage is so well-preserved and looked after that visiting any of these places feels like you’ve stepped back in time.
But what if I’m not into Shakespeare?
You really don’t need to be a theatre or poet buff to enjoy Stratford-upon-Avon to the fullest. Yes, the Royal Shakespeare Company has their theatrical home here and most souvenir stores are filled to the brim with Shakespeare relics and gifts. However, the chance to visit a few original Elizabethan properties should be enough reason, regardless of the fact that they belong to the Shakespeare heritage. I also visited Tudor World during my visit: an interactive museum fully dedicated to the Tudor days. Besides that, I found that Stratford is a great place for shopping and they even have a Harry Potter shop! And if you decide to visit for more than one day, why not head south to the gorgeous Cotswolds as well?
How to get there and what does it cost?
Stratford-upon-Avon can be reached in 2hrs15min from London Marylebone Station.
Shakespeare’s birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place, Mary Arden’s farm, Anne Hattaway’s cottage and Hall’s Croft can be visited on a combined ticket from £20.25 (adult), or separately (entrance fees differ per property). Only Shakespeare’s birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall’s Croft are in the centre of town. Mary Arden’s farm and Anne Hattaway’s cottage are on a short car ride from Stratford-upon-Avon (I haven’t visited the latter two properties for that reason). Shakespeare’s schoolroom can be visited from £7.20 (adult). To see William Shakespeare’s grave a contribution of £3.00 is required. Entrance fee to Tudor World is from £6.00 (adult). These prices are as per 20.10.2018.