People sometimes say that the signs are against them. When I arrived in Stratford-upon-Avon, they really were. The signs in question were the tourist information centre signs. They were everywhere and they all pointed to an information centre that was decidedly shut. A small marker-penned notice redirected us to the leisure centre for more information. I wasn’t impressed. For mid-May in a town that I’m sure must be frequented by the odd visitor that’s pretty rubbish to say the least.
I bought a combined ticket for £19, which gave me access to all 5 houses under the guardianship of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The first I visited was Shakespeare’s birthplace. It starts with a tour complete with a reconstruction of the marketplace where Shakespeare may have sold gloves (his father was a glovemaker).
Going around the actual house where Shakespeare was born you get a good sense of how the family would have lived with the furniture much as it would have been and the staff on hand to throw in some explanations about how the rooms would have been used. On leaving the house there was a solo performance of Shakespeare material to complete the experience. All in all not a bad start to my historic marathon.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
I decided to visit Anne Hathaway’s Cottage next. It’s a short and not overly picturesque walk away. The cottage itself though, was an absolute picture. As there was a queue for the cottage I took advantage of the gardens and had a wander around the Shakespeare inspired sculptures and the little wooded area. It was surprisingly quiet compared to the cottage and I think it’s a bit of a shame
that not everyone was taking the time to see everything on offer. Here too, the staff were brilliantly friendly and informative. The cottage was also furnished as it would have been during the time that Shakespeare’s family was alive. The little bits of information and tales that came across from the people who showed us round made it much more interesting than just reading a bunch of facts and dates.
Mary Arden’s Farm and Palmer’s Farm
The next day I decided to take a trip to Mary Arden’s Farm. At this point I would normally have visited the tourist information centre for advice on how to get there. In this case I took to asking a stranger. The train seemed the easiest option as it was only a few stops away.
The farm is run pretty much as it would have been in Mary Arden and Shakespeare’s time along with the types of animals that would have been kept. It’s a great place for children to learn and take part in farm activities, but it’s good for big children like me too.
There seemed to be plenty of activities going on around the farm, from feeding the animals to working with tools from the past. It wasn’t too hard to feel like you’d slipped back in time.
There is a picnic area at the farm which is perfect for families to take a pit-stop and there is a little cafe where you can get a cup of tea and some cake.
New Place/Nash’s House
The fourth of the houses I visited was Nash’s House and the site of New Place (Shakespeare’s final home). This place is a must for those interested in archaeology as they have been investigating the site of New Place with Dig for Shakespeare, which has an accompanying exhibition. Nash’s House, however, didn’t have as much to look at compared to the other properties.
Last but not least I visited Hall’s Croft. Hall was a physician who married Shakespeare’s eldest daughter. The house has plenty of interesting medical instruments and furniture. There are also some interesting extracts of medical cases that Hall dealt with during his time as a physician. Most importantly the staff that helped show us round were really welcoming and enthusiastic for the house and helped make it an enjoyable visit.
Travel: I travelled to Stratford by Chiltern Trains. Cheap tickets are available if you book in advance and travel off-peak.
Refreshments: I stopped for a cream tea at Henley Street Tea Rooms (opposite Shakespeare’s Birthplace). They have a good selection of teas and the staff were friendly.
Tickets: Combined tickets for the five houses are valid for a year and cost £19. You can currently save 10% by booking online. Their website also contains information on upcoming events.