MUCH ADO ABOUT STRATFORD UPON AVON:
Joining other literary enthusiasts in Bancroft Gardens, an informative guided walk begins our explorations in Shakespeare's hometown. From Swan Fountain, David leads us back in time around Stratford upon Avon.
"When the Bard was born, only 1,500 people lived here," he grins. "Imagine small, straw-thatched houses with open fires crowded together along foul, muddy streets...among 50 taverns!" Unsurprisingly, this old town centre burned down in 1594,1595 and 1614.
"There on the corner, Town Hall replaced earlier Market Hall, which exploded while storing gunpowder in the 1640's," he smiles. "And renowned18thcentury actor David Garrick donated that Shakespeare statue in its niche." Opposite, Old Bank boasts a mosaic Shakespeare and frieze of Shylock above its entrance.
A short distance away, Shakespeare's Birthplace has long welcomed pilgrims like us. Dickens, Carlyle, Walter Scott, Mark Twain and many others sought inspiration here; some even etched their signatures on its windowpanes. Inside, patterned linen wallpaper and sturdy oak furniture reflect Will's middleclass upbringing. His father had prospered making and selling fine leather gloves in the workshop, still set up for a days' work.
In the low-ceilinged nursery upstairs, a bonneted docent recounts, "Born here, Shakespeare later shared this bed with two brothers; a third slept in the cradle, two sisters in the adjoining room." Visualizing them playing on the original hardwood floors, we marvel at the wheeled ‘truckle' with straw sleeping mats stowed under the bed. Married at eighteen, William lived here five more years with Anne. And amid outside gardens, costumed players bring Shakespeare's familiar characters alive before our eyes.
Returning along Chapel Street, David points out Nash's House, named for his granddaughter's husband; next door, the foundations of New Place. "An established playwright, Shakespeare bought New Place, Stratford's second largest house," says David. "There he wrote The Tempest and later works. He died there on his 52nd birthday." Celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, Nash's House and restored gardens at New Place re-open in April 2016.
Will studied Latin, classical theatre and history from age 6 or 7 at the still-used grammar school in the next block. When family fortunes reversed, he left early at 13. Beyond stands Hall's Croft, elegant home of eldest daughter Susanna and eminent physician John Hall. Walled gardens behind the house enclose beds of medicinal herbs. Inside, the study reveals natural remedies in coloured bottles and jars. An intricately carved oak bed, cradle, wardrobe and commode fill their spacious bedroom.
Finally, an avenue of lime trees leads us to 13thcentury Holy Trinity Church. There, the parish register shows Shakespeare's 1564 baptismal and 1616 burial entries; the font used at his baptism stands nearby. Shakespeare, his wife, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter's husband are all interred in the chancel. Above, a shelf holds Shakespeare's painted marble bust, provided by Anne.
Concluding our walk, David quotes Stratford's favourite son with dramatic flair to our hearty applause and next afternoon, we fervently applaud the Merchant of Venice at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Another morning, we walk off hearty English breakfasts along a 2-kilometer pathway to Anne Hathaway's Cottage in Shottery. Sighting her family's thatched, three-chimney farmhouse, we visualize Anne watching for Will from the pretty latticed windows. Inside, antique furnishings include a handsome sideboard and wooden ‘settle' where William supposedly wooed her. Upstairs, a brass bed warmer lies atop a rare, carved bed; its canopy protects sleepers from varmints falling from the thatch. Outside, we delight in Elizabethan flower gardens, wander through adjoining orchards and linger in the lavender maze.
A Hop-On-Hop-Off bus drops us at Mary Arden's Farm in Wilmcote, 5-kilometers away. The 1570's farmhouse belonging to Shakespeare's grandparents continues as part of a working farm. Activity boards encourage us to meet rare domestic breeds, practice archery, play games and try early chores like young William would have done. Of many highlights, the falconer's eagle owl thrills us most. Emphasizing, "Only nobles could use falcons for hunting," he demonstrates the eagle owl's impressive abilities, illustrating how peasants could easily hunt undetected with this powerful silent killer.
Wrapping up our visit back in Bancroft Gardens, we contemplate Gower's sculptured Shakespeare, seated high on a pedestal. Posing at each corner, Hamlet, Prince Hal, Lady Macbeth and Falstaff portray philosophy, history, tragedy and comedy. Indeed, a fitting memorial to this literary giant's versatility.
IF YOU GO:
• Many visit Stratford upon Avon as a daytrip from London. Get BritRail Passes. Purchase in Canada from ACP Rail International: www.acprail.com
• One Elm, pub near Shakespeare's Birthplace: www.oneelmstratford.co.uk/
PHOTOS: by Chris & Rick Millikan
1. Flying a flag, Harvard House illustrates the ‘wattle & daub' construction typical during Shakespeare's lifetime.
Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com
All material used by Travel Writers' Tales is with the permission of the writers and photographers who, under national and international copyright law,
retain the sole and exclusive rights to their work. The contents of this site, whether in whole or in part may not be downloaded,
copied or used in any manner without the explicit permission of Travel Writers' Tales Editors, Jane Cassie and Margaret Deefholts,
and the written consent of contributing writers and photographers. © Travel Writers' Tales