“Britain is a world by itself…”
Cymbeline. Act 3, Scene 1.
I don’t like travelling, but I do love literature.
So, when my parents and some extended family booked a staycation to Stratford-Upon-Avon for us all, I was rather torn. But now the holiday is over I wish I was still there. I wish I was still enjoying the night air by the River Avon, still going to bed eager to explore more of Warwickshire the next day, and still getting to geek out about Shakespeare without people looking at me like I’m a nutter.
To prolong my holiday vibes, I thought I’d share with you what we got up to!
We arrived in a little village called Alveston, two miles or so from Stratford around 4pm. From here we were given the keys to our home away from home for the week, River Reach Cottage. Before going out to dinner at the local pub, The Ferry, we took our time exploring the Cottage, picking our rooms, and settling in.
It’s truly the most beautiful home I’ve ever seen. River Reach is far bigger than I expected, every room was beautifully but simply decorated, and most had en suite bathrooms. My room was accented with yellow floral furnishings so it felt extremely sunny in there!
At The Ferry, I had a halloumi sizzler for dinner. It came out hissing and spitting in the griddle on a bed of sweetly sauteed peppers and onions. There was also a separate plate of chunky homemade chips and a salad with a balsamic dressing. It was the perfect meal after a long and frantic day of last-minute packing and travelling.
Being me, I couldn’t resist dessert! I had a gooey chocolate and peanut butter brownie with vanilla ice-cream – it was to DIE for. Though, if I had one complaint, it needed more peanut butter!
For the boys, Saturday was a fishing day. Our Cottage was sat right beside the river so there was ample opportunity to catch anything from chub, pike, bream and more!
Meanwhile, Mum and I took the free day to start exploring Stratford town centre. Predictably, I found the local Lush store and bought more than I should have!
One of my favourite parts of the Cottage was the HUGE free-standing, claw-foot bath that was deep enough to cover my knees and my boobs at the same time. I have DREAMT of bathing in a bath like that for years… Naturally, I took my new Lush goodies and hopped straight into that beautiful bath with a glass of prosecco.
We all had a chilled-out evening with a Chinese takeaway and gathered around the TV to watch Strictly Come Dancing together.
Mum, Dad and I went into Stratford town centre for a little bit of high-street shopping and to buy tickets to see all the historic houses around the area.
We started by visiting the birthplace of William Shakespeare in Henley Street. To get to the house you need to go through a little exhibition that contains videos, paintings, artefacts and more.
The garden of the house was by far my favourite! It’s beautifully kept with blooms planted all around and a live interactive theatre performance in the middle. I also spent way too much in the gift shop but the less we say about that the better…[sweats nervously.]
The next day we travelled to Birmingham for a chocolate feast of a day over at Cadbury World!
Cadbury World is an immersive experience that explores the history of the cocoa bean, how Cadbury grew into the company we know today, and how they make their famous chocolate treats.
As you walk through the tour, chocolate is thrust at you at various points by staff, there are games to play, 4D experiences, and exhibits on packaging and advertising.
Once you’ve walked through the experience, you end up in the largest Cadbury shop in the world! Believe me when I say it is HUGE!! I’ve never seen so much chocolate in all my life and I could quite happily spend the rest of my life there.
And if you haven’t had enough delicious treats, you can have lunch at the Cadbury cafe! (Don’t worry, they do savoury food too if you’ve had enough sweets and chocolate for one day!)
After all that chocolate scoffing the day before, it was time for a bit more walking.
We headed off to Warwick Castle to explore the grounds and walk up and down far too many narrow, steep staircases in my opinion. Castles totally weren’t built for fat people with asthma!
The main attraction for us was the Castle Dungeon tour which consisted of meeting a Jester, a plague doctor, a torturer and a witch among others. The dungeon is cramped, dark, and intentionally scary with interactive elements so it’s not great for people with a nervous disposition…Something I discovered to my own cost! Even though the cramped conditions and jump scares put me on the verge of a panic attack, I did appreciate the tour of the dungeon from a theatre perspective. It was almost like watching a play whilst you were on the stage and having to improvise along with them. The whole performance was masterfully crafted and expertly performed.
Happily, after the scarefest, we ended up running around the Horrible Histories maze with Dad and I singing the Richard III song from the show all day. It lightened the mood considerably!
This was by far my favourite day of the whole holiday. Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled when my parents said we were going to visit a farm for the morning. The fact that it was Mary Arden’s farm didn’t ease the dread in my heart. Farms are smelly, they can be messy, and I don’t like animals! Why would I want to go to a farm, even if it was Shakespeare’s mother’s?
I was surprised to find myself transported back to the Tudor era when we arrived. A lady was making baskets in full Tudor dress, a man was working with leather in his workshop making plague masks, and a man in his Tudor cap talking about falconry in Tudor times with his birds of prey.
We met a lovely lady named only as Mistress Ellen at Mary Arden’s childhood house; she too was dressed in traditional Tudor clothes. Ellen showed us around the house, taught us about the history of Mary Arden, how she came to marry John Shakespeare, about who lived in the house after her, and how a combination of coincidence and science led the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to have two houses to be known as Mary Arden’s.
After a visit to the falconry, we attended Tudor dinner. I wasn’t fond of the idea of watching a group of people eating their lunch but it was more interesting and less awkward than I thought it would be. We learned all about Tudor table manners, Tudor food, and all about Baptism spoons. Not only that, but I was lightly and good-naturedly teased by the Tudors for being left-handed and red-haired and therefore un-marriageable. Charming!
We then spent the afternoon visiting Anne Hathaway’s cottage, learning about hers and Shakespeare’s marriage, the 13 generations of Hathaway’s who lived there and seeing some of the original furniture. This included Anne’s famous bed.
Our last day in Stratford was a simple and fairly relaxed affair.
We visited the last two historic houses, Hall’s Croft and Shakespeare’s New Place, quite early in the morning. As soon as they were open, we were there. It was nice to visit tourist attractions in the quiet periods – we could peruse the artefacts and read the information at our own pace without having to worry about holding up others or getting in the way.
Hall’s Croft was the home of Shakespeare’s daughter and her husband Dr Hall. I studied Tudor medicine at school so being in the home of Dr Hall and seeing all the medical instruments, letters, and learning how Shakespeare may, or may not, have learned his medical knowledge from his son-in-law was fascinating.
The New Place was an exhibition and garden, not a house. I was disappointed about this, but the garden was far too beautiful to be sad about it for long!
After this, we took a final wander around Stratford town centre. We visited the cheese shop, I had my first bubble tea, and we went to the patisserie for lunch.
We rounded off the week with a tapas dinner at Connolly’s in nearby Tiddington and oh my god, it was the best tapas I’ve ever had. The halloumi chips and patatas bravas were particular favourites! For dessert, I had a warm apple cake and banana and butterscotch ice cream. By this point, I was stuffed, exhausted, and very ready to come home.
It had been cloudy all week over Stratford. The sky was incredibly uninspiring up until the last evening when we were treated to a rose sunset over the river. It was the perfect end to the perfect week away.
This trip has certainly begun to change my mind about travel and I hope I get to see this wonderful town again soon.