I spent this weekend in Straford-upon-Avon with half a dozen of my favourite girls. They had organised everything as a surprise for me for my hen do, but it was such a perfect food and book-lovers’ itinerary that I wanted to share their hard work with you.
Stratford-upon-Avon is one of the prettiest towns in England, situated in Warwickshire, and, although not a Cotswold town itself, often referred to as a gateway to the Cotswolds.
Of course, the one thing that Stratford is known for above all else is as the home of William Shakespeare, and you can see how proud the town is of their famous inhabitant everywhere from street names to pubs and shops. We started our visit at the home of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife and a wealthy and successful woman in her own right. The house is a mish-mash of styles from across the centuries, and dedicated guides talk you through various areas within the farmhouse, explaining Anne’s history and how her family would have lived. It’s a romantic spot, with absolutely glorious gardens that were filled with multicoloured tulips. The gardens also contain a lavender maze and “sonnet arboretum” – a wicker structure inside which you can sit and hear recordings of Shakespearean sonnets. They then extend out into an orchard and sculpture trail – with some very saucy Shakespeare-themed bronzes…
We also had lunch in the Garden Cafe at the Anne Hathaway house – ingredients are locally sourced and organic, and they had a good selection of ales from local breweries.
We then moved on to Stratford itself. Situated upon the Avon one of the best ways to see the town is from the river. Cruises are easy to find from anywhere along the banks – you can choose from traditional boats or more modern ones. Our boat wasn’t so pretty from the outside… but did have the benefit of an on-board toilet during the 40-minute round trip. Routes vary – we went through the locks and down the river past Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried. You can visit his grave at the church if you wish.
For dinner, head to No 9 Church Street. We had the private dining room upstairs, with excellent dishes for our whole group, including vegans and vegetarians (which is more than can be said for the previous weekend’s Welsh experience). I started with a delicious scotch egg – runny on the inside, crunchy on the outside, the sort of thing that makes you wish everyday was summer so you could picnic in the meadows surrounded by lazily buzzing bumble bees – followed by a mixed grill of Cornish fish and a cheeseboard.
We were staying at one of Stratford’s many, many guesthouses – and yes, it did have a Shakespearean-themed name – which provided a particularly cheap and easy way for us to have a weekend away. There are plenty of places to have post-dinner drinks. We went to No 1 Shakespeare Street, which was sticky and full of terrifyingly young people (Friend A: “Look at those people. They can slut drop and then just get up again) but we were after all on a hen do (oh, hadn’t I mentioned?) so it allowed us to get the veil and unicorn horn out without fear of being judged. If you’re looking for somewhere classy, it’s probably not the place for you…
We continued the Shakespeare theme the next morning with a behind the scenes tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company. This is my absolute must-do Stratford experience. Our guide, Matilda, was full of fascinating information and it was so interesting to see the costumes up close and stand on the stage (still splattered in the previous night’s stage blood from a performance of Julius Caeasar) to learn about the history of the building. Sadly you’re not allowed to take photos backstage, so you’ll have to trust me on this one. Pay an extra pound and after your tour you can go up the tower which has some of the best views of Stratford, even on a cloudy day.
We then had champagne high tea in the RSC restaurant before heading out to explore Stratford’s charming Waterside Craft Market which runs every weekend. The market has pretty blue and yellow canopies and sells everything from jewellery to garden ornaments, decorative goods, sweets and clothing. It was very, very busy, but we still managed to pick up a few souvenirs to take home.
I definitely intend to return to Stratford – we peered through the perimeter of Shakespeare’s Birthplace but didn’t have time to go in. What are your favourite things to to do in that part of England?
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