After all the riding & tromping through lambs the previous day or two, I decided I wanted to focus more on exploring villages of the Cotswolds. Technically, Stratford-upon-Avon is maybe a bit north of region, but since it's only about a half hour from Stow, I'm counting it. And as the birthplace of Shakespeare, I wasn't missing it. I had thoughts about going to a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company, since that's supposedly the best way to see the Bard's work live, but once I got to town & got all parked (there's a huge and very crowded visitor lot just across the river Avon from the main part of town), I found out that the show that day was Hamlet, and only in the afternoon. So, yeah- I passed. Had it been almost anything else, I might have sacrificed my daytime sight-seeing hours, but no chance I wanted to watch the Prince of Denmark dither when there was actual sunlight (again!). SO- instead I found myself a lovely little lunch spot in the CUTEST little half-timbered town & planned the day. I first went straight to the main museum- Shakespeare's birthplace. There are various ticket combos you can get, as there are 5 Shakespeare-related sights in & around town. I think I went ahead and bought the full 5-pack, but ended up only getting to three of them. First up is the biggie - the birthplace. After the ticket booth, you get funneled through a mini-museum about the history of Shakespeare's life & work, which includes some little videos, some lame animatronic displays, and a few cool artifacts. Then you get to do a quick wander through the actual small house, whose two floors are only slightly furnished, but there are docents in each room telling stories, quoting sonnets, etc... It's the upstairs bedroom that holds probably the most interest, as it's been a tourist attraction since about the 1700's, and you can see names scratched into the window from a really long time ago. Back out in the lovely garden, there were actors doing scenes, which was a nice little touch. Finally, you exit through the bookstore (of course) which was INCREDIBLY tempting. I already had a fair amount of books to truck back with me, so I resisted a cute book of sonnets, but only just barely. Here are some shots of town & the house itself:
Next up on the list of sights was something called Nash's House & New Place, but it sounded, well, pretty lame, and hardly connected to Shakespeare. So I skipped that & headed to the next downtown locale: Hall's Croft, which is where Shakespeare's oldest daughter lived with her doctor husband. It's a lovely OLD house, with much better furnishings. It also has a nice back garden, but other than just being a nice house from the 17th century, there's not much else there- especially having to do with Shakespeare. Here's what it looks like though:
At this point, I just didn't have it in me to walk around the corner to the church to see his grave, plus I wanted to get out to Anne Hathaway's cottage. NO- not the actress - heh - Shakespeare's wife's childhood home! First I had to get back across the river, and rather than go all the way back to the center of town to the bridge, I found what is apparently the oldest chain ferry still in use. I think it cost about 50 pence to use, and the little operator was a cute yet slightly curmudgeonly old man. Plus, the river is really a lovely part of the town, AND the ferry dropped off right near my car (did I mention that my legs were pretty tired?). Here are shots from/around the river- the church is the one with his grave - and yes, that's how close it was and how tired my legs were (plus it was really cold that day, if I remember rightly).
After winding my way through some residential neighborhoods, I found my way to the site where Shakespeare wooed his wife. Now, she was NOT the subject of his sonnets as far as anyone knows, and he didn't live with her the whole time he was off becoming famous in London (allegedly, assuming you believe this guy was the guy that wrote everything, which some don't...), so who knows how fancy the wooing was, but she was a fair bit older than him, so... Plus, the house & gardens are cool enough that it merits a visit. Why was it cool? Well, her family lived there for 400 years straight - all the way through 1911 - thatch roof, low beams, and all. Because of that, much of the original beautiful wood furnishings are still there, which is amazing enough itself, but then you add in the fact that the guy who wrote such amazingly romantic words spent quite a bit of time there, and it really just feels magical, somehow. No photos inside, sadly, but the outside & gardens were lovely as well:
Now that I had my fill of Shakespeare-related sights, it was time to head back into the heart of the Cotswolds for more general English-country charm. I did Rick Steves' wonderful walking tour of Chipping Campden, which is quite a bit more interesting than Stow-on-the-Wold, in my opinion. It has a lovely High Street with a cool old Market Hall, an old church (of course), but my favorite story had to be about the Baptist Hicks Land. SO- this is where the fancy-pants "Lord of the Manor" family lived. They used their wealth to build a bunch of stuff for the town, including housing for the poor (some of which right across from their walled-in estate - on the road to the church, with their coat of arms on them all just so everyone could see how generous they were). Additionally, they were such good friends to the royals that they BURNED DOWN their massive house rather than let the parliamentary forces seize it during the English Civil war. Sheesh! Now you can still see a bit of charred remains through the lovely main gate, but they never re-built for some reason. Here are some shots of the charming village:
After a tasty dinner at a cozy old pub, I headed back south toward my guesthouse. I ended up on a one-track road during a GORGEOUS sunset (my pics did NOT do it justice), and almost ran over an actual live peacock who crossed the road in front of me. Luckily I was going so slow through the twists & turns on a ONE LANE ROAD (note- that's one lane, not one way!!!) that I actually had time to snap a quick pick of him. Insane.
With that, I tucked into my guesthouse for one more night & prepared to head north. Next up would be a day o' castles - fun!