For a while now I had wanted to visit Stratford-Upon-Avon, the hometown of William Shakespeare. I wouldn’t call myself a Shakespeare expert by any means, but being from the creative world of TV and film, I’ve always had an invested interest in his work. My favorite theater performance was The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London. Stratford-Upon-Avon was a short jaunt from Stow where I had been for my friend’s wedding. I went by car as taking the three trains it would have required to get there on a Sunday would have cost time and money. After dropping my bags at the local YHA hostel, I hurried over to the Stratford Town Walk.
Stratford Town Walk
I had discovered the Stratford Town Walk online and figured it was an affordable way for me to see a lot in a short amount of time. I had only given myself one day there so time was of the essence. The meeting point for the walk was in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre by a little yellow sign. Though it be small, it was easy enough to find. At only £6, the walk is a bargain! Also a bonus, you don’t have to book in advance! When you buy your ticket, you also get a set of vouchers. They give you discounts at local shops, restaurants, pubs and attractions (I wound up using the one for Shakespeare’s Birthplace and a local eatery called The Dirty Duck).
William Shakespeare’s Birthplace
Our lovely guide began our tour with some history of Stratford. The name is a combination of the Old English strǣt, meaning “street”, and ford, indicating a site at which a road forded a river. The “street” was a smaller Roman road connecting the larger roads Fosse Way and Icknield Street. From there we went onto Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
You can see in the lower right photo what the building is made of. If I remember correctly, it’s pretty much inter woven sticks, mud, and clay. We only stayed for a quick moment here, and then moved onto some local points of interest. As I said, I only had a limited time, so it was nice to have someone who knew their way around. I would have needlessly spent some time trying to find these location had I been on my own.
Harvard House was on my list of must-sees so I was really excited that it was already on the tour! It was once known as the Ancient House and built in 1596 by Thomas Rogers, grandfather of the benefactor of Harvard University, John Harvard. If you click on the photos so they expand you can see there is a lot of intricate cravings on the house. Really a beautiful building!
Stratford-Upon-Avon, though it was chartered in 1196, has continued to grow over it’s 800 years. You can see evidence of that in the image below. There are three clearly different styles of architecture in just one corner of the city.
We then ventured onto Guild Chapel and a grammar school, both of which Shakespeare attended. A short walk away from the grammar school we came upon Hall’s Croft which was the home of Susanna Shakespeare and her husband, Dr John Hall. I didn’t have time for a look inside, but I did snap a photo of the outside. Our guide was full of interesting little facts like the word “disease” coming from dis-ease as well as “bonfire” being derived from the fact that bonfires were originally fires in which bones were burned. It made for an fascinating tour of Stratford-Upon-Avon. We next headed to the Holy Trinity Church.
Holy Trinity Church
The last part of the Stratford Town Walk takes you to the Holy Trinity Church to Shakespeare’s Grave. It’s a lovely looking church with a unique character. You can almost feel the age of the place. It was probably my favorite place in Stratford Upon Avon. The people who must have come and gone throughout the years. I also adore graveyards (don’t ask). I’ve always felt peaceful when walking through them. You can see our lovely guide in these photos!
William Shakespeare was born and died in Stratford-upon-Avon, both of which happened on St. George’s day (23rd April). Though those dates are up for debate. Records of his baptism on (April 26th 1564) and of his burial on (25th April 1616) are from the Holy Trinity Church where both events took place. Within a few years of his death, a memorial to Shakespeare was erected. This memorial (see below) is thought to be a good likeness.
Shakespeare’s grave reads:
- GOOD FRIEND FOR JESUS SAKE FOREBEAR,
- TO DIGG THE DVST ENCLOSED HERE.
- BLESTE BE YE MAN YT SPARES THESE STONES,
- AND CURSED BE HE YT MOVES MY BONES.
It’s thought to be a warning to anyone who’d wish to removal Shakespeare’s body to Westminster Abbey or the exhumation of his body for examination.
Aside from the Shakespearian side of the church, I found it’s misericord carvings most entertaining. A highlight of the Stratford Town Walk. While the stained glass is beautiful, it’s not what I remember most from the church. I remember these carvings above all else. They are supposed to be scenes depicting ‘morals’. The second image is a woman who talked too much (per her husband) and got punished for it. Misericords were created in a world where the majority of people were unable to read or write. “The carvings are a mixture of bawdy and satirical with a theatrical, almost carnival-like element, but with an underlying sacred meaning. They are a stark reminder that the devil is everywhere in everyday life and is poised to drag souls to hell.”
Stratford Town Walk Tour
Once again, Stratford Town Walk is a great tour whether you have a few days in Stratford-Upon-Avon or a day like I did. It’s affordable and the guides are full of fascinating facts! It’s also easily walkable, no hills or difficult terrain.