Mr. and Mrs. Shakespeare…

After enjoying the charms of three Cotswold villages, my tour group journeys further north to Stratford-upon-Avon. Our guide, David, takes time to tell us a bit about himself.  He is Welsh born, a former BBC reporter and producer and the father of seven grown children. He and his wife live 6 months of the year in Tampa, Florida; 3 months in Paris; then 3 months in London. He shares that they sold their large Central London home several years ago and gave the proceeds to their children to purchase their own homes. He has a child in each of the three cities and so he and his wife rotate through as semi-permanent houseguests!

On our ride we also learn about Shakespeare’s early life and his marriage to Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26. We will first see Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens. This is her parents’ home in which she was raised along with her younger siblings. There is supposition that the late age at which she married was due to the loss of both her parents and her responsibility in raising the family’s younger children. The cottage is located in the hamlet of Shottery which was once several miles from Stratford-upon-Avon but now is surrounded by the community of about 20,000. In England, to be a village you must have both a post office and at least one pub.  If you lack either, you are a hamlet! In the area close to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage there are many homes with thatched roofs, both straw thatch and water reed thatch. David tells us the historic thatched roofs in England are protected and thus when the homes need re-roofing it must be identical to the historic roof–very costly but a requirement. Just before we turn in to our destination he points out two newly built homes with elaborate water reed thatched roofs. The homes have been built in the medieval style and I could not have picked them out as new builds on my own.

The Cottage was built beginning in the 1400s (Elizabethan period) but much of what can be seen today dates from the 1600s. The land slopes quite a bit and thus the house has many interior levels. It would have been considered a farmhouse but one can presume that because it is quite large, having 12 rooms, that her family was quite well-off.  The property remained in the Hathaway family until 1892 when it was purchased by the Shakespeare Trust for preservation.

The gardens behind the Cottage were quite lovely but I imagine they would rise to the level of spectacular in the spring.  Take a look.

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This fanciful woven willow moon art piece was a gift to the Shakespeare Trust and installed in the garden only a couple of years ago. It pays homage to the use of willow throughout the grounds, including two living willow bench covers. You can see one of these at the end of the path in the picture on the right of the second row. It is trimmed back annually but you can see on the left side (sunny side) the willows have sprouted lots of new whips!

Onward into central Stratford-Upon-Avon! Our last destination, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, is quite built up as a tourist attraction with many shops and restaurants. You enter through the Shakespeare Centre which is a lovely exhibit showing how the Bard has been enjoyed and interpreted through the centuries. I especially liked a series of art pieces by a various of artists in different mediums. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Shakespeare Centre leads you out into the garden where you can dally a while or walk the path to the medieval house which also served as a place of business for Shakespeare’s father, a successful glove maker. These gardens, as others I have seen on this trip, look wonderful for the time of year but undoubtedly would be more lush and colorful in the spring.

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The gardens at Shakespeare’s Birthplace had a formal layout but many informal plantings within the beds. There were no low rigid boxwoods hedges and lots of loose blowsy drifts of autumn flowers such as goldenrod and asters.  I loved the willow gardener just above who appears to be tending this very large and upright fuchsia.

The kitchen garden had a number of bearing fruit trees in addition to medicinal herbs, veggies and other edibles.

The front side of Shakespeare’s Birthplace faces a street redesigned for pedestrians only. Quite fun to just stroll down and back  even though it was quite crowded. The villages’s library is on this wide lane and there were many school children in and out and also gathered at the outside tables and chairs of the eateries. I sat for a few minutes and just watched life go by!

UP NEXT: Some Not so Secret Gardens of London

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