Stratford-upon-Avon: it’s not just all about the Bard. We recently had the pleasure of 24 hours in Shakespeare country. There was so much to do, we couldn’t possibly fit it all in. So here are my recommendations for some of the things we did, others we have done on previous visits, and some that remain on our list for future visits. So without further ado (about anything whatsoever), let’s head to Warwickshire.
On the road from Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon
The A3400 from Birmingham passes through a number of places that are worth a visit in their own right. First up is pretty Henley-in-Arden with its main street of beautiful houses with that higgledy-piggledy roofline: always worth a wander. Then you have Henley Ice Cream shop, the legendary place of multiple ice-cream choices. They also have gluten and dairy free options.
Discovering Wootton Wawen
After Henley, you pass through Wootton Wawen. On your left as you drive in is the Saxon Sanctuary, with a churchyard fragrant with lavender. Stop a while, and you can pop into the church, taking care to abide by the notice to latch the door properly so as not to trap any birds within.
The Saxon Sanctuary at Wootton Wawen
Back in your car, you pass beside a spectacular weir and the river bridge before arriving at Yew Trees Craft Centre. There are lots of different and unusual shops at the Craft Centre, including antiques, clothing and a farm shop. There’s also a cafe in a rustic barn, with outside sitting space on a lovely day.
Now it’s time to leave your car behind for a walk. In season, you’ll see signs to the bluebell walk, mightily pretty and justly popular. During the rest of the year, turn left out of the Craft Centre and immediately head right up the lane. This takes you to the canal. In late summer, I’d recommend turning left at the canal bridge, and, with bag in hand, enjoying good blackberrying along the towpath.
The aqueduct at Wootton Wawen, with a boat in transit. Both the boat and I are crossing the A3400.
If you turn right, you’ll find yourself at the aqueduct crossing the A3400. The aqueduct is unusual in that the towpath is at the height of the canal bottom, and passing narrowboats are taller than you as they cross. You’ll also find an Anglo-Welsh boatyard here for holiday narrowboat hire.
On The Road to Stratford-upon-Avon
Once you are through Wootton Wawen, you pass a number of small villages and places of interest on the way into Stratford. You’ll see a sign on your left to visit the Stratford Armouries, and you can also visit Mary Arden’s Farm at Shottery. This is a working Tudor farm, which hosts outdoor theatre during the summer.
If you have ursine fans in the family, you should stop off for a brief visit to Bearley station. It serves the rail line between Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick (to the order of a train every couple of hours). I once caught this train by mistake from Stratford, and what a glorious mistake it turned out to be. As so few trains pass, the line is beautifully verdant and well worth exploring.
During our visit, we spied a passenger who had missed his train. He had a couple of hours to wait for the next.
If your urges for retail therapy need to be satisfied, on the outskirts of Stratford you’ll find the Maybird Retail Park, with convenient out of town shopping.
Before you park up in central Stratford, you might also want to visit Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery, where Shakespeare did his courting. I’m wondering if he found a rose by any other name there. There is a sculpture trail in the gardens.
Side Trips that take time
If you are in the area on a Saturday or Bank Holiday, you might want to make a visit to Wellesbourne Airfield Market. With over 500 stalls, this is one of the largest, if not the largest outdoor market around. It’s five miles out of Stratford, with free parking.
Don’t forget too, your proximity to Compton Verney Art Gallery. The Gallery holds a changing parade of exhibitions. There’s also the setting of the Park itself, which has all kinds of treasures from bird hides to orienteering courses.
In Stratford-upon-avon: By Day
Firstly, let’s deal with the Bard. You can visit his Birthplace, which is close to the centre of town. Then there’s the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, right on the river. Many, many years ago, I saw my first live play here, brought along for a special treat by my stepfather. That was Coriolanus, and you can currently see Julius Caesar (described as an epic political tragedy, which seems somewhat befitting for our troubled times). There are many, many other Shakespearean options for your stay, but I’m trying to balance love for the Bard with all the other things Stratford has to offer.
Just the start of the clattering, clanking, fascinating automata that make up the MAD museum
If you love automata, strange devices and all kinds of interestingness, you should pay a visit to the MAD (Mechanical Art and Design) museum. Now located in Henley Street, the museum sums up its attraction best as being for fans of the mechanical devices in Wallace and Gromit, Scrapheap Challenge or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. That’s spot on my kind of thing, and I can spend happy hours there. You’ll find my review of the MAD museum at its previous location here.
Messing About on the River (and canal)
You may be aware that I have a soft spot for all things watery. Time spent on or alongside the river is another great bonus for Stratford. You can happily meander the banks, stopping to buy ice creams. We spent time marveling at episodes of DuckGate, where there were ruffled feathers on the water. Rather a lot of swans looked on benignly, grooming themselves below what I am sure were raised eyebrows as the ducks cavorted, created and splashed a lot.
You can also get onto the river itself. There are trip boats, boats you can feed on, boats you can hire (with engine) and boats you can hire (with oars). We paused for a drink at Cox’s Yard, and watched everyone navigate successfully around the bridge arches, while DuckGate happened alongside us. There is a boat used as an information centre for the Canal and River Trust, so you can explore further the potential for other watery pursuits.
Swan sculpture at the river park, Stratford. Look closely, and you’ll see that the bigger bird has a jacket potato impaled on his beak. Great aim, but I’m not sure Mrs Swan wholly appreciates the courtship gesture.
Nor far from the river, you’ll find the Butterfly Farm. I hear this is gorgeous, although I’m not the best with small fluttering things, so it wasn’t on my list.
In Stratford-Upon-Avon: Evening
You can sign up for a Ghost Walk in the evening. Weather permitting, I bet this would be great fun on a misty autumn night. There’s another chance to catch a production at either the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or the little Bear Pit Theatre on Rother Street which has just 100 seats. The Stratford Artshouse hosts all kinds of productions, including the Stratford Music Festival in September.
We stopped by the Stratford Alehouse, a micropub. Despite its small and perfectly formed nature, it has space for a micro stage with a great list of acts booked. I can recommend the Hogan’s medium cider, and there is a good selection of real ales.
Time passed happily in the Stratford Alehouse
Staying in Stratford-upon-Avon
We stayed overnight at the beautiful 400 year old Grade II listed Stratford Townhouse. It’s located just five minutes walk from Shakespeare’s birthplace, and a couple of minutes from the river and Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This boutique hotel with just 12 rooms offers excellent dining choices too.
24 Things to do in 24 hours
- Walk Henley-in-Arden High Street
- Stop off for a treat at Henley Ice Cream
- Visit the Saxon Sanctuary at Wootton Wawen
- Shopping and dining at Yew Trees Craft Centre, Wooton Wawen
- Bluebell walk or tow path walk
- Exploring the aqueduct at Wootton Wawen
- Stratford Armouries
- Bearley Station
- Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm
- Maybird Retail Park
- Anne Hathaway’s cottage
- Wellesbourne Airfield Market
- Compton Verney
- Shakespeare’s Birthplace
- Royal Shakespeare Theatre
- MAD Museum
- River and Canal Walk
- Boat Trips – hire your own, or escorted
- Butterfly Farm
- Ghost Walk
- The Bear Pit
- Stratford Artshouse
- Stratford Alehouse
- Stratford Townhouse
This is part of the Beautiful Britain series. You’ll find a bevy of British beauties and curiosities here:
- Adventures in the Welsh Marches: Ludlow, Shropshire and Hereford, Herefordshire
- Road trip around Lancashire
- and a Secret Nuclear Bunker in Cheshire