Stratford-Upon-Avon is the birth town of Shakespeare. There is more to this town than just the hometown of the famous playwright, actor, and poet. One of my work colleagues has strongly recommended to me this quaint market town full of characters. During this spring, after an event that I went to at the NEC in Birmingham, I made a detour on my way home and spent an afternoon here. The actual look and feel of this place compared to my ideas based on my internet searches prior to my visit, has exceeded my expectations. The town was lively and has a modern day feel despite its medieval look due to the presence of many black and white timber buildings, well-preserved from the Tudor period.
Every time we visit places by car we always look up parking areas. As you enter the town from the motorway, the Bridgeway carpark is a short distance walk just before the high street. There is an open-air parking spaces and an enclosed multi-story with about 650 spaces. It is very convenient when you have small children or a family member on a wheelchair due to its close proximity to where most of the activities are, especially the big park by the busy Canal Basin. There are other carparks in town but Bridgeway is quite convenient to get out back to the motorway. For more information about this carpark, check here.
The High Street and Important Historical Landmarks
Visitors who come here probably want to see the house of the famous man who puts Stratford on the map. In case you need a map of the town, the Visitor Information Office is a low one level brick building on the way from the Bridgeway carpark to the bridge over the Canal Basin. I always find it useful to pick up a map when I visit tourist areas like this especially when I have not been before.
As early as 11:00 a.m. the town was already heaving with Easter weekend tourists. The Pen & Parchment pub half-covered with summer vines just before the bridge was already filling up. At the pub’s benches and tables with pink umbrellas outside, people were already enjoying a beer or two, taking advantage of the mid-morning sun, watching the tourists pass by. Curiously and leisurely I walked towards the high street following other tourists, occasionally looking at a map on my hand, stopping by many times taking photos of beautiful Tudor buildings, which seem to be everywhere. Every corner I turned, there is one or two!
I was busy looking at the black and white buildings and busy thinking what it was like here many centuries ago, I missed my turning to the most important landmark in town. I’ve reached the Farmers Market up at Rother Street and found myself standing beside Shakespeare Memorial Fountain, also known as the American Fountain. This monument was donated by George William Childs, a philanthropist and an American publisher, in dedication to William Shakespeare and for the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Queen Victoria was the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. There are more Tudor buildings along this street and an NCP carpark nearby.
Rother Street, Stratford-upon-Avon
From this landmark, heading towards Shakespeare’s house, the pedestrian street is dominated by more Tudor buildings; currently homes to restaurants, cafes and more shops. It was a pleasure walking on this street, admiring the neatly lined black and white structures without the worry of getting hit by a car or a motorbike. And finally, I found it! the most popular house in this town. Shakespeare and his brothers and sisters were born and brought up here. According to my research, the house contains historic manuscripts and books and other memorabilia of his life. Unfortunately, I only had a few hours to spend for the afternoon, I did not have enough time to explore the inside of the house. Still, it was a privilege to see Shakespeare’s family home from the outside.
Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon
Adding to the character of this town is a Christmas shop in another Tudor building just across the street right opposite Shakespeare’s house. This shop was open. There are few of these Christmas shops around the country that are open all-year-round. I went in to see what people can find in this store during the summer months. They have all sorts of Christmas decorations and most are of high quality, which resonates with the pricey tags but most are exquisitely done to be fair.
The Public Library and Registry Office are also along Henley Street, housed in another charming black and white building with a white statue at the front. It is normal to see human statues in most British high streets, just like this white-painted guy here. They stay still in one position for a few minutes and occasionally move to a different one. You have to pay to have your photos taken with them.
This library building is the oldest library building I have ever seen. Apparently, this is a gift from the famous philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. The gift funding was used for the restoration of this building from a row of cottages and a former technical school. Originally the old cottages were built during the 15th century. This building is also the first example of a local conservation campaign, which involved Marie Corelli, a British novelist whose first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds published in 1886 was an immediate success. More about the campaign and controversy conservation stories here.
Henley Street. Stratford-Upon-Avon
I continued exploring the area, enjoying the hot spring day with other tourists. Amongst the tourists were wealthy-looking Southeast Asian group, dressed in expensive-looking clothes, bags, and white hats. They were busy chatting outside a local shop with shopping bags on their hands bearing the shop’s name. Souvenirs maybe.
I kept on exploring different streets, searching for more interesting things or places to see and then I heard a beautiful rendition of ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserable. I walked towards the sound and found a young gentleman entertaining the crowd at the corner of High Street and Sheep Street. Many people gathered around him listening and admiring his beautiful voice. I could never be more proud of listening to that live version of the song without orchestral accompaniment. The singer’s name is Matt Bond, a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London. You’ll never know, he might be a great ‘Jean Valjean’ one day. I love baskers; they make the place alive.
Coffee and Tea
After a long walk, I stopped for a quick break in yet another historical building. I found a seat by the window looking towards the round-about. I enjoyed sitting there watching the hustle and bustle outside with my cappuccino and biscotti, my usual coffee break treat when I’m out and about. Tourists are going and coming from different directions, most carrying a map on their hands, some were occasionally stopping for quick snaps. This pretty town has a really good mix of old and new life. Apart from Shakespeare’s house, these many Tudor buildings are its inherent character that attracts tourists from around the world. They emanate an authentic atmosphere with the history of England written in every corner. It takes you back in time. It reminds me of how lucky I am to have the opportunity to live in this country.
There are more coffee shops on High Street. If you want a cozier place for hot or cold drinks and light snacks, Badia is along High Street by the entrance of Bell Court beside Debenhams. Bell Court is a foodie little corner. This tiny quirky place has a more relaxed atmosphere. Unlike most of the big chain coffee shops, the service here is more personal than just a table number. It’s not about being a chain per se, it’s about customer service in different branches. They vary. I enjoyed my second and last cup of the afternoon here. I can’t recommend this place enough.
The Boat Ride at Stratford Canal Basin
Towards the end of the afternoon, I managed to accommodate a boat ride at the Canal Basin. The canal area was full of people mostly families. Small children were playing by the fountain at the park called Bancroft Garden, some were queueing for ice cream from an ice cream barge. There were people feeding the ducks, whilst some families were having a picnic in the park overlooking the water. Families and friends were leisurely sailing through the calm water of the canal on a hired or owned boats. It’s a perfect picture of a family leisure day out here.
I got into one of the boats and paid £7.00 for 40 minutes ride. At the one side of the canal, you can see the back of the Royal Shakespeare Theater. In the opposite direction of the canal, the stretch was a line up of beautiful back gardens of big private homes along Tiddington Road; one of the most expensive streets in this town. Some gardens have a sitting patio where homeowners can enjoy the sight of the canal in the summer. Here is a short video I’ve taken using my phone.
Stratford-upon-Avon Canal Basin
More on Stratford-upon-Avon
Apart from the regular high street shops, they also have many nice boutique shops, gift shops, restaurants and quirky cafes around town. If you love cats and wish to be surrounded by cats while having your coffee, this town has a cats cafe at Union Street. Or you can also visit Stratford’s Butterfly Farm which, claimed to be the UK’s largest butterfly paradise. The famous cottage of Anne Hathaway is also one of the attractions in this town. No, not the famous movie star but the wife of William Shakespeare.
Warwickshire’s famous landmark, the Warwick Castle is less than 10 miles away from Stratford-upon-Avon and the Charlecote Park is about 7 miles away. The Royal Leamington Spa, a town known for its Regency architecture and has the largest collections of British classic cars housed at the British Motor Museum is nearby.
So that was a well-spent afternoon at Shakespeare town. This place is worth a visit.
Stratford-upon-Avon Canal Basin souvenir photo