SHAKESPEARE COUNTRY

Stratford-upon-Avon is one of my favourite places in England. Jared took me there the first time when I first arrived in London and then we took another trip with a group of people from our church back in 2003. Then about three weeks ago Jared and I once again visited this medieval town and revelled in its history, charm and beauty.

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Stratford-upon-Avon is synonymous with William Shakespeare. The famous English writer was born and grew up in this ancient market town in the mid-1500s. For someone from a far-flung country like myself  who did read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ growing up, it is fascinating to walk around the little street where Shakespeare was born and wandered as a young boy. Seeing the house where he was born and all the wooden buildings that are still standing today during his time is such an amazing experience.

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Above photo is a huge house now called “Shakespeare’s Centre” — the part on the left side was the family home where Shakespeare was born in an upper room in 1564 (apparently there’s no record of his exact birth date). The building has the original floor which William walked around on.  The part on the right side was the workshop and shop where William’s father, John Shakespeare, made and sold his gloves.

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Shakespeare’s face, name, etc., is everywhere as you walk around town.

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On our visit last month we visited Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (above photo) for the first time. It is the childhood home of Shakespeare’s wife. Our tour guide shared with us a story how William would walk just about everyday for an hour from his house to get to Anne’s home when he was courting her (today it’s about ten minutes drive to get from Shakespeare House Museum to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage).

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Just like the Shakespeare House Museum, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage has a beautiful garden and if you visit in the summer months, it is absolutely beautiful with all types of flowers in full bloom.

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Another historic house to visit in this ancient market town is the ‘Harvard House’ — home of a Christian minister, John Harvard (1607–1638), one of the founding fathers of the famous Harvard University. Interestingly, John Harvard’s maternal grandfather Thomas Rogers (1540–1611), was a contemporary and associate of Shakespeare’s father. Both men served on the Borough Council.

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I am totally captivated by this 500+ year-old house — the wood carvings, the door with iron work details, its original owners, and just about everything about this building is  fascinating.  

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 The black and white building on the left was the school where Shakespeare studied as a little boy; it is now a hotel but the facade is the exact same structure during his time. Notice the street was also that wide in the 15th century.

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Anywhere you go around town the famous writer’s name is visible.

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I absolutely love all of these black and white Elizabethan houses.

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There’s charming little tea houses and coffee shops dotted around the town centre.

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As we were leaving I noticed this cute little shop with Christmas tree and other ornaments and I was reminded of home. Back in the Philippines, as soon as September hits you’ll see Christmas decors in the malls.

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I always recommend to our family and friends to include Stratford-upon-Avon in their itinerary. Visiting this old town will give visitors the taste of old England and real ‘Englishness’ — if such a thing even exist today. This country has lost its identity and people have no more sense of history and appreciation of its own heritage, but it’s a topic for another day. 

Note: Here’s my previous post about our visit to other towns and villages in the Cotswolds.

CHARMING VILLAGES IN THE COTSWOLDS

Note:My previous post about our Cotswolds exploration was the visit to a historic town referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds.’

The Cotswolds were declared an area of outstanding natural beauty in 1966. It is a rural landscape just over an hour drive from Britain’s capital city; it contains medieval stone-built villages, towns, stately homes and gardens, and it is indeed one of England’s most picturesque places. There are loads of quaint villages that dot the hillside with some fairy tale like settings. Jared and I have visited Blenheim Palace together for the first time last summer and we continued on this Cotswolds journey visiting a new place every chance we get.

The villages are typically the sort of romantic English scene with stunning views looking out to the countryside in the distance. The houses are made of old timber and local stone with medieval churches and rivers running through them. Visiting these places remind me of Enid Mary Blyton and her books. The beautiful scenery looks like the images that jumped out of the pages of her children’s books I so loved and enjoyed reading as a little girl. Bibury, Castle Combe and Bourton-on-the-Water (the Venice of the Cotswolds) are just some of the prettiest villages I’ve visited in the Cotswolds.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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BURFORD, THE GATEWAY TO THE COTSWOLDS

The Cotswolds is one of Britain’s most picturesque places located in south central England about 800 square miles in land area and comprises a range of rolling hills that runs through five counties — Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire.  It is the favourite country retreat of the rich and famous — Kate Moss, Kate Winslet, Elizabeth Hurley, Prime Ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron and many other prominent figures in Britain own a Grade II-listed country pile in this part of England. 

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One of the pleasures of visiting the Cotswolds is like traveling back in time — practically walking down the same roads that the Romans originally built —  and exploring the different medieval towns and villages, each with its own unique identity, yet all with those distinct and prominent Cotswold attributes such as the ‘wolds’ (old English for rolling hills), unspoilt ancient villages with historic churches, yellow-golden stone and thatched roof cottages, medieval market place, antique shops, etc.

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VISIT TO BURFORD

Burford, a little town often referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds’, is just 19 miles west of Oxford, and well worth the visit. It is originally a fortified Anglo-Saxon ford which later became a wealthy wool town.

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Burford’s little village atmosphere even on the main high street is quite astonishing.

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The famous High Street runs downhill towards a medieval bridge with a tiny river called ‘River Windrush’ and both sides of the street is lined by impressive ancient shops and houses.

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There’s also plenty of chic accommodation, quirky shops and shopping to be had on the high street.

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You can even head off the beaten track and explore the wonderful alleyways and side streets to unearth hidden gems such as charming cottages and beautiful courtyards.

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It has a very impressive architecture of all the High Streets I’ve seen in Britain — the stylish antique shops, restaurants, pubs and tea shops are simply incredible.

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The 16th century Tolsey building (picture below), was once the meeting place for medieval merchants, now a museum is a delightful place to visit for anyone interested in looking into Bruford’s industrial past.

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Another real gem with many interesting memorials showcasing some of Burford’s historic past is St. John the Baptist Church. The ‘Burford Levellers Martyrs’ have interesting memorial plaques in the church along with some of Burford’s great families such as King Henry VIII’s barber-surgeon. (The so-called ‘Burford Levellers’ started in this little town and grew out of the conflict between King Charles I — who believed on the divine right of the king — and the Parliament — representing a demand for the sharing of power. The conflict eventually led to the infamous English civil war in 1642–9. Some of Oliver Cromwell’s army, who were besieged in the church in 1649 watched from the roof of the church as their ringleaders were executed in the churchyard.)

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This little town also has the distinguished claim of having the oldest pharmacy in Britain, Reavley’s, which opened in 1734.

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Burford is indeed one gorgeous English town where you can spend hours gawking at the beauty of every building, each shop and all the cottages you pass.

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Little changed over the centuries in this little town, and it has so much character and history.

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It is a popular destination for its beauty, history, antique shops and other attractions.

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Almost all of the houses I’ve seen have a name inscribed on the doorway and have old wooden door I truly love and wish to have. Told Jared numerous times that if we ever build a house somewhere, anywhere in the world, I’d like to have a similar one or an original door of an old English church building that closed down. 

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You can visit the hotel frequented by King Charles II and his mistress, the English actress Nell Gwynn, and also where Lord Nelson used to dine.

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The three medieval bridges match with all of the old buildings.

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 As you walk downhill on the High Street you can see the stunning view of the rolling hills to remind you that you’re indeed in one of England’s historic ‘wolds’.

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Spring and summer months is the perfect time to visit the Cotswolds. The scenery is simply stunning; whichever way you turn to is ‘Instagram-worthy’ and will make you appreciate the quintessential English charm found nowhere else but in this very part of Britain. Visiting the Cotswolds is truly a unique experience. Its proximity to London and the abundance of historic villages to explore make it an ideal place to getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. Traveling to Burford is quite easy — you either drive for an hour or so depending on the traffic, or take the bus from central London to Oxford for 50-60 minutes then take another bus to Burford for about 15-20 min. Alternatively you can take the train to Oxford and hire a cab or take the bus.

Note: This is first in a series of historic towns and villages we visited in the Cotswold this summer. Here’s Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown. Also, another beautiful and interesting place to visit in the Cotswolds is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, and I did a review last summer of Blenheim Palace.