That is the question…………………….…………………………….
With a quote like that, where else could I be going other than Shakespeare Country. Or to be exact, Bidford, seven miles from Stratford. To a lovely CL situated on the banks of the Avon named Dovecote Moorings. In addition to it being a CL, it’s also a marina with moorings for boat owners. 10Amp electricity is available, the water supply is centrally positioned and chemical disposal is at the far end of the site. The nightly fee is a very reasonable £14 per unit.
My 120 mile journey got off to a bad start with a heavily congested M25 so it was well into the afternoon before I arrived on site – on what must have been the hottest day of the year. With electric and water plugged in, a sun lounger in the shade was all that was required for the rest of the day. By evening, with the arrival of the darkening skies the promised electrical storm looked not too far away. It arrived in the early hours giving us torrential rain with almost continuous lightning. But by 5am, it was all over. By six the sky was clear and the sun was coming up. Time to start planning the first day.
I programmed Tomtom with coordinates and left the site, heading for Kenilworth Castle, some 20 miles away. My English Heritage Card allowed me to bypass the ticket office so I headed across the tilt yard towards the ruined gatehouse.
Although building of the castle started in 1120 the tilt yard was added in the 13th Century by King John. It was built on top of a broad dam which effectively flooded the entire valley, surrounding the castle with a vast lake, making it one of the most protected fortresses in the Country. So much so that it was able to resist a six-month long siege. The lake has been drained and the land cultivated now but viewing the surrounding landscape from the top of the keep, one can easily imagine the view in past times.
In 1563 Queen Elizabeth gave the Castle to her long-time friend and courtier, Robert Dudley. He immediately set about turning the Castle into a palace by building a grand house on four floors containing a suite of apartments especially for the Queen.
On the other side of the keep, he laid out a formal garden in the new Italian style complete with an aviary.
On the other side of the court yard he had built new stables for his horses.
It’s recorded that Elizabeth came to visit in 1575 and enjoyed it so much that she stayed for 19 days. Elizabeth and Dudley had known each other since childhood. They were of a similar age and had lived through some dangerous times together. Many at Court even expected they would marry but eventually when it became apparent to Dudley that they would never be anything other than friends, he quietly went off and got married. Elizabeth immediately banished his new wife from court. By the time of is death thirteen years later, he was heavily in debt.
On the way back to the site, I stopped off in Warwick to see one of the most interesting buildings to survive the great fire of 1694, the Lord Leycester Hospital. This row of buildings date from the 12th and 16th centuries and in their time have been used as a Guildhall, council chamber and grammar school. In 1571 Dudley who had by this time been created the Earl of Leicester, bought the buildings and founded a Hospital for soldiers wounded in the service of the Queen.
The second day began with a twenty mile drive to the site of Hailes Abbey. The Abbey was built in the 13th Century, and during its time, accrued vast wealth from the pilgrims who came in search of a miracle because of visiting their relic – The Holy Blood. After the dissolution in 1540 the relic was destroyed, the treasure seized by the King and the buildings quickly plundered for their materials, so nothing is now standing of what would once have been a huge church. Only the walls of the cloisters are left – plus an interesting museum.
My next stop on my circular tour took in the beautiful Cotswold village of Broadway.
The village was already in existence in the 11th Century because it’s mentioned in Doomsday. The wool and cloth trade ensured it continued to thrive so that by the 16th Century it was in the right place to become a busy stagecoach stop on the new toll road from Worcester to London. At its peak, the High Street had 33 coaching inns, providing accommodation, meals and extra horses to get the coaches to the top of Fish Hill. But then, in the 1800’s the railway came and took most of the goods and passengers. Finally in the 1960s the infamous Dr. Beeching closed the line and the stations were pulled down. As has happened in many places, a group of enthusiasts have restarted the train service over a short distance, so it was to there that I went next. The 1.25 was just preparing to leave.
Later I drove to the top of the escarpment via Fish Hill, a steep climb of 500 feet taking in four very sharp bends. From the top, there are some marvellous views to be had across the County. In the 18th century the Earl of Coventry employed landscape designer, “Capability Brown” to design a folly to stand on the hilltop. The tower was completed in 1798. Close by is a sad little tablet recording the deaths of five airmen who in 1943 lost their lives when their Whitley Bomber crashed into the hillside.
On Friday I drove to the village of Shottery to visit Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Although it’s referred to as ‘her cottage’, it was in fact the family farm. Her dad was a yeoman farmer so he actually owned the property together with a piece of land.
This is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
Later in the morning I drove the four miles on to Wilmcote to visit Mary Arden’s Farm. Mary was the mother of William Shakespeare and the youngest of eight girls. Her father was a ‘gentleman’ farmer. Not only did he own the farm but also many other properties, including the house in Stratford where Shakespeare was born. Being the daughter of a gentleman, it’s likely that the girls were educated by a family tutor.
This is Mary Arden’s Farm
The farm now specializes in Rare Breeds. These are Oxfordshire Browns. In Tudor times almost every family kept a pig. It would be slaughtered in the autumn and fed the family throughout the winter.
An Oxfordshire Brown with piglets
This is the Bedroom shared by Eight Girls.
The Falconer. Throughout the day he demonstrates the hunting skill of different birds.
On Saturday it rained all day. As did it on Sunday – but I needed to get out, so I drove to the outskirts of Coventry, parked in the Park&ride and took the bus into the City. First I walked to the Cathedral. Very early during WWII, Coventry was heavily bombed and the medieval Cathedral took some direct hits.
The Interior of the Old Cathedral.
It remains a burnt out shell. In the mid-fifties a new Cathedral was started alongside the old.
The interior of the New Cathedral
Some 14th Century stained glass. Fortunately it was removed for safe-keeping at the start of the WWII.
The entrance showing the sculpture of St Michael slaying the Devil by Sir Jacob Epstein,
A modern stained glass window. In the foreground is the font hewn from a boulder brought from the hillsides close to Bethlehem.
On my circular walk around Coventry I passed the 16th Century Ford’s Hospital. The sign over the door declares it to be “an armshouse for old ladies of Coventry”. Sadly during the war it was badly damaged and eight of the inhabitants were killed.
Around the corner in the next road is the famous Lady Godiva statue. The story goes that in the 13th Century, Godiva owned much of the land around Coventry. Her husband, Leofric was responsible for collecting taxes over all of Mercia. Godiva pleaded with him to reduce the tax. His reply was that she would have to ride around naked before he would do that. So that’s what she did…………………… or so they say!
My bus stop was just outside the Motor Museum. These three Cortinas, two Mark 2s and a Mark 1 were in the staff carpark. All three are Lotus conversions.
Monday – and the blue skies were back again. I wanted to see the Shakespeare site scattered around Stratford. You need to be a good walker – which I’m not. However I drove to Mary Arden’s Farm again and parked. When the hop on/hop off bus came along, I bought a ticket. We drove the seven miles through the countryside and I got off at Stop No 1. This is at the Bridge close to the canal.
The Stratford Marina.
On the Canal banks there are several bronze statues of Shakespeare high up on a pedestal surrounded by characters from his plays.
I took the walk along Bridge Street and Henley Street to John Shakespeare’s House. This is where he lived and also had his workshop. He was a glover by trade. He also became very wealthy by dealing in the wool trade. Unfortunately his dealings were illegally done. He became a leading citizen in the town, but eventually his dealings were discovered and he lost everything. Fortunately son William made a fortune in London and returned to Stratford building himself a new grand house and restoring his father’s position.
This is Shakespeare’s Birth Place.
Back on the bus again, my next stop was at Hall Place. When William was only 18, he married Anne Hathaway who was 26 years old. It would seem that theirs wasn’t a happy marriage. Their eldest daughter was born within six months and shortly afterwards William went off to London. They later had twins but one of them died, aged eleven. The eldest daughter, Susannah married a local physician and they had a new house built – Hall Place.
This is Hall Place.
Later I walked to Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried in the chancel.
Here is Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church. His wife lies alongside.
Then it was back to the bus for the ride back to Wilmcote.
Tuesday, and another beautiful morning…………… But the forecast said it wouldn’t last. In fact they were forecasting two days of rain. Why not pack in the dry and head for home? I had to be back for a medical appointment on Thursday.
Even before I’d reached the M40, the heavens opened.