Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wednesday, 20th September – Cotswolds

Stratford-upon-Avon is just up the road, so it was naturally the place to go. We were keen, even though Rick Steves says “Stratford is the most overrated tourist magnet in England, but nobody back home would understand if you skipped Shakespeare's house.” We were keen to go, and allowed the whole day so we wouldn’t be rushed. However we were underwhelmed (we won’t ever ignore Rick’s advice again!!). We saw Anne Hathaway’s cottage (she was Mrs W Shakespeare to be), and Shakespeare’s birthplace. Both interesting in their own right, as very old houses which reveal something about the way people lived in the 17th century. There is little in the way of actual Shakespeare relics (understandable as he wasn’t famous when he lived in Stratford), but they have worked hard to put together what they could. At the birthplace there was a very well done exhibition on his life which we enjoyed. But the houses are very small, and although there was some attempt at crowd control at AH’s there was none at SB’s so there were too many people, some of them talking loudly and all of them (it seemed) pushy, so we decided we’d had enough. We were thinking of taking a boat trip on the Avon, but it was cold and grey, so we just left town.

The other advice Rick gave us was “Even with its crowds of modern-day barbarians and its robber-baron entry fee, Warwick Castle is worthwhile.” So we saw the light and went back to being true believers (aka Ricknics). Warwick Castle is very expensive ($AU40 each!) but with our Heritage card we get in for free, so even though it was almost 3 by the time we got there, we thought we might as well. Well – Warwick was great! It’s an old castle, dating back to the 13th century but inhabited until the 1930’s, so quite different to the ruined castles we’ve seen so far. It is now owned by Madame Tussaud’s and they have added wax figures which are (of course) extremely lifelike, and really bring the castle to life (so to speak). One is called the Kingmaker, all about Richard Neville & the War of the Roses (set in 1471), another a Royal Weekend Houseparty in 1898, with guests such as the Prince of Wales (Edward VII to be) and a young Winston Churchill. Most of the furnishings and fittings are those that were actually here in 1898, and photographs taken at the time mean that it has been possible to put every chair, table, bed and book in exactly the place it occupied exactly 100 years ago. Very impressive.

As it is our last day in the Cotswolds, we wanted to eat somewhere special. We went to a pub called “The Fleece Inn” which is was a medieval half-timbered farmhouse originally, and still has many original features. It was dripping with “atmosphere”. A nice way to end our stay in the Cotswolds.