Since I was 10, one of my bucket list vacations was to tour Shakespeare’s countryside. I’ve never met someone who’s had that childhood dream, but I’m sure I’m not the only one. When I was 10, I came across William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Like most people, I knew of Shakespeare and recognized that most people consider him the greatest writer of all time. I wanted to see why.
If you grew up in the South in the 80s, chances are you went to a church that used the King James Bible. If you can understand the King James Bible, you can understand Shakespeare. It wasn’t hard for me to grasp. I read King Lear over three days. Then, I read the Cliff Notes at the Library to help me out with the things I didn’t quite understand. But from that day, I was hooked.
I always hoped to come across a Shakespeare audition and I didn’t get the chance until after high school. I didn’t go to college right away and tried to be in as many Shakespeare plays and other performances as much as possible. And then, I went to college and unfortunately, my school didn’t perform any Shakespeare plays. So, I did community theater Shakespeare performances and then, after college, I jumped back into my Shakespeare dream.
The last Shakespeare play I performed in before I moved to New York City was The Tempest. The cast and crew and I would often talk about my upcoming move to NYC. The consensus was that one day I was going to be a big star. Now, I know that community theaters and Shakespeare in the Park casts in every big city have at least one actor that everyone believes is going to become a big star. If you’ve followed my blog for a long time, you know it didn’t quite pan out the way I dreamed.
The love for Shakespeare has stayed the same. And so was my bucket list vacation of seeing where Shakespeare lived, wrote, and dreamed.
That, I finally got to do.
When I was putting my trip to England together, I had to decide which kid to take with me. I have four of them, with one being in the Army, so that gave me three options. All three of them love to travel, but one of them loves to act, which made him the leading candidate. Then, I got invited to climb over the O2 Arena, and he officially became the one to join me.
We spent two days in London before we picked up a car and drove to Stratford-upon-Avon. I immediately felt at home as I drove through the beautiful town. I told my son as we passed the shops and stores, “I could live here.” That would be something I repeated during my three-day tour.
We checked into The Crowne Plaza, which was a perfect location for our trip. It was within walking distance to many of the sites that I wanted to see. It also has great food and a great bar, which made our trip all the better. We didn’t stay long after dropping our bags in our room, because we had some things to see.
Our first stop on our Shakespeare adventure was where William Shakespeare took his first steps. We walked to Shakespeare’s Birthplace from our hotel, which was a nice chilly walk. My son and I enjoyed one another’s company as I followed the map on my phone. We first walked around the garden before we entered the home. Inside, we learned about Shakespeare’s upbringing, his father’s business of being a glove-maker, and about his siblings. The area of the home that gave me the most pleasure of standing was in the room where Shakespeare drew his first breath. We learned from a tour guide it was a custom at the time for women to give birth in their bedrooms in front of a fire. As I stood looking into the fireplace, I had an overwhelming sense of comfort and joy with my son at my side.
My favorite item in Shakespeare’s Birthplace is an old window, where fans scratched their names in the glass. One of the names etched in the glass is the poet Henry Irving.
After we left Shakespeare’s Birthplace, we walked to his final resting place at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. The sky opened up on us, which caused our feet to quicken. The church building dates back to 1210 and is Stratford-upon-Avon’s oldest building. I love visiting my heroes’ graves, and not for only the reason to pay respects. What I love most about visiting a grave of someone I admire is the notion that many years ago, friends and family of that person stood where my feet stand.
The places where historical people worshiped fascinate me. On the wall in the church is Shakespeare’s baptismal and death records. While I looked out over pews inside the church, my imagination drifted to Shakespeare looking upon the walls that I could see.
Shakespeare is buried next to his wife, Anne Hathaway, and his daughter, Susanna. Also buried next to him is his son-in-law, Dr. John Hall and Thomas Nash, who was his granddaughter’s first husband. Elizabeth, his granddaughter, is buried in Abington. Those names are brought up often on all Shakespeare tours.
Huddled under an umbrella, we walked from the church to Shakespeare’s New Place. There is a villain in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and I won’t say the name of he who should not be named in Stratford. The reason, Shakespeare’s beautiful home that he built with his wife was torn down by an owner long after Shakespeare had died. He tore it down because he was tired of tourists stopping by to pay their respects. There’s a lot to get into about that, but you can read about it here.
The current New Place was rebuilt in the image of the original. The replica shows what Shakespeare’s life was like and holds many artifacts owned by the Shakespeares.
We then climbed into our rental and made the short drive to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is the childhood home of Shakespeare’s wife. The cottage was the home of the Hathaways for over 400 years. They set the inside of the cottage up the same as it was during Anne’s time. Visitors can walk into the room where Shakespeare asked the Hathaways’ blessing for her hand in marriage. Side note: Anne gave birth three months after the wedding. I wonder how that “blessing” conversation went.
We drove back to the hotel and parked the car, and then wandered around town. We stopped in The Old Thatch Tavern where I had a pint of Guinness and my son had a pint of Coca-Cola. As we sipped our beverages, I breathed out, “I’d like to live here.” My son did not agree, nor did he disagree.
Back at the hotel, we had a delicious dinner and chatted about Shakespeare. My son was interested in the Shakespearean roles I played and it surprised me at how many questions he asked. I fondly recollected stories, explained how people can interpret characters hundreds of ways despite what’s on paper, and talked about funny accidents that happened on stage.
We went back to our room, and I began writing on my laptop while my son played Minecraft. It hit me in mid-sentence that I was writing in Shakespeare’s hometown. A smile reflected off my computer screen as I hammered the rest of my paragraph.
On our second day, we woke up early and drove to Warwick Castle. Warwick Castle was first a wood fort built by William the Conqueror in 1068. During the 12th century, the castle was rebuilt with stone. The castle’s history is rich with intrigue, bloodshed, and scandal. There’s a dungeon within the castle, where one can find graffiti scratched into the walls by former inhabitants. It can be quite an uneasy feeling, especially if large groups of people enter with you.
There’s plenty of activities surrounding the castle, such as reenactments, sword play instructions, and shooting arrows at a target. Tasty food and desserts are also found on castle grounds. My son and I enjoyed eating pizza on the grass where knights once drilled. One can spend an entire day exploring the castle and participating in fun activities. There’s also a fun maze that tells the story of the area.
We left the castle after putting many miles on our step count and drove to The Shakespeare Distillery. I love touring distilleries, so we stopped to see where great tasting gin is made. We had little time, so I didn’t schedule a gin course and instead got a quick tour and bought a lot of gin to take back to the States.
The next stop on our adventure that day was Hooray’s, which is a family-owned ice cream parlor. I went basic with a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of banana ice cream. My son was more adventurous and I don’t remember what he ordered, but I remember him loving it. We rested our feet as they dangled off a stool and enjoyed our tasty treat.
We went back to the hotel and had another fantastic dinner. My son was wiped out from all the walking and didn’t want to go back into town with me. Since I needed a break, I left him to the room so he could play some more Minecraft while I went to a pub. I slid up to the bar at The Garrick Inn, which is a perfect place to have a beer. When Americans think of an English pub, this is the type of place that comes to mind. It’s old and legend says it was one of Shakespeare’s drinking spots.
We woke up for our last day in Stratford-upon-Avon, sad that we were leaving. Over breakfast, I said for the last time, “I would love to live here.” After breakfast, we walked from the hotel to Magic Alley. Magic Alley is a fun magic store where you can find all kinds of unique gifts for that unique person in your life. There’s also a mystery visitors can solve. The mystery that we had to solve was “The Case of the Missing Dragon Egg.” Visitors must find out who took the egg and why. We walked from one room to another, gathering clues. I won’t spoil it, but we solved the crime.
We said goodbye to Stratford-upon-Avon and drove out of town. I was very sad to leave and wished I had at least one more day exploring the town. We had one more stop to make, though.
As we drove towards Kenilworth Castle, the sky poured down on us. We pulled up to the castle and stepped out into the muddy parking lot. We later realized there was another parking lot closer to the entrance that wasn’t as muddy. Thanks Google Maps. Anyway, we walked along a muddy path, where my camera slipped out of my bag and rolled. We later realized my very expensive lens was scratched. Which was frustrating, because my close-up pictures were not in focus. At least I could take some gorgeous shots with my wide-angle lens.
Kenilworth Castle makes you feel you’ve stepped back in time and came across an abandoned castle. The castle’s skeleton is fun to explore. We picked up a kids’ booklet to fill out, but my son wasn’t interested in finding clues in the rain. An area of the castle that was built for Queen Elizabeth I fascinated me. She loved to stay at the castle and at one point, stayed 19 days. As mentioned, I love walking in the steps of historical figures. Her section of the castle was built for wooing her by the owner of the castle. He probably murdered his wife in hoping for the Queen’s hand in marriage. As you can probably guess since Queen Elizabeth’s nickname is “The Virgin Queen,” she turned his advance down.
We cut our visit to Kenilworth short because of the rain and drove back to London. As we drove along, I dreamed of my return to Stratford-upon-Avon. I very much want to return one day. I might not live there, but I will definitely be back for a longer stay. Maybe not a Queen Elizabeth length, but a longer one.
My desire to see Shakespeare’s world was quenched. After visiting his grave, his homes, places that were meaningful to him, and sites outside of town, I feel closer to him. The trip to Stratford-upon-Avon could not have been better. My son also had a great time. His interest in Shakespeare increased, but I think more importantly, he enjoyed seeing me be excited about something. I didn’t tone down my excitement as I explained things to him. He actually seemed to appreciate my insights. He also enjoyed carrying a camera around to capture his own perspective.
Towards the end of our vacation, we were sitting in the stands at a Chelsea match. After the game was over, my son asked, “Didn’t you say we might see a play at The Globe?” I quickly took out my phone and bought tickets for that night’s performance. The play, “The Tempest.”
After our vacation was over and we were on the plane back to New York City, my son asked to borrow my computer on the plane. I asked why and he said he wanted to write a story. My heart grew ten times its normal size. He sat next to the window and hammered his fingers against the keyboard. Shakespeare’s inspiration continues.
I could not have made this trip without Shakespeare’s England. I can’t thank Shakespeare’s England enough for hosting me and my son and providing us with the experience of a lifetime. Shakespeare’s England’s website is loaded with information, places to stay, things to do, where to eat, and a plethora of stories and ideas. Click on the website and peruse.
Climbing Over the O2 Arena in London
Flying on The Thames in a Speedboat
How an Ice Cream Truck Saved the Day While Hiking Across England
Reliving the Dads4Kesem Hadrian’s Wall Hike
Napping in Marie Antoinette’s Backyard
Climbing the Castle of San Giovani in Kotor, Montenegro with my Son
Lost in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Wine Tasting with the Kids in Provence
Dodging Farts on Mount Vesuvius
3 Day Itinerary for Visiting Shakespeare’s England