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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Birthday Outing To Stratford-Upon-Avon

Saturday was my birthday and, the weather being fine, Carol thought I might appreciate a visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Actually, as we drove to the Shell petrol station along Grafton Street, we were greeted by a thin fog. It was dull and sunless, but that didn't prevent us having our day out. The first day of Half-Term as well as my birthday. I had found the postcode of the Stratford-Upon-Avon park-and-ride carpark and set the satnav, so it was just a matter of following the device's instructions and driving out of Milton Keynes. A wonderful invention which makes driving and particularly navigation so much easier and stress-free. There are some modern inventions which one can well do without (mobile telephones for one, although they have their place, obviously.) but a satnav is a brilliant bit of kit. Attempting to follow a large fold-out map in a car as you are moving along can be very difficult.

We drove out of Milton Keynes towards Buckingham and eventually to the M40. Our journey was fairly stress-free. Fortunately the fog began to lift as we approached Stratford. We got to the park and ride carpark and it was here we discovered that it didn't seem possible to use the ticket machines. You should have been able to use your bank debit card to either pay with chip and pin or contactless but the machine wasn't working. We ended up finding we had to use the bus without paying and the driver allowed us to pay on our return journey. I have a free bus pass and it was at this point that I discovered that it had expired, meaning I couldn't use it for a free journey. I will have to go to the Council offices in Milton Keynes to get it updated. I would have thought I would have had a letter from them informing me that it was about to expire. It not only means a trip into the centre of Milton Keynes, but that I will need to get passport photographs done to go on the card.

On arrival in the centre of Stratford-Upon-Avon we decided that we required some sort of refreshment so we went to a Caffe Nero branch in Henley Street. Carol ordered hot chocolate and I had caramel latte with a good topping of whipped cream and caramel sauce and we also had chocolate brownie and pecan pastries. For once there wasn't loud music playing, which is one thing which we both find annoying in many restaurants and cafes we visit, which means you can barely hear anyone speaking and restricts conversation. A very clean and tidy branch and the staff were friendly and helpful.
William Shakespeare's birthplace.

From Caffe Nero we walked along the street towards the Shakespeare Birthplace. I have a longstanding interest in William Shakespeare and have studied his plays at school and university, and this was one place I had always wanted to visit. We were going to visit on this occasion but were put off by the cost of entry, so didn't go inside. I realise such places need to be paid for and kept going with such payments, but it seems a shame that they are making money out of tourists which keep such centres as Stratford alive, but in another sense they are putting of others who might like to visit but wouldn't be able to afford such costs. We did go into the shop, further down the street, and bought some cards and other items. Much of the souvenirs are, frankly, very tacky and cheap, but in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust shop there were some very worthwhile items, including books, pens, postcards etc etc.

Further along the street we discovered a shop which sold teddy bears. Carol has a love of these toys and has a wide collection at home. Several years ago I bought her a Steiff bear, which was sold as an offer in the Guardian newspaper. Outside this shop was a very large, more or less life size  bear dressed in Tudor clothes, no doubt to look like William Shakespeare. Within this shop there were all manner of bears, in all manner of clothes, large and small, some at reasonable prices but others very expensive. We have never been in such a well-stocked shop selling teddy bears!

Having left the teddy bear shop we walked towards the river. We found where the bus would leave to return us to the park and ride carpark, just outside McDonald's. We walked on and got to the Waterside, which is where the R.S.C. (Royal Shakespeare Company) has it's theatre. We visited Stratford a few years ago and it was at the time the theatre was being redeveloped and was under scaffolding. It is now open (it has been for the past few years.) and now has a tower as part of it's structure. There is also a recently-opened permanent exhibition inside which is about Shakespeare and called 'The Play's The Thing' which we ought to visit when we next come to Stratford. All part of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 1616.

 Canal boat at Waterside, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Along the Waterside were barges and boats and one which took passengers on a cruise along the River Avon and part-way along the canals. We thought it would make a pleasant and relaxing afternoon's experience, having spent several hours walking. We then saw a barge further along which sold food and bought ourselves baguettes which we took on board the boat, after we'd bought our tickets. So we spent around 45-50 cruising on the boat and went through the lock and into the main part of the river. It was from the boat that we got a view of the theatre you don't normally see and then, further along, the church where William Shakespeare was buried.

Falstaff statue at Shakespeare Memorial

Hamlet statue at Shakespeare memorial

When we got back to the Waterside we walked round to look at the statue of Shakespeare, which has him at the centre, but high up so you unfortunately can't see him at very close quarters. Around the four corners, but at ground level, are statues of some of his most famous characters, Sir John Falstaff, Lady Macbeth, Henry V, and Hamlet. I took photographs of each.

We then wandered back into the town centre and visited Marks and Spencer, buying lasagne and salad for our evening meal. We returned to the bus stop outside MacDonalds and waited for the bus which would take us back to the carpark and our car and drive home back to Milton Keynes.
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