Perfect base to explore Shakespeare countryBy Alan Manicom
April 14, 2010
ALAN MANICOM spent the weekend exploring his old stomping ground of Stratford-upon-Avon, home of the famous playwright
Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare and one of the most important tourist destinations in the UK, is a little more than an hour-and-a-half's drive from Reading.
More than three million visitors are attracted to the home of the famous playwright annually.
Set in the beautiful rural Warwickshire countryside, Stratford has Anglo-Saxon origins stretching back 800 years, but really grew up as a market town in medieval times and nowadays offers a wide variety of leisure attractions.
Many of the buildings in and around the town would have been familiar to its most famous son.
At the top end of Waterside is Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was baptised and is buried.
Nearby are Anne Hathaway’s Cottage at Shottery, the home of Shakespeare’s wife’s family prior to her marriage, and Mary Arden’s House (Palmer’s Farm), the family home of his mother.
I had the chance to visit the area with my wife when I spent a weekend at Menzies Welcombe Hotel.
Just a few minute’s drive from Stratford and surrounded by 157 acres of beautiful parkland, this imposing Jacobean style country house hotel was the perfect base from which to explore all the local attractions.
Originally built in 1866, it still retains many of its historical features like the cosy oak-panelled lounge with a big roaring log fire and magnificent four-poster suites.
The excellent restaurant looks out over beautiful Italian gardens and water features, and guests can take advantage of the luxury spa or championship 6,288-yard, par-70 golf course, which played host to the European Seniors Tour Ryder Cup event in 1998.
Many of our fellow guests were celebrating wedding anniversaries. Some had even got married there and it was not difficult to see why they had chosen to come back.
The spa has been designed as a peaceful country retreat from the world. Its facilities, which are free to hotel residents, include an impressive indoor swimming pool, heated loungers, foot spas, Finnish sauna and state-of-the-art gym.
There are also treatment rooms offering a range of therapies and treatments for an additional charge.
But if you want to use the hotel merely as a base, there is plenty nearby to see, including the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre, the Butterfly Farm and Warwick and Kenilworth castles.
Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and was used to imprison King Edward IV in the 15th Century and Royalists after the Civil War.
The dungeons are always a popular feature, especially for kids. Warwick survives in all its glory today, unlike Kenilworth Castle which was laid to ruins by the Parliamentarian troops.
Growing up as I did in Kenilworth, the ruins provided a great playground for me and my mates as a youngster – much to the annoyance of the local park keeper.
But I have long since recognised that it is a huge shame that Kenilworth does not remain intact like Warwick.
It’s steeped in history. The great siege there in 1266 is the longest in English history.
Elizabeth I gave it to her favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and visited him there four times.
The last occasion in 1575 is reputed to have cost him £1,000 per day (the equivalent of £180,000 nowadays), an amount that almost bankrupted him.
The pageants, bear baiting and lavish banquets surpassed anything ever before seen in England and are said to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Shakespeare would have been just 11 years old at the time and, from nearby Stratford, could have been among the crowd of locals that would have gathered to witness the Royal visit.
Alan stayed at Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Warwick Road, Stratford upon Avon CV37 0NR. Visit www.welcombehotelstratford.co.uk or call 01789 295252 for more information and best booking rates.