It just occurred to me that I could have titled every travel guide as Jacobite given the strong link to Catholicism that makes the “Catholic Lady” bit redundant. However, Stratford-Upon-Avon, with its pubs established under Stuart rule and that chap Shakespeare who was old under James VI and I, seems to me much more linked to the rightful line of succession than it is to Catholicism, unless you read some of the conspiracy theories about Shakespeare’s secret religiosity (which are actually quite interesting if you like that kind of stuff). Having said that, said William Shakespeare is buried at the altar of a church with one of the oldest original (read pre-Reformation) high altars hidden underneath (and the current church uses the medieval high altar in the Anglican liturgy, which is as high church as it gets). I could write an entire study of the church itself, because it has a fascinating history. For example, you can still see the 14th century misericords with pagan symbols, and the Lady chapel turned into a crypt for the family of a local businessman who was so wealthy he ended up Mayor of London (and if you go to the Guild Chapel there is the crest of the City in it, commemorating the man).
When you see pubs est 16XX it’s easy to forget it must have been a thriving market town in Tudor times. Shakespeare’s own father was in local government, and you can still see the school where he was educated as well as the house where he was born and the house where his wife lived, which is further out in a bit of countryside (it’s a lovely 20 min walk away).
An original medieval bridge is still in use to cross the river Avon, on which you can rent a boat or go on a tour of the city (which I planned to do, but then I saw there was a programme of free theatre in the RSC gardens).
For such a small city, there seems to be a lot to do that I wasn’t able to squeeze in one day and a half (since the second full day was spent at my friend’s wedding). One of the attractions is, in fact, a Victorian estate just outside of the town (near the hotel where they had the wedding reception, which was lovely). Even things that have no particular historical interest, like a department of the university of Birmingham or a HSBC branch, are situated in really pretty buildings. It’s just lovely to walk around and get lost in the town centre, and let your imagination run freely. There are a few places that double as lovely wedding venues too.
The only building that is really ugly is the RSC theatre. It looks like a replica of the Tate Modern or the Battersea Power Station, and in no way that’s a compliment. Its only saving grace (like for the Tate Modern) is the view you get from the top, where they have a cafe. Well, of course the theatre is great quality too, but so is the programme they have at the open air theatre (I watched a play based on the Tempest put on by a company coming all the way from Trinidad and Tobago), which is so much nicer than this building. Actually, the old part of the building, where the Swan theatre is, looks really nice (and overlooks the gardens), as it’s a Victorian Gothic building.
Food-wise, I had most food in chains that can be found elsewhere so I can’t really judge much of the local offer, however I have little to complain about. I wish I had more time and a better arranged day (the performance I watched was at 1pm) so I could have gone for food somewhere more particular. I also have to say I was still feeling being ill when I arrived, and being full of wedding food the day after so, for once, it was not really my top priority. It’s an excuse to go back soon.
The first afternoon I wandered around aimlessly because I had no idea where the Shakespeare-related stuff was, and stumbled upon a memorial with statues of iconic characters including myself (aka Lady Macbeth). As accommodation, I stayed at the YHA hostel, situated in a Georgian building just outside the town (10 min by bus, but the buses are rare and expensive). If you can put up with sharing a bedroom it’s not that uncomfortable, and the coffee at the bar is good if you can’t be bothered to make your own food in their huge kitchen. M&S in town is huge and has a lot of either cheap options you never see in London branches or discounted to clear food. It served my first evening and mornings well.
I’m an introvert who likes her own company and not having to negotiate what to do with other people, but I find the town really romantic and would put it on a list of weekend destinations for a couple. I wouldn’t mind also going with children and checking out the Shakespear tour and life in Tudor times attraction (which I might do regardless of children on a future visit). I also really need to dine at the Encore (est 1688, you know, when King James VII and II was just about still the king).