England’s Shakespeare Country offers much more than just Shakespeare
The countryside around the famous town of Stratford-upon-Avon – the birthplace of William Shakespeare – offers some of the most charming and picturesque vistas in England and it’s only a 90-minute drive from London. Whether or not you are a fan of the world’s most-loved playwright, walking in his footsteps to explore South Warwickshire and the Cotswold Hills is a delight at any time of the year.
Stratford-upon-Avon is the perfect spot to start your Shakespeare Country tour. You can visit the Bard’s birthplace and museum in Henley Street and his grave in the riverside church of Holy Trinity. From the church, a delightful 4 km walk runs along the north bank of the River Avon to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (where you can do tours of the main theatre and the Swan Theatre), through the Bancroft Gardens, over the old tramway bridge and back to the church along the south bank. Or stroll through the Old Town neighbourhood near the church to check out the cute, terraced cottages and the 450-year-old black-and-white buildings.
This part of England is littered with historic properties, some of which are nearly 1,000 years old and have played leading roles in the nation’s history. Possibly the finest example is Warwick Castle, a huge fortress originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068. It has been remodelled and extended numerous times over the centuries and has hosted visits from several kings and queens, including Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria. Within the castle walls today you’ll find a host of family activities including afternoon teas, sleepovers, Halloween and Christmas events, and a chilling dungeon experience.
Throughout Shakespeare Country there are leisurely walks along rural footpaths, over lazy streams and through pretty villages. Setting out from Stratford, you can walk over the enchanting Welcombe Hills, through magical wooded ‘tunnels’ in the middle of a golf course and along part of the Monarch’s Way long distance footpath, ending up in the lovely village of Snitterfield, where Shakespeare’s grandfather was reputed to live. You might be walking in Shakespeare’s footsteps.
Another great walk is through the expansive grounds of Charlecote Park – also near Stratford – which has a resident herd of deer, while more adventurous walkers can tramp a 2 km section of the Cotswold Way long-distance footpath, from High Street in the village of Broadway up the hill to the famous Broadway Tower. In the north-west of Shakespeare Country, near the village of Kingswood, is a charming 8 km circular walk taking in two historic properties, Packwood House and Baddesley Clinton.
In the south of Shakespeare Country is the famous Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with its rolling slopes, small farms and honey-coloured stone cottages. The area covers more than 2,000 square kilometres in five counties: Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. Among the prettiest villages are the ever-popular Chipping Campden and the small, less-visited Snowshill. The villages of Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter are also totally Instagrammable, despite their scary names. If you’ve got time, do the picturesque circular walk that takes in both villages.
Countryside charm to classic cars
If you’re travelling with children, make time to visit the Cotswold Farm Park near the village of Temple Guiting. The farm protects and promotes rare breeds of farm animals and offers kids a chance to meet and learn about lambs, foals, calves and more. You can stay there too, in luxury glamping tents and cabins. It’s the perfect introduction to the English countryside.
In the far north of the Cotswolds are two of the most stunning and celebrated gardens in England, Hidcote and Kiftsgate, while near the village of Gaydon is the British Motor Museum, which houses the largest collection of historic British cars in the world.
There was plenty of drinking in some of Shakespeare’s plays and the region where he grew up has maintained this tradition by boasting an amazing variety of pubs. In Stratford, drop into The Garrick Inn and The White Swan – both dating back to the 15th century – and check out their marvellous old wooden beams. The Garrick’s small front bar, or ‘snug’, is very cosy, especially in winter. The Fleece Inn, in the village of Bretforton south west of Stratford, is known locally for its good food, while The Black Horse Inn at Naunton is one of only 19 pubs in the whole of England where you can find a rare beer called Donnington's. It has been brewed in the nearby village of the same name since 1865 using natural spring water.
Finnair flies to London daily all year.