We came to Stratford in search of William Shakespeare, and he wasn’t hard to find. Stratford was the bard’s birth place. He married Anne Hathaway here but pretty quickly left for London where he gained fame as an actor and writer. He returned to Stratford at the end of his life, though, and is buried at Holy Trinity Church. We toured several Shakespeare sites. All three were well kept with helpful tour guides. The birth home, in particular, had several costumed interpreters and an excellent exhibition on the Shakespeare’s life. Anne Hathaway’s cottage is the birth home of his wife and is located about a mile outside of town. Shakespeare’s birthplace is in central Stratford. We visited Mary Arden’s farm, the original home of his mother. It was rainy, but we were able to get through the farm with its birds of prey, chickens, and pigs. I had fun looking at the animals and was a little homesick for my chickens. I tested out the video capabilities of my camera and was pretty impressed:
These are Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs.
We also made a pilgrimage to Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried. A church was first mentioned in this spot in 845 AD. The present building dates from 1210 AD. The surrounding churchyard is filled with graves from many different eras. Moss covered stones hug the ground while crosses and obelisks rise above. The spire of the church is visible from everywhere in Stratford. The stained glass window is just above Shakespeare’s grave at the front of the church.
Stratford is along the Avon River and there were long house boats tied up at various places. As we walked along the river, I saw a sign on the window of one of the boats, advertising a book. I couldn’t resist: I knocked on the door and was welcomed in by Jeremy Scanlon and his wife Dorothy. Jeremy is an American who was captivated by the boats and spent many years providing tours through the rivers and canals of England. His book, Innocents Afloat, tells his story. The boat–a 70 foot narrow boat called the Unicorn–was amazing. Long and thin, there was a sitting room, kitchen, bedroom and bath all in a row. The walls under the window were lined with books. He and his wife have a home along the canal but spend a good bit of their time on the boat. I was so glad I knocked on that door! And now I’m hoping to get back some day and do my own tour on a boat.
Just a few miles outside of London is what is reputed to be Henry VIII’s favorite palace: Hampton Court. He would take a barge down the Thames from London. The palace originally belonged to Cardinal Woolsey, Henry’s Lord Chamberlain. When Woolsey failed to obtain Henry’s divorce from his first queen, Katherine of Aragon, he fell from favor, and Henry took Hampton Court for himself. It was also popular with monarchs after that, including William and Mary.
We toured the kitchens and several monarch’s state rooms along with the gardens. The rooms were furnished with period pieces and beautiful paintings and tapestries. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed in any of the apartments. The palace tour included an excellent introduction to the English monarchy. The palace has impressive gardens and a maze. Like almost every major attraction, there was a cafeteria as well. We spent several hours wandering around and then had a late lunch.
I’m really too tired to post, but I don’t want to forget…my parents and I started our two-week tour today. We had wonderful English porridge for breakfast then headed to downtown London from our hotel near the airport. We managed to navigate public transportation, first a bus, then the tube, to get to Waterloo station.
We had hopes of taking the London Eye, but the crowds were amazing so we hopped on a boat instead to the Tower of London. We got a nicely guided tour from the boat’s crew as we headed down the river.
What to say about the Tower? All that gruesome history of the murders, torture and executions. The ravens are cawing and you climb the tiny, circular staircases, imagining Henry and Anne and Elizabeth sweeping through the rooms. Edward I is celebrated in the White Tower and there’s a beautiful sculpture near the spot where so many lost their heads.
We took the boat back up the river and this time got off at Westminster. We were hoping to tour the Abbey but were too late to catch the last tour. And, the sign indicated it would be closed the next day, too, for a special event. We were disappointed but decided to stay for Evensong. What a wonderful stumble upon…the service was perfect after the long day of touring, beautiful choir song, notes rising into that awesome space, surrounded by the memento mori of the crypts and sculptures and grave stones. I was facing the huge stained glass window.
I was mostly disappointed about not getting to Poet’s Corner and paying homage to Chaucer. As I looked around during the service, though, I realized we were on the edge of the corner. When the service was over, I took a moment to walk towards the back of the area in which we were sitting, and there it was: Chaucer and all the rest! I didn’t get to take pictures but it was OK. A lovely personal memory wrapped in the beauty of the service.
Tomorrow is Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the British Museum. We want to have lunch at the Cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin’s in the Field.