When a town sits directly upon a river, like Stratford does, there’s no better way to experience it than by being right on the river too. Take out a rowing boat and you’ll get half an hour of waterway calm, and you can view the impressive houses that back right onto the river, some with their own boats moored at the end of their gardens. If you don’t fancy the effort of rowing, you can take out a motor boat or, for the more adventurous, a paddleboard.
Tucked away in an unassuming industrial park, out of the town centre, The Shakespeare Distillery makes gin, rum, and their all new limoncello – rumour has it there’ll be an orange version soon. You can take a tour of the distillery and find out what goes into the process of distilling, bottling, and even labelling, and then you can taste some of these aromatic spirits, inspired by the Tudor garden.
The leafy tropical greenhouses at Stratford’s butterfly farm are home to an assortment of brightly coloured and quite friendly, butterflies. Wander around for a while and the butterflies will land on you and appear quite happy to have you in their home. There’s also a room with large insects and reptiles that’s not for the squeamish, but if you like attempting to spot stick insects in their natural habitat you’ll be entertained for hours.
Holy Trinity Church is just a short walk along the river, and is the resting place for the majority of the Shakespeares. William and his wife, and their eldest daughter Susanna, have pride of place up at the alter, their graves laid out with much importance. It’s likely Shakespeare’s parents are buried in the churchyard somewhere, but don’t try to find them as there’s no headstones due to a lack of funds at the time of their deaths. Shakespeare also has a funeral monument inside the church.
A wander through the peaceful Firs Gardens will bring you to the Peony Pavilion, a gift to the town from the People's Government of Fuzhou Municipality in China. While Shakespeare was penning his plays over here, Tang Xianzu was doing the same in China, and this ornate and pretty pavilion is a lasting link between the two playwrights and the two towns of Stratford and Fuzhou. The inscription, in Chinese and English, tells us the pavilion is deemed as a token of love.
Number 3 Sheep Street was once a clothes shop, but it is now Loxley’s Restaurant and wine bar, and it’s the place to go for amazing food and selected wines. The interior is a mix of chic and comforting, a tough trick to pull off, but it’s the food that really pulls people in. You’ll eat like a Tudor in this Tudor building, simply because you’re likely to over indulge. The food is locally produced wherever possible, and cooked lovingly.
The Woodsman is also located within a Tudor building, but this one has its roots firmly in the restaurant business. This grade II listed building dates back to 1500 and was an inn between 1655 and 1661. The then inn served the Royal Shakespeare club’s dinner in 1824. Today it’s a lot more refined and a cocktail trolley will be wheeled over to your table so your aperitif can be mixed while you wait. The food is fine dining, with the baked Alaska for dessert being a stand-out dish.
The Hotel Indigo is a 500-year-old building that sits directly across the road from Shakespeare’s birthplace, meaning this building would have been standing when Shakespeare peeked out of his curtains in a morning, and it’s outlived the bard’s residence. This is a hotel that transports you back to Tudor times, complete with lopsided walls and sloping guest room floors. If you want to sleep like a Tudor, but with every modern comfort you need, this hotel strides the two eras perfectly.
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