8 facts you ought to know about Stratford upon Avon

It would be remiss of us to allow the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare to pass by unacknowledged. At the very least let’s use it as an excuse to explore Shakespeare’s birthplace: Stratford-upon-Avon. Thanks to this great English poet, it is one of the most famous towns in the world. Unfortunately that means that during the summer months it’s full of tourists eagerly clutching guide books and taking photos of ye olde worlde buildings.

To be or not to be (sorry, couldn’t resist), if you do have a high queue tolerance then you should definitely make the pilgrimage to the most famous landmarks: the three theatres (The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, The Swan Theatre and The Other Place), Shakespeare’s Birthplace on Henley Street, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens, the home of Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden, and Holy Trinity Church where he is buried.

But if you want something a little different when you visit the Bard’s town, there are also some other places that you should head to…

  1. If you like your towns to come with added star power then The Dirty Duck is the pub for you. It comes with a high celebrity count. Members of the RSC will usually head there after a performance and during rehearsals it is chocablock with thespians. Yet despite the continued presence of stage royalty, many locals still prefer to talk about the time that Kylie Minogue pulled a pint there!
  2. The Michaelmas funfair (known locally as The Mop) is a two day event that takes place in October. Historically the local children got the day off from school as the traffic made it hard for school buses to drive through the town – although that’s a pretty thinly veiled excuse for teachers just getting a day off isn’t it… The local mayor used to open the fair and was offered a free ride on anything that he or she wanted to go on. But the canny youths of the town soon cottoned on that if they followed the dignitary around then they too got a free ride, so the mayor was usually mobbed by lunchtime!
  3. The town has two grammar schools – one for the boys and one for the girls. The boys one is in the centre of town and any old boy will take great pleasure in boring you for hours about how Shakespeare went to their school and sat at their desk and learnt Latin in the same classroom as them and yadda yadda yadda. But the girls school in nearby Shottery has Shakespeare links too. Not only is it down the road from Anne Hathaway’s Cottage but legend has it that Shakespeare proposed to Anne in what is now the school’s music room. Everyone wants a claim to fame…
  4. The oldest pub in Stratford is reportedly The Garrick Inn, which dates back to the 1400s. It has an impressive history (again the locals can fill you in) but rumour has it that many former drinkers return for a spiritual pint after dark – do you dare to share a tipple with someone from the other side…
  5. In the 18th century William Gastrell bought Shakespeare’s old house on New Place but soon got fed up of visitors looking through the windows. So he demolished it, despite the fact that Shakespeare had written some of his most famous works there, including the Tempest. The building has never been rebuilt, though the foundations are still there. The people of Stratford were so angry that they ran Gastrell out of town! However, there is exciting work currently taking place so watch this space…
  6. You have missed it for this year but a Shakespearean parade makes its way through the town every April for his birthday and it is wonderfully eccentric and fun. Local Stratfordians, along with VIPs and Shakespeare fans from the stage and screen dress up in Elizabethan garb and walk through the cobbled streets accompanied by musicians and schoolchildren. 2016’s effort was totally bonkers and even had giant teddy bears walking in the parade.
  7. For those who finally get Shakespeare’d out, Stratford is also home to the UK’s largest tropical butterfly farm. You can see colourful butterflies, creepy crawlies and even visit ‘Arachnoland’, which as massive fans of spiders we can’t wait to go to. See you there…?!
  8. You have to be eagle eyed to notice them but Stratford has been given lamp posts by councils from across the world and these now line the town’s streets. They have different designs and plaques on them and could well be used to create a fun treasure hunt for a bored child (or adult even).  Hours of free fun!

So next time you head in search of some literary or thespian inspiration, spare a thought for the locals trying to make their way across town. Darn tourists!