In this post I am going to talk about Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon. Both places represent great pieces of English history. The former houses a wonderful 11th century castle (11th century! The timeline of monuments in England never ceases to surprises me)with a haunting (quite literally) past and the latter is the birthplace of the greatest contributor to the English language: the omnipresent William Shakespeare. These two places of history have been managed in two diametrically opposite ways, exemplifying the best and worst ways to run historical sites.
Lets start with the worst: Warwick castle. A magnificent 11th century stone fortress, whose very structure inspires much awe.
Unfortunately, this has been taken over by a 21st century entertainment-management company; the much loved Madam Tussauds. The castle is overrun by magic shows, fake-medieval-music which would be more at home in a bad production of Don Quixote, atrocious floats, wax statues, an incredible number of girls dressed in pink (since when did pink become the only colour in which little girls were clothed) and other modern 'entertainment' monstrosities. I am sure the previous occupants are rotating in their graves seeing the degeneration of this glorious castle. Many learned magazines have placed Warwick Castle at the top of their destinations-to-visit-in-England list. If you have/are a bunch of sugar high-stir crazy kids, then this would be the perfect holiday . The over-priced shooting games, the magic show and Princess Arabella's tower are sure to fascinate. Since we belonged to neither category, this turned out to be a huge letdown. This highly commercialized venture destroyed the mystic atmosphere created by the castle itself. It is a little difficult to envision great battles and charging knights with soap-opera music blaring from not-so-discreet speakers and signs imploring you to part with a few pounds to go through an inflatable and well cushioned slide.
Ironically, Warwick Castle has a wonderful gift shop. They seem to have tied up with a pretty good arts-and-crafts shop which produces some wonderful keepsakes. Buckling to my consumerist needs I bought some of these (The Queen doesn't cook) and beat a hasty retreat.
Entry into Warwick Castle is incredibly expensive: 16 pounds for adults and 10 for children.
Stratford-upon-Avon: Just down the river Avon (and one short ride in the reliable Chiltern Railways) is the town where on a crisp, chilly, spring morning little William Shakespeare came bawling into the world. The house where he was born has been lovingly (and very competitively. Read the fascinating history of the caretaker who wouldn't leave) preserved by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
The tour through the house is informative and in good taste. Everything has been maintained as best as possible and there are some very well-read guides (Dressed in traditional garb) who will explain in greater detail the life of Shakespeare. They are willing to answer any inane questions (and we had many) that you may have. The house, and the tour, offers an insight into not only Shakespeare's life but also life in England at the time. The tour is well worth the 8 pounds (and this is an annual pass) they charge and even if you are not a Shakespeare fan it will leave you satisfied. They have a nice gift shop (cannot compare to the one at Warwick) which had a great offer on Bill Bryson's biography of Shakespeare. Like most modern travelers, and any reader with good taste actually, I adore Bryson and his works. If you haven't yet read any of his books, I strongly recommend you do.
Getting back to Shakespeare and Stratford-upon-Avon, there are lots of other attractions here like Anne Hathways cottage. We decided to skip the rest of things and headed for a walk down a (frozen) River Avon.
Quite, incredibly cold and full of the small town natural beauty that is unique to England, this was one peaceful walk. After (foolishly) missing our train, we decided to visit Shakespeare's grave. The graveyard was pitch dark, with no one else around and incredibly creepy, Feeling like we were in the beginning of a bad horror movie (and realizing that Shakespeare's grave was shut) we hastened back to the city square. Bright lights, polluting cars and punk kids smoking suspicious substances assured us that we were back in the living world that we love.
Somewhere in the middle, we managed to catch a quick bite at a cute little tea shop called Mistress Quickly's.
I highly recommend the omlettes and the Chicken and Mushroom Pie.
The astonishingly good looking and very helpful head-waiter is another reason to patronize this establishment.
Entry to Shakespeare's birthplace: 8-10 pounds (annual pass)
P.S: Thanks to Google Images for pictures of the castle. My camera died and Cheesy girl still has not bothered to send the photos across.