If my time in Edinburgh was a low point for this trip, my time in Stratford-upon-Avon far and exceedingly made up for it.
I made this journey on my own, not with any classmates or as part of a school assignment. Ever since my purchase of Shakespeare’s Complete Sonnets as a child, I’ve had a fascination with the Bard; every time I read his words, I can feel them reaching out across the centuries into my heart. I felt it my duty, then to make a pilgrimage to view his humble origins and pay my humble respects.
The county of Warwickshire completely enchanted me before I even reached the town of Stratford. It was, in early July, covered in light, shimmery shades of green, with open fields rolling on to darker copses of wood. I even got to see my first fox in England as he scampered away from the hedgerow near our train, casting anxious glances over his shoulder all the while.
When I arrived, the city was bustling with thousands of visitors for its annual River Festival. For someone like me who detests crowds, this would have normally been an irritant, but I couldn’t help but compare it to my previous solo adventure in Edinburgh. There, the dark skies and towering, grey architecture added to the feeling that the sullen crowd was pressing in on all sides. Here, the skies were blue and sunny, and the people were spread out along wide cobbled streets lined by spacious white timber and red brick houses. The tallest building in the town was the tower of the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre, a beacon rising out of the wide central park which would serve to anchor many of my future navigations.
After making my way to the bus stop (I won’t mention how long I waited or how much I paid….some things never change), I got off at my hostel and checked in. Praise the Lord, I was blessed with excellent hostels both times. This one was a restored Georgian mansion with lovely rooms and excellent breakfast in the morning. They even packed some fantastic lunches for me!
My first evening in town, I attended the RSC production of Titus Andronicus. I readily admit to weeping openly during the performance, and that not a small part of it may have been from the overwhelming emotion of watching Shakespeare in such a storied hall, surrounded by such talent.
(If you haven’t noticed, I’m definitely one to let the emotion of a place sink in and overwhelm me.)
That being said, the production was, by far and away, the best I’ve ever seen live and I enjoyed every second of it, even when it was ripping my heart out.
The next morning, I set out for Stratford on foot where I spent the rest of the day walking to and from Shakespeare’s various homes in the town, as well the homes of Anne Hathaway and Susannah and John Hall, Shakespeare’s daughter and son-in-law. Each property was fantastically maintained by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and easy to find.
Later, I went back to the RSC and visited their “The Play’s the Thing” exhibit. The folks there are wonderful, let me tell you! The night of the play they upgraded my seats for no extra charge, and when I came back they were able to get me in the exhibit for a half price student discount. Plus the gift shop alone is worth a visit!
After that I got a baguette from the Baguette Barge. Yes, in Stratford, you can buy almost anything from a boat, including ice cream, souvenirs, even visit a small museum. I ate my sandwich in the park, which was filled with merry festival goers. It was nice to sit in the shade of an ancient oak tree and watch the little children chasing bubbles and the pigeons darting in and out collecting scraps.
Finally, to end the day, I took a cruise on the River Avon. If this alone was the attraction in Stratford, it would be worth the visit. It was so calm and peaceful, with gorgeous views as the sun began to dip toward the horizon and we glided amidst geese and swans and rolling green hills.
I regretfully took my leave of the town the next morning, but stopped one last time at the Shakespeare memorial statue situated at the entrance of the town park. Flanked by representations of Hamlet, Prince Hal, Falstaff, and Lady MacBeth, it’s a fitting tribute to the town’s most famous son.
And yes, I was almost brought to tears again.
For everything this man has meant to me and to the world, the way he’s touched and changed lives, made us laugh and cry and rage and love, it was a fitting tribute.