Express & Star

Following in footsteps of the Bard

When planning a weekend stay in a comfortable 4* hotel in the heart of Shakespeare’s England, you wouldn’t expect to be able to take a dog, would you?

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, just outside town, is the tranquil and picturesque home where love blossomed for young William

Well, you’d be wrong. In fact, the Bard’s home town, Stratford-upon-Avon, is very dog-friendly, allowing our four-legged friend to join us on a weekend away.

We were staying at The Stratford, located in Arden Street, in the wonderfully historic Warwickshire town. Part of the Q Hotels group, The Stratford is a modern, well-appointed hotel featuring 102 beautiful bedrooms and suites, two dining options and excellent conference and meeting facilities. Dogs are welcome at 22 of the group’s hotels, for a small additional charge.

My eldest son Matthew is studying Shakespeare so it was the perfect time for a visit. The Stratford is ideally positioned for exploring the buildings linked to a man widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.

Shakespeare’s birthplace, his marital home New Place, his school and the home of his daughter Susanna – Hall’s Croft – are dotted around the town and are all within walking distance. As is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatre on the banks of the River Avon, should you fancy catching a play while in town.

Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway’s childhood home is a short drive from the centre of Stratford, but is well worth the trip.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust operates five homes linked to the Bard and dogs are allowed in the grounds of four of them, Mary Arden’s Farm has livestock so dogs are not welcome.

We checked into The Stratford on Friday night and made our way up to our stylish room with a huge and extremely comfortable bed and camp beds for our two boys. Molly, the dog, was given a bed, bowl and some treats.

We ordered a meal in the bar, where dogs are welcome, and the boys were delighted to discover that burgers were available. However, the reasonably priced menu also featured sandwiches, salads or something more substantial like fajitas, fish and chips or rib-eye steak.

If you haven’t got mans’ best friend in tow, the hotel’s Quills Restaurant offers a menu that is regularly changed. This is also where breakfast is served. We were seated in one of the adjacent function rooms because of Molly, which is fair enough. The buffet-style breakfast featured everything you’d expect from a full English breakfast as well as fruit, pastries, cereals, cheese and cold meats. The boys took full advantage!

On our first morning in Stratford it was a bit drizzly, but with an energetic pooch to exercise we donned our waterproofs and headed into town. After taking Molly for a run on the recreational grounds opposite the RSC and The Swan Theatre, we headed back into the centre of town to start our tour of Shakespeare’s homes.

First port of call was New Place, the site of the home where the Bard lived with his family from 1597 until his death in 1616. Although the original building was demolished over 250 years ago by the then owner, who was reportedly fed up of Shakespeare tourists!

New Place is where Shakespeare was at the height of his creativity and a significant figure in Stratford society. The building that stands on the site now houses an exhibition on Shakespeare’s life at the site, while the gardens are filled with flowers and sculptures inspired by his works, life and times.

Our next stop was Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband physician John Hall. A medical exhibition compares Jacobean thinking to today’s.

Also nearby is Shakespeare’s schoolroom, not operated by the Birthplace Trust, and a little bit further afield is the Church of the Holy Trinity where the Bard was baptised and is buried. The church is free to visit, however a small donation is needed if you wish to visit Shakespeare’s grave.

If you are peckish during your visit, there are plenty of dog-friendly pubs and restaurants. One very famous one – The Dirty Duck – is very popular with theatre-goers and the actors themselves and the walls are covered with autographed photos of some of the stars who have trod the boards at the RSC.

The Garrick in High Street has been an inn within the current Elizabethan, half-timbered building since 1718, but an earlier medieval building on the same site was also used as an inn and is thought to date back to 1596.

After a very filling and tasty lunch at The Garrick, we visited Shakespeare’s birthplace. Costumed guides share tales of his childhood and family life. He also spent the first five years of his married life at the house.

Aside from the Shakespeare homes, Stratford has plenty to keep visitors entertained, including town tours and ghost walks, the MAD Museum and Stratford Butterfly Farm, as well as plenty of shops for some retail therapy.

With sore feet from all the walking, we headed back to the hotel for a much-needed rest! The next morning, after checking out, we paid Anne Hathaway’s Cottage a visit. Just outside Stratford, the home is where love blossomed for the young William and a slightly older Anne. The site also boasts nine acres of gardens, orchards and woodland and is a beautiful and tranquil place.

But of course there is a lot more to Shakespeare’s England than just Stratford. Other popular attractions include Warwick Castle, a medieval castle developed from an original built by William the Conqueror in 1068, and Kenilworth Castle which welcomed Queen Elizabeth 1 several times during her reign in the late 1500s. Or for petrol heads there is the British Motor Museum in nearby Gaydon.

In fact, it is impossible to see everything Shakespeare’s England has to offer in just one weekend. We’ll just have to go back!