A lot of New Zealanders and Australians come to live in London for a few years... we call it doing "the big O.E." Overseas Experience, in case you were wondering. The majority of people in our part of the world cannot claim more than a few generations of family history in our homeland, as they are still very young nations, especially compared to the likes of England. Because of this not-so-distant connection to the United Kingdom, as well as our isolated location down the bottom of the globe there, it is not uncommon for Kiwis and Aussies to come over to London for a year or two and make the most of being so close to continental Europe. International travel suddenly becomes so easy, where as it has always been a bit of a mission for us.
One thing I have always wondered at however, is the lack of exploring of England itself. It is so exciting to have all these European cities so close - Paris a mere train ride away! - that people spend all their travel funds and time off work visiting the continent, and come home having only really seen London in the country they called home for so long. When I headed over, I was determined to get out and experience rural England. This country is famous for its beautiful countryside and idyllic scenery, and having always been more of a small-town girl than a city chick, I don't want to go home having not seen this. I started my U.K. escapade in Bath a couple of months ago, and went onto my second venture into small-town England this weekend. I went to check out the hometown of one of England's most famous figures... you may have heard of him, William Shakespeare.
An impressive William Shakespeare sits high on his pedestal on the main road into the small town, welcoming visitors.
Stratford-upon-Avon is a tiny, sleepy town in the beautiful Cotswolds region of England. The Cotswolds is labelled an "area of outstanding natural beauty" and I can assure you, outstanding it is. We went with an awesome little tour company, Day Tours London, which means we travelled by bus from London to Stratford Upon Avon, and were taken on a particularly picturesque path, off the main highway as much as possible to detour through some of the similarly sleepy towns en-route.
This area looks like somewhere fairies would live. The cottages are ancient and made of stone, with thatched rooves and paned glass windows. Being there in Spring when daffodils are in all the gardens and teeny lambs in the back yard was something truly magical. Unfortunately, being in the bus, taking pictures was difficult but having had a quick taste of this scenery, I am determined to go back when I can drive myself and linger in some of these unexplainably quanit English villages. If you do visit London and have time for a day trip, I would definitely recommend doing something similar... it is not too far, you're home by 6pm (so plenty of time for the London nightlife) but feel so far from the city and get too experience some of the "outstanding beauty" this regon offers.
Stratford-upon-Avon is a town like any other in the region, bar one thing. William Shakespeare is arguably one of history's most influential individuals, so the town which he called home has come to be perhaps the most popular spot in the Cotswolds. It has a very small population and still feels very quiet, although there is no shortage of people jostling along the streets. Situated on the beautiful River Avon, this village boasts incredibly well-maintained Tudor-era buildings, and I was amazed at the number of them which fill the tiny town. The streets are such that you truly feel you have stepped back in time, and I have never enjoyed just walking around streets so much, purely for walking's sake! I was charmed by this town, and words cannot do really do it nor the history it holds any justice, so I will content myself with sharing some snaps with you instead.
Fun fact: Did you know that the word "avon" simply means "river" in the ancient Common Brittonic language? So, when newcomers to the land pointed to the river and asked what it was called, they were simply told "avon", and proceeded to name rivers all over the country River Avon. As a result, there are numerous "River Rivers" throughout England. Classic!
After 500 years, the Tudor-era buildings that fill this town are pretty crooked, but their wobbliness only makes them more
charming to my eyes.
A short, tree-covered walk along the river's edge takes you from the town centre to the Holy Trinity Church, in which the
playwright is buried
The grounds of the Holy Trinity Church
Unlike some (the tragic Van Gogh comes to mind), William Shakespeare lived to see himself become a
superstar, and feared his fame and status would see his body moved from the burial site at the church
in his homeotwn. He had a warning for anyone who had such ghastly notions engraved on his tomb, that
reads, "Good friend for Jesus sake forebear, to dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares
these stones, and cursed be he that move my bones." A poet to the very end.
There's something about the old diamond-panel windows that I just love!
Shakespeare's birthplace. Entry is £15, but was included in the Day Tours London trip for me - highly recommended!
Where there's a tourist attraction, there's a busker.
Cute fat wee robin hanging by the riverside. These have always seemed like the quintessential English country bird to me
ever since watching (and loving) The Secret Garden as a child. Got a little too excited when I spotted him.