First stop Oxford !
I took a tour to Stratford upon Avon. It went via Oxford and Burton-on-Water to the destination, Shakespeare's birthplace.
We set out from Earl's Court and our guide humorously commented that Earl's Court was no longer referred to as 'Kangaroo Valley', the Antipodean presence had long gone to be replaced by a Middle Eastern fraternity. Well-heeled I might add.
Our London route took us through Shepherds Bush, past the huge Westfield shopping complex, owned by an Australian Corporation, perhaps they have not left the area after all ? The name Shepherds Bush derived from the area being used to graze sheep 150 years ago. Heading out of London we passed Vanguard Storage Company who have put a Dr Who Police Box(Tardis) on their roof. In the past they have put a Hawker Hunter fighter aircraft and a tank up there ! How they got a tank on the roof is not clear.
Continuing along the Western Avenue(A40) the incredible Art Deco Hoover Building came into our sights, it is now a Tesco Superstore. Further on we pass Northolt Airfield, still owned by the RAF, it now contains quite a number of business jets. A Battle of Britain airfield in World War II it was the home of a Polish Fighter Squadron and has a monument to commemorate their brave deeds. Sadly, it was also the airport where the body of Princess Diana was brought back from Paris in 1997.
Travelling the M40 through Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, we pass fields of bright yellow Rapeseed Kanola. At last, an early arrival in Oxford.
Oxford has the oldest English-speaking university in the world, older than Cambridge. Scholars came in the 12th Century, academics in the 13th. There is a great rivalry with Cambridge. Graduates from both universities are usually referred to as Oxbridge. There are about 20,000 students in Oxford with 38 colleges forming the collegiate. A calm area with monasteries, who had the literature. The monks had the knowledge. The colleges were built to monastic standards and known as Quads. Twenty-six British Prime Ministers have come from Oxford. There is an exam entry and 1 in 5 get there from applications.
A superb museum in Oxford is the Old Ashmolean(Museum of History and Science). It is referred to as the Old Ashmolean to distinguish it from the newer Ashmolean Museum. The Museum of History and Science contains Einstein's Blackboard. Where on 16th May 1931, Albert Einstein demonstrated his General Theory of Relativity.
The buildings are predominantly Lime Stone. Here derives the 'old school network system' yet there is rivalry, Trinity vs Baliol etc. Roger Bannister went to Exeter College, while there he famously ran the first four-minute mile. Whether it is Christchurch College, which was the model for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter stories. Jesus College, where T. E Lawrence(of Arabia) went. Braised Nose where Prime Ministers allegedly received an education. The Bridge of Sighs or the pub where Bill Clinton tried to drink a 'Yard of Ale'. Oxford has many attractions. Take a look at the Radcliffe Camera and I am not talking photography but a classic building. The two and a half hours we were allocated before we left for our next destination was not enough. I believe it would be better to spend the whole day there and at least look around without a rush.
Burton-on-Water, is where we lunched, sort of a lunch hour. The small town dates back to Saxon times. Made from Cotswold Stone it was built around the wool trade and now is picturesque, standing amongst streams. A good place to stop off and relax.
The next part of the journey we move away from Cotswold Stone to the red brick of Warwickshire, Shakespeare country. Finally, we arrive in Stratford-upon-Avon. Avon is the Celtic word for river, Strat means river, ford means a crossing. Entering the town is an area dominated by an area that consists of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Avon river and the surrounding gardens. You may enter Stratford via the Clopton Bridge that has the Tramway foot bridge running alongside it. All of Stratford is walkable, as much is centralised. Sheep Street contains a number of good restaurants. Along a street called Waterside, opposite Bancroft Gardens, there is even a Carluccios restaurant. At the corner of Sheep Street and Waterside there is a particularly good genuine English Fish-n-Chip restaurant called Barnabys, worth a visit. If you want a cheaper alternative for food and drink, there is a Wetherspoon pub called the Golden Bee, again on Sheep Street, the beer is very reasonably priced and excellent. To find the Shakespeare Centre and Shakespeare's birthplace one must head for Henley Street, a short walk away. The influence of Tudor buildings is apparent. Henley Street has a local library where the staff are particularly helpful. Back to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre which is on Waterside, that becomes Southern Lane further on, one will find the Swan Theatre, which is a must visit, it is next door to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The whole area of Bancroft Gardens is very pleasant with students and tourists enjoying the take-away Fish-n-Chips from the restaurant I mentioned earlier.
If you want to visit Shakespeare's family home. Anne Hathaway's Cottage is about a mile West of the centre of town. The spectre of Shakespeare casts its magic over the whole of Stratford. Shakespeare is an interesting point in itself. We attribute that wonderful body of work, 40 plays plus Sonnets and poems to the name Shakespeare. Yet his story is far from that simple, he was from a reasonably well-off family. Shakespeare enjoyed visiting taverns, what we refer to as pubs now. In fact, he did spend a lot of time in them. Whether or not he collaborated with other writers is only speculated. Whomever wrote his plays, knew much about Elizabethan Court life, if one attended court, writing about it was forbidden, a pen name would be needed. Shakespeare's plays contained great knowledge of Italy and other such places. They also reflect a scholar of the highest attainment, definitely a university man. There is the mystery, a sometime actor and frequent tavern visitor with a basic schooling, writing the most incredible words in the English language? I have posed the question, I will let you do the investigating.
As with Oxford, two and a bit hours is not enough time for Stratford-upon-Avon. I enjoyed Stratford more than Oxford, it was relaxing, interesting and when it became time to leave I felt disappointment. Obviously, one is a city the other is a cultural town with Tudor history. Both are certainly worth a visit but both must be given time to really enjoy. I had a taster, not to missed but I need to return. You will too.