Spring Break Diaries: Day 7, Shakespeare’s Country

Bullied Way Stance 3 is the spot from which I left London this morning. The next phase of spring break is a tour with Rabbie’s that will take me to the heart of England: Stratford Upon Avon, Chester, North Wales, Lincoln, and Cambridge. Day 1 (or 7 when including all of spring break) is Stratford Upon Avon aka Shakespeare’s Country.

Like any good tour we had multiple stops along the way (like the oh so fascinating rest stop at the side of the highway) and we learned interesting stories from the tour guide while on the road. We left London at 9:00 and took the A40 and headed into the

IMG_9113
Shakespeare’s Birth Place and Family Home

Cotswolds.

Some interesting tidbits learned while leaving London:

  • Key gardens are gated square gardens that were made so that the women, children, and pets of the nice homes had a place where they could take the air without being bothered or molested by poor villagers. Only the residents had keys to access the gardens hence the name key garden. Today still only residents have access into the gardens.
  • The square where all of the embassies are located in London are owned by the Duke of Westminster. They can’t be leased for more than 99 years and the properties are so expensive no one but the embassies can afford it. Once leased they have to maintain the inside and outside of the property to the owners standards. That means they all have to be painted the same certain color; which just happens to be a unique paint color that can only be gotten in one place in the world, and is also owned by the Duke of Westminster.
  • You can tell the difference between homes built for the upper class vs middleclass based on number of floors. The upper had 4 while the lower had 3.
  • Shepard’s Bush, outside the London city center, got its name because that is where the sheep farmers from Wales would stay when in London. The other and more fascinating story on how the name came about is the story of Jack Shepard. He was a notoriously infamous highwayman who would hide out in this area. He is infamous because he is the only criminal to have escaped Newgate Prison. And he did this 3 times.
  • In Hyde Park there is an area called speaker’s corner. Before condemned criminals were to be hanged they were given two minutes to speak their minds and say what they wanted, expect if it was blasphemous or treasonous.
  • Just past this area is an intersection which used to have a hanging tree where criminals (highway men) would be hanged as a warning. Today the street is called Hanger’s Lane.

We were then outside London and on our way. We stopped at a nice rest stop and then left the highway (or as the guide said ‘carriage way’) for good and headed onto side and backroads. We passed Oxford, but didn’t stop to see it, and told how this great university came about.

Danish settlers came to the area and set up a village at the narrowest and shallowest point of the river. They made a ford here for the ox to cross and it was called Oxenford or as we know it, Oxford. The children here were taught by an abbess who had once been a Saxon princess, but to avoid marriage became a nun. After she passed she became the patron saint of Oxford. Pilgrims came to visit her resting place, and some decided to stay and started various colleges that now make up Oxford University.

After Oxford we went past some quaint Cotswolds villages and Woodstock Hunting Lodge (which came long before the 1960s). Woodstock was a royal residence built by Henry I in 1129. A many royal dramas played out within its walls, but it ceased to be a royal residence when Queen Anne, in 1704, gifted it to John Chruchill.

Some of the dramas that occurred:

  • King Henry II kept his lover, ‘the fair Rosamund’ here. There are stories that the queen had Rosamund murdered when she discovered her hideaway following a silk thread.
  • Here was where King Henry II had his first clash with Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who was later murdered in his cathedral by men loyal to the king.
  • Richard the Lion Heart and his brother King John I stayed here too. King John I was a very regular visitor (coming at one point 6 times in a year) and is well known for being the villain in the Robin Hood legends.
  • Henry III was devoted to Woodstock. He built a chapel and made the buildings more secure after surviving an assassination attempt there in 1238.
  • A plot to try to prevent Queen Mary I from marrying Philip of Spain (which Elizabeth knew nothing about) led to the imprisonment of her sister Elizabeth, first at the Tower of London then Woodstock.

We then stopped at Longcompton to see the litching gate or lion gate. It is a wooden gate

IMG_9094
Lion Gate

that leads to the church but is has a room and roof over it. This is where the dead would be laid for seven days to make sure that they were actually dead. The ‘corpse’ would hold a string in both hands and if pulled would ring a bell. If the bell was rung someone would come rushing up to let them out. We were told this is how the term saved by the bell came about.

The main stop of the day though was Stratford Upon Avon, the birth and resting place of the great playwright, William Shakespeare. We were driven around the city and shown the main points before we were left to explore for two hours.

What I saw was the church where Shakespeare was baptized and holds the graves of him and his family, his statue by the Avon in front of the theater, the home of his daughter Suzanne, the home of his daughter Judith, his family home, home of his granddaughter, Harvard House (which was the home of the family who founded Harvard University), and Anne Hathaway’s (Shakespeare’s wife) cottage. The town is beautiful and is worth more time than I spent there.

We drove on and made one last stop at the first cast iron bridge in Ironbridge Village. It is a world heritage site and was a feat of engineering at the time of its construction. The purpose of the bridge was to cross the Severn River, a long and treacherous river in Britain. To go around was a 60 mile long trip and ferries couldn’t take a large amount of supplies across and were dangerous to use. So three men came together and invested in this project. The bridge would late be part of the inspiration for the design of the Crystal Palace for the World Fair.IMG_9266

Finally we were done and arrived in Chester where we would be staying for 2 days as a home base as we travel the midlands.

IMG_9259
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Helpful Hint: The weather in the UK is unpredictable so be prepared for rain, shine, wind, cold, warm, sun, or dark clouds. The temperature and conditions will change and fluctuate throughout the day.