A flying visit to Stratford-upon-Avon

Because I’d been at work that morning, it was well after lunch before we even set off on the 60 mile trip to Shakespeare’s home town. We knew before we left that there would not be enough time to explore properly, but the main aim of the trip was to get photographs of the Shakespeare memorial. We also planned to visit a pub and take a look at the manor house where Stuart had lived when he worked for the BBC. The manor is just outside Stratford, in Alveston, and to continue the literary connection, the village was once home to author J B Priestley and his wife, author and archaeologist, Jacquetta Hawkes.

The memorial was to be our first stop, but we had parked at the far end of the town and so, as we walked, we were able to see that characteristic mix of Georgian elegance, Victorian opulence and medieval timbered buildings that typifies the town.

Many ages of history are illustrated in the architecture here, with every period nestling close on the narrow streets. There has been a settlement at Stratford since at least Anglo-Saxon times, but it is the survival of so many ancient buildings that makes today’s town so interesting. That, and being the birthplace of the Bard and home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

It is curious to see the old timbered buildings in a shopping precinct, especially when many of them still house businesses such as shops and inns. They are easy to spot amongst the later imitations, being lopsided, often covered in strange carvings and exuding a presence that their later counterparts cannot match, with their pristine angles.

There is art everywhere too, from sculptures and fountains, to music and carvings. We were lucky that the poor weather and closed shops over Easter had discouraged the hordes of tourists, though it was still busy. We were able to see much of what a mass of humanity and busy roads might have hidden.

We walked down to the memorial by the river, taking in the edges of the market and the basin where the narrowboats are moored, with me at least weaving dreams of such an existence.

This, apart from a couple of businesses on the outskirts to which I had delivered in the past, was as much as I had seen of the town before. I had rowed down the river with a friend a decade or so earlier, one hot summer’s day. I was glad to be able to explore, at least for a few hours.

This time, the rowing boats were moored; the river was high and fast flowing, no place for a gentle meander. The swans, like the water, had invaded the riverside footpaths. The stately birds are everywhere represented throughout the town. The theatre is the Swan and Shakespeare himself was called the Swan of Avon in Ben Jonson’s memorial poem, published a few years after the Bard’s death. But it was another Swan we were after.

The Black Swan is better known to my guide as the Mucky Duck, and locally as the Dirty Duck. It has been an inn since at least 1738, and it originally occupied three fifteenth century buildings, one of which may have been an even earlier inn. It is one of those places that just feel ‘right’, as if they are serving the purpose for which they were meant.

We stood for a while, glass in hand, before taking a seat, just looking at the photographs on the walls of some of the hundreds of actors and actresses who had frequented the pub over the years. The Swan theatre is just yards away and this is the haunt of those great names who have played there. Many of the more recent faces were unknown to us, but all the greats of stage and screen who had come to Stratford  to play Shakespeare were there.

Everyone seemed to be surreptitiously looking at everyone else, hoping, perhaps, to recognise a face, for there has always been a mystique about actors. When the world was much younger, theatre was intimately linked to the Mysteries and, still today, there is something about those who can take on the persona of a character, heart and soul, that reminds us of that ancient link  to those who consorted with the gods. Perhaps that is why the great actors are still revered.

Who knows who else was in the pub that day? The magic of theatre happens as much out of the spotlight as in it. We might get to know the faces of the players, but never see the wardrobe mistress, lighting engineer, or any of those who work behind the scenes. It was only after we left that we realised that, between our vaguely Bohemian appearance and our talk of past and future ‘productions’ of the Silent Eye annual workshops, some of the odd looks we were getting might have arisen from a mistaken idea that we too were associated with the stage.

I suppose that, in a sense we are… at least in as far as the Silent Eye writes and produces a new script for a five act drama every year. But although they adhere to the Shakespearean model, and we fret about costumes, props and lighting, they are not so much plays as vehicles for spritual exploration. We are closer to the origins of theatre than to the modern stage. Our journey is that of the Fool and the characters we seek to bring to life are our own.

“The fool doth think he is wise,
but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
~ XCXWilliam Shakespeare, As You Like It

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
This entry was posted in Art, historic sites, Photography, Stuart France and Sue Vincent, The Silent Eye, theatre, travel, writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to A flying visit to Stratford-upon-Avon

  1. willowdot21 says:

    Sounds like a magical trip Sue.💜

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ritu says:

    I haven’t been to Stratford-Upon-Avon for so long! It used to be a standard summer day trip when I was growing up, inevitably taking whichever portion of family had come to visit from abroad to visit the Bard’s birthplace! Must take my own kids someday…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary Smith says:

    A grand day out!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: A flying visit to Stratford-upon-Avon – The Militant Negro™

  5. We went there when my son’s band played at the Bulldog Bash festival. We visited Shakespeare’s house. I remember that as we came out of the house there was a shop selling Christmas decorations opposite in the middle of June! Very strange.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting post with great pictures, Sue. 🙂 — Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a beauty. I’m flying to London in the first week of May. Needless to say, I’ll be visiting Startford as well. 🙂 Reading this has made me even more excited 😀


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