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My Trip to England

Author: King Ables
Date of Trip: September 2001

This fall I took an entire month off and traveled around England. The main excuse for this was a friend's 50th birthday on October 14. The other end of the trip was a tour of England's Cotswolds sponsored by the Ex-Students Association of the University of Texas and run by Alumni Holidays which ran from September 19 to 27. I just wandered around and visited a couple of other friends the rest of the time.

The Cotswolds is a range of limestone hills, beech wood, steep valleys of pastureland grazed by sheep renowned for quality wool. In Roman times, sheep and rivers were a source of wealth for medieval people producing wool and cloth. The area boasts quaint and colorful towns and villages. The base of our tour was Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford is a small Elizabethan town on the gently-flowing River Avon. Stratford was the birthplace of William Shakespeare (in 1564). The city consists of an array of 16th and 17th century structures with rows of half-timbered houses, including Shakespeare's own home on Henley Street. Stratford was a market town and trading center in the Middle Ages.

Tuesday and Wednesday, September 19 and 20, 2000
With miles I earned on a trip to Singapore last year, I upgraded to business class and has a luxurious flight from Denver to London via Newark. I left Colorado (where it had not rained in months) and landed in New Jersey and London, both of which were getting a pouring rain. It was wonderful to see. I was met at Heathrow by Tim Parry who has a limo service between Stratford-Upon-Avon and London. He gave me a guided tour of the area on the way to Stratford. I hadn't even gotten to my destination and I had already seen some lovely Cotswold villages.

I wandered around town a bit to get cash and familiarize myself with the area while I waited for the rest of the tour group to arrive. Dinner at the hotel was accompanied by a local actor performing bits of Shakespeare.

Thursday, September 21, 2000
We stayed at the Alveston Manor hotel which is on the other side of the River Avon from the main part of Stratford. The first performance of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream was at the Alveston Manor. The bridge we crossed to get to Stratford is the Clopton Bridge, named for Hugh Clopton who lived in Stratford and moved to London and became mayor in 1492. He donated money to Stratford for concrete bridges. Every day we went into Stratford we walked across this bridge. The Holy Trinity Church is along the banks of the River Avon, just down from the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Theater. Shakespeare was a lay preacher at Holy Trinity Church when he returned home from London. No building in Stratford is taller than the Memorial Theater so the Moat House (originally a Hilton) is onlythree stories, probably the shortest Hilton in the world.

Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity on April 26, 1564 (so we assume he was born on the 23rd since they usually baptized three days after birth). He was buried on April 25, 1616, which leads us to believe he died (also) on the 23rd because they generally buried people two days after death.

Shakespeare's father John was mayor of Stratford and was born in nearby Snitterfield. The Forest of Arden used to be north of Stratford (and was used in As You Like It). It was used up building battleships for war with Spain.

Today we took our excursion to Shakespeare's birthplace on Henley Street which is managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. We also saw Anne Hathaway's cottage where Shakespeare's wife grew up. It's an Elizabethan farmhouse with a low thatched roof, timbered walls, and lattice windows.

Shakespeare's last home, known as The New Place, is gone now. All that's left is the foundation and Knott Garden, a sunken garden divided intofour sections by a path, filled with flowers herbs, and box hedges, and contains a Mulberry tree that Shakespeare planted. A later owner of New Place was tired of people wanting to see it and clipping from the mulberry tree so he moved, had the tree cut down, and left orders for the house to be demolished. We saw Hall's Croft, home of Shakespeare's daughter Susanna and husband John Hall, a local doctor. It contains 16th and 17th century furnishings and an exhibit of medical equipment from the period.

During our evening lecture, there was a fire in the boiler room at the hotel, so we had to evacuate and finish our lecture outside under a giant Lebanese Cedar tree in the courtyard.

Friday, September 22, 2000
Today's we saw Charlecote Park where it is rumored that a young Will Shakespeare may have poached a deer. His father made gloves but sometimes material was hard to come by. Since his father was also mayor, it would have created a sticky situation as the penalty for deer poaching was death. This may have been when Will left for London until things cooled off.

We also toured Warwick Castle, England's finest Medieval castle. I climbed thethree front towers, the mount in the center (built up by man), and the "ghost tower." We had the moat contents described in rank detail, apparently in that day, it was basically the sewer system. It flowed directly into the River Avon which runs past the castle. Our tour guide was a bowman and he played the part quite convincingly. He gave a demo of his archery skills as well.

Later in the day we got a backstage tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Theater, composed of a main theater and the Swan Theater (a Globe-styled theater). The current theater was built after the original theater burned. In the evening we saw the RSC production of Henry V, in a World War I motif (but with original dialogue).

Overnight I experienced my very first earthquake (who would have thought I'd have to go to England for this?). It was centered in near Leamington Spa which is in another part of Warwickshire (where Stratford is). I woke up but thought someone was in my room. When I was more awake I decided I must have dreamt something. It wasn't until I was watching the BBC Breakfast News the next morning that I knew it as an actual earthquake! It registered 4.2, which isn't that large by our standards, but it was the largest in England in 10 years.

Saturday, September 23, 2000
Today we toured the Cotswolds -- the most beautiful part of England. The Anglo-Saxon word "cote" (a sheep fold) and "wold" (a piece of open uncultivated land) build the term Cotswold. Houses and walls are built from honey-colored Cotswold stone, and houses have steeply thatched roofs and dormer windows.

We visited Stow-On-The-Wold (Edward Stow lived on the hill). The Romans arrived here in 47 AD. We visited the Parish Church of St. Edward, the oldest surviving original building in town (built by the Normans about 986). I passed a cheese shop that had Wensleydale on special and a board that said "Real cheese, Grommit!" so I couldn't resist, I had to try it-- and it was great. We missed the Cheese 2000 festival which was the following weekend. We visited the Royalist Hotel, the oldest inn in England built in 947 AD.

We also visited Bourton-On-The-Water, the "Venice of the Cotswolds" (someone hadn't been to Venice) because of its six bridges that span the River Windrush which divides the town and later empties into the River Avon. The composer Holst was born nearby.

Lower Slaughter has beautiful stone bridges and excellent walks. We had lunch at the Washbourne Court Hotel and walked along the River Eye (which later runs into River Windrush).

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