Emily Turner explored Shakespeare Country and Worcestershire
Stratford is synonymous with Shakespeare but would he spark the imaginations of Kitty and Albert (aged 9 and 7)?
Jemima (16) and I trained it up from London, a couple of hours from Marylebone with a change at Leamington Spa, and met the others there.
The River Avon, as the name suggests, flows through the middle of the town and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre sits splendidly on its banks, dominating the scene. We headed there first and picked up a free activity trail and set off round the historic Art Deco building. The kids loved the dressing up cabinet and had fun thinking about what type of character they were turning into. There is an amazing Lego mosaic and beautiful shining stars installation. ‘The Play’s The Thing’ permanent exhibition is definitely worth visiting with loads of fun, interactive handling stations.
The smaller Swan Theatre is just a short walk away and runs excellent bookable tours including ‘From Page to Stage’ but we thought Kitty and Albert had had enough Shakespeare for the day.
Lunch in The Dirty Duck serves standard pub fare but feels the sort of hostelry that Will and his crew might have hung out in. It is next to the river where you can get the 50p chain ferry over to see The Butterfly Farm, the UK’s largest collection of tropical butterflies. If we had had more time we would have been tempted to take one one of the main boat trips along the river.
Instead we headed out to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, a ten-minute drive. Picture postcard pretty with a charming garden and LONG queues of tourists to see inside. We didn’t spend long here but the entrance ticket also gains you entrance to Mary Arden’s Farm a short drive away. The family connection is, in truth, slightly tenuous but don’t let that bother you – it certainly didn’t bother the children. Hands down the best authentic historic farm I have ever been to. Everyone is dressed up and fully ‘in character’. It helped that it was a glorious day but, for a relaxed afternoon helping herd the ducks, till the vegetable patch, see the mead being made, it was fantastic. Plus falconry and a fascinating look inside a perfectly preserved Tudor farm house. Fantastic.
We drove the half hour from Stratford to the pretty town of Broadway.
Jemima and I stayed in the Lygon Arms. An ancient coaching inn on the main street, it is owned by the group that owns Cliveden and Chewton Glen. With stone-flagged floors and enormous fireplaces it oozes history (you can see why Americans flock here) but it is cosy and relaxed. We munched on delicious cream teas and the following morning had excellent breakfast in the dark blue panelled dining room.
Jill and the littles stayed at The Fish – an energetic half hour walk over the hills. A series of different sleeping options, including some fabulous treehouses, are dotted among the grounds. There is a lake, 500 beautiful acres to get lost in, it’s dog-friendly. It is contemporary and cool but relaxed and easygoing, perfect for urban families wanting a hit of country air. Dinner in Hook was delicious.
The next morning we popped into the sister hotel, Dormy House. Smarter, with a lovely spa and delicious looking Japanese counter food restaurant, it is on our list for a weekend without the kids.
If you are in Broadway, it is sort of essential to climb the Broadway Tower. Entrance price gets you a great view of the surrounding hills and on a clear day you can see 16 different counties!
A short and very pretty drive through the Cotswold hills will take you to Cotswold Farm Park, home to Country File’s Adam Henson. It’s all about getting up close and personal with the farm animals here and understanding how life works on a farm. Rare breed sheep, goats, pigs and chickens are all around the farm and keen to show themselves off. Buy a bag of feed for the goats when you arrive, they are so enthusiastic and such fun to feed – just be careful they don’t eat the paper bag as well as the food! Aside from the animals, there is a fun tractor safari ride, mini electric tractors for Tractor skills practice, great air pillows to bounce on, Combine Harvester to play on, sand pits to play in and a zip wire. The perfect way to let off steam.