48 hours in and around Shakespeare’s England

Date Posted: 23/02/2017

From countryside walks in the Cotswolds to heritage pubs and literary links, there’s so much that groups will enjoy in and around Shakespeare’s England, says Rachel Bailey. 

The region known as Shakespeare’s England covers Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Kenilworth, Royal Leamington Spa, and the surrounding towns and villages. It’s not far from Birmingham or Rugby, and has a direct route to the Cotswolds.

I made a base in Stratford-upon-Avon and ventured out to discover what this fascinating region has to offer visitors. 

I started off by driving down to the Cotswolds, where I immediately fell in love with the buildings of honey-coloured stone that are typical of the area, and the far-reaching panoramas of countryside.

I spent my morning walking along what’s known as the Cotswolds Way. Walking groups will love this part of the world, as there are so many different walks and trails to choose from. I walked from a town called Chipping Camden up to Dover Hill, which boasts views of 13 different counties (according to tourist information). Those up for something a little more challenging can walk to Broadway in Worcestershire; a four hour round walk.

Afternoon tea at the king's Hotel.

Pictured: Afternoon tea at The King's Hotel.

I followed my walk with afternoon tea at The King’s Hotel, also in Chipping Camden. A colourful array of tasty treats served on pretty pink floral plates accompanied by a steaming pot of tea was placed in front of me, and I can assure you I had no complaints.

This foodie experience is a must for visitors to the town. You can expect soft finger sandwiches bursting with fillings like smoked salmon and honey roasted ham; peppermint macarons and soft blondies; warm scones piled high with jam and cream; and tiny pots of smooth chocolate custard.

The pricing is reasonable and the décor of The King’s Hotel is tasteful with a welcoming atmosphere. Groups are welcome – packages for large parties are available – and you can opt to stay there overnight if you want to.

Those who want a more structured visit to this part of the Cotswolds can take a guided tour, with companies like Go Cotswolds. This particular tour operator picks up from both Stratford-upon-Avon and Moreton-in-Marsh, and takes participants on a guided coach tour, complete with commentary, to places like Broadway Tower and Bourton-on-the-Water.

MAD Museum

Pictured: Inside the MAD Museum.

I felt almost bereft heading back to Stratford-upon-Avon after Chipping Camden, and would have liked to spend some more time in the Cotswolds exploring. I’d forgotten, however, how much there is to do in Stratford-upon-Avon itself, and how pretty this town is, too. I spent my second day exploring it.

Stratford’s main tourist pull is its tie to playwright William Shakespeare. At every corner it seems there’s a little nugget of history about Shakespeare, and groups can visit everywhere from his birthplace to his school, where group rates and packages are largely available. GTOs can visit the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website for ideas on how to make an itinerary dedicated to learning all about the Bard.

There are other non-Shakespeare-related things for groups to do, too. Like the MAD museum, which is a few doors down from Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

MAD stands for Mechanical Art and Design, and the museum is jam-packed with examples of moving art and mechanics, showcasing everything from the innovative uses of gears and pulleys to the ingenious ways natural forces can be manipulated to create movement amongst other materials. Groups won’t need more than a couple of hours at most to see everything in this museum; it’s very intimate compared to big museums like those in big cities. 

Also great for groups in Stratford-upon-Avon is the range of boat trips on offer that head down the river. Providers like Avon Boating and Canal and River Tours offer an insight into the town's central role in the busy waterways during the Industrial Revolution. Catering can be added to an experience as well.

Snowdrops at batsford Arboretum

Pictured: Snowdrops at Batsford Arboretum.

Great for a coach stop: Batsford Arboretum is approximately a 30 minute drive from the middle of Stratford-upon-Avon and a great place for coaches to stop, especially if you’re en route to the Cotswolds or one of the surrounding towns. This private botanical collection spans 56 acres and boasts a visitor centre where you'll find a café, gift and garden shop and a plant centre. Stop for a drink or take an hour or so to peruse the gardens; and don’t miss the snowdrops if you’re visiting in spring.

Where to stay: The Stratford Hotel on Arden Street is no more than a five minute walk to the centre of Stratford, and also close to the main roads that lead out of Stratford towards the other places of interest mentioned, all of which are in within a half an hour drive. The Quills Restaurant offers a delicious array of locally sourced produce like artisan burgers and pork belly. Groups can also take advantage of the six state-of-the-art meeting rooms, plus enjoy the pleasing furnishings of the hotel as a whole.

Ideal for dinner: If your group loves a heritage pub, look no further than The Fleece Inn at Evesham. This 17th century pub is owned by the National Trust and is full of different rooms boasting displays of country life memorabilia and roaring open fires (depending on when you visit). The menu will have your mouth watering before you’ve even ordered; I’d really recommend the guinea fowl pie. Large groups can hire out the separate dining area which comes in the form of a Medieval barn, and historic talks are available to prebook, too.

For more information on ideas for group trips in this region, visit www.shakespeares-england.co.uk.

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