March ended on a high note with the Dreamgirls musical, and April began with adventure. Ha- I think this is my word of the year. With my work leave still uncertain, we planned April from start to finish, and I’m not kidding.
On the first, we had a day trip planned. Travelling by coach, we were to see Warwick Castle, Stratford Upon-Avon, Oxford, and the Cotswolds.
First stop: Warwick castle, run by the same people who own Madame Tussaud’s (the wax museum which is very popular with tourists, and which we have never visited). We toured creative re-creations of castle life including stables, blacksmith and whitesmith and other various rooms.
We climbed up to the clock tower to hear the story of the castle and its ownership, and from there climbed to the highest point of the castle: the mount (shown above). From there, we took in the view overlooking the countryside and the River Avon.
We also spotted an archery station and decided that as we’d seen some of the castle, we’d skip the rest and try our hand at archery. I took my first three shots right-handed which was a mistake. My shots were flying all over the place! I switched to left-handed and hit the bullseye with my first shot! T did almost as well, but let’s not tease him about it. Too much.
En route to Stratford Upon-Avon we passed the Welcombe Hills Obelisk. We learned that as it can be seen from most of Stratford Upon-Avon, it is a well-known monument, erected in 1876 to honour Mark Philips. Philips was a politician in the 1800s, the son of a wealthy merchant, and is remembered for donating money to fund public parks and open spaces. It is simple in its construction, but if you look at the picture here you’ll see how large it really is!
If you’re a literature fan like I am, then you likely already know why we were here. Stratford Upon-Avon is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. He left town, according to rumour, to avoid poaching charges. As an adult, he inherited the family home and let it out to be used as an inn at which point it was renovated with the addition on the back. Between 1808 and 1968, people would visit the house and ask their names in the window in the birth room. These included Lord Alfred Tennyson and Sir Walter Scott. The window is now set aside and a new window has been placed but is protected so it cannot be signed. Though Shakespeare went to live and work in London, he returned to his birthplace later in life. He had a new house built, but sadly wasn’t home for long before he died in 1616 at the age of 52.
It was a quaint village. We saw his birth place with the tour, and then took advantage of the free time to walk over to Holy Trinity Church Church, where we saw his grave. Interestingly, many graves (like that of William Shakespeare) are inside churches, with people actually buried beneath the stones there. Before moving to England, I had never seen anything like it, though it’s become completely normal to me now! Do you know of other countries that bury some of the deceased under the floor of the church?
Next, we drove through the picturesque Cotswolds on our way to our final stop: Oxford. If only I could remember and relay every single fact we heard! Our guide was a fountain of knowledge and I was trying so hard to be present and take it all in. We walked through and were able to see closed-to-the-public courtyards: first, Exeter, where J.R.R. Tolkien attended (designed by George Gilbert Scott and built in 1300s); then, Jesus College, where the first female student crossed the threshold in 1974. Fun fact: Exeter college published a booklet about Tolkien’s time at the school which you can order online (nope- no endorsements, just fyi!)
We saw the incredible library in the centre at Radcliffe Square, which is like the tip of an iceberg! We learned that there are two stories of shelves underground. Two stories!! And an underground tunnel connecting two of the library buildings for the safe movement of the books. I wanted to lie down on the cobblestones to be closer to the books! I totally would have done it, too, if we weren’t trying to keep up with a tour guide.
Our tour also took us past the Divinity school with a ceiling laden with crests of families who helped pay for the building. The outside of the Divinity school was filmed as the front of Hogwarts hospital!
Across from it was the building where graduation ceremonies are held. Students enter through the back door for the ceremony, and then exit out the front when they are fully graduated. I love the sanctity of tradition here.
Despite getting to see so many historic buildings (I swooned over the libraries and even found an outdoor Oxford book festival and stopped in) we still had a little bit of time on our own. It was just enough to stop into a 1551 pub, White Horse, for a drink and some takeaway to sustain us through the bus ride back to London. The last hilarious sighting of the day was an old tudor building that is now a McDonalds, seen as we left Oxford. It seemed so sacrilegious to have a fast food restaurant occupy such a building!