Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010 My boyfriend, Bill's, hometown.

Anne Hathaway's House

Today I took the train to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see the home of my boyfriend, Billy Shakespeare. The train left from Marylebone train station located down very close to Baker Street.  That's right! The mythical home of Sherlock Holmes.  I walked down a street that looked just like the one in the Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett.  I could almost hear the sound of the Hansom cabs and horses hooves clicking over the cobblestones.  The area and the train station were lovely examples of good Victorian architecture.

William Shakespeare's birthplace.
We got on the train and headed northwest out of London. As soon as we got past the yuck of London train station, the countryside started changing. The land started rolling. Rounded wheat fields and frolicking sheep started peeking out of the trees. Then the train slowed down, shifted into a lower gear, and we started climbing. I wasn't expecting that. The fields were really beautiful, yellow squares divided by green hedgerows instead of barb wire. I'm sure I imagined it, but the cows looked more serene. I guess not all the happy cows live in California.  Some of them live quite contently in English meadows.  Another thing, it was so startling to be looking out at this pacific scene and see a castle turret through the trees! It surprises me every time.

A statue to honor Shakespeare's fool, Faustus.
Stratford is a town that long ago bowed to it's inevitability as a tourist town. They seem to have made peace with it, and with true Shakespearean cheekiness they have capitalized on their claim to fame. The pedestrian area around Shakespeare's birthplace is filled with eateries and pubs with names taken from his plays: The Food of Love, The Hair of The Dog, and the Romeo and Juliet Love Shack (purely PG rated!).  Instead of resenting the tourists like some towns, Stratford wisely embraces us and makes the most of it.

Old Bill's birthplace was surprising. For one thing, I had heard that he did not live there as an adult, but the latest research shows that he did live there on and off. He also expanded the house and used part of it as a financial enterprise to provide for his two daughters after he died. It was big even by today's standards; not big rooms, but lots of them. The gardens were lovely! There is no better word for it. They were filled with so many lavender plants and roses that I could smell their scent inside the house over the bus exhaust!

The gardens at Anne Hatheway's House
Next, I took the bus tour out to Anne Hathaway's farm. A descendant of Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway lived at the farm until 1913 when the house was bought by the Shakespeare Trust. She also sold them the Hathaway furniture that had been passed down from even before Anne Hathaway. And, she cleverly talked the Trust into hiring her to be the caretaker for the property so she was able to live out her days in her family home.  Shakespeare would be proud of her business skills. 

The house was so Tudor it could have been a stereotype.
Thick oak beams, huge stone fireplaces and hearths, and scary narrow twisty stairs which have taken out more than a few ankles. But the best - ah - was the gardens!  They were breathtaking!!! Hollyhocks taller than me.  Roses as big as my head.  And, 37 varieties of sweet peas!!!  The aroma just sent me over the edge.  The calm reserved British people must have been amused to see me stopping and smelling ALL the roses and sweet peas and lavender. 

I had a chat with the head gardener who was originally from Italy.  He bemoaned the drought they were suffering.  It hadn't rained for three weeks, he said.   Everything was drying up, he complained.  My mouth just dropped open.  The garden, the grass, the orchard looked lush and fresh and green to me.  But then again, this is a country where people never water their grass and seldom have to water the plants.  That is almost unimaginable to me.  He told me that he took a trip to Miami once, and that was the first time he saw lawn sprinklers.  It's a different world! 

Mary Arden's Farm.  Look at the buckling walls.  That's what
400 years of foundation problems will do for you!
I didn't want to leave, but I'm glad I did because the next bus stop was Mary Arden's Farm which belonged to Shakespeare's mother. As we drove out to the farm, I believe I died and went to heaven!!! The farm was seven miles out of Stratford in a little village in the Cotswold. It was so beautiful!!! Now I know why people talk so glowingly about the Cotswolds.  Why would anyone want to live anywhere else?!?  I'm sure I don't know!  More tears, by the way. Sherrie's trail of tears.

The gorgeous rolling hills of the Cotswolds during a drought!
I had the best sandwich of my trip in this little village.  It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when I got there.  My camera batteries were dead and my own batteries were running low, as well.  I stolled down the block and went into the post office of this tiny village.  It was the post office, but also the local farmer's market and convenience store as well.  I bought a sandwich in a plastic triangle from the lady behind the counter who was politely intrigued by my accent.  I guess they don't get many Texans wandering around the lanes of their village.  I took my lunch across the street and sat on one of the benches under a tree.  I certainly wasn't expecting much from a convenience store sandwich, but boy, was I surprised!  The sandwich was Red Leicester Cheddar cheese on locally made bread.  It tasted kind of like a pimento cheese sandwich if the cook had trained in Italy and had been kissed by an angel.  Yum, yum, yum!!!  I didn't share any of the crumbs with the local Magpies.

A working well in the middle of the cutting garden.
Later, when I went to pay my admission at Mary Arden's Farm, I started talking to the man at the counter and a little girl came and stood next to me. She was looking at me intently the way kids do when they notice something new. I said, "Hello." She smiled, but kept staring at me. I leaned over and said kind of quietly, "Have you ever heard anyone talking in an American accent before, besides on t.v.?"  She kind of started but keep gazing at me. "You know what's worse?  I'm from Texas."  She just grinned at me and her mother laughed and said, "You've gone all shy Katherine. Say hello to the lady."

Ah. A lovely day in a lovely village in lovely countryside!


English Longhorn Cattle.  Who knew?!?

In Elizabethan times, all the single women in the house slept on the top floor in a room like a dormitory.  The room was usually under the eaves and not tall enough to stand up completely.  It was kind of like sleeping on a shelf.  As the women got married, they left the shelf.  Any poor spinster who didn't married was "left on the shelf."

Mary Arden's Farm is working farm where the guides dress in costume and run the farm using techniques and practices from the 1500's.  They told me that this is a midden heap.  I've seen that word in old books and plays, but never knew what it was.  It's a dung hill!  The billy goats were playing King-of-the-Midden.  The chickens really, REALLY liked it.  Organic gardening is just so...Natural!

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