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One of the best known tourist destinations
in England is Stratford upon Avon. The reason why so many descend on the town
is well known especially this year as we celebrate 400 years since the death of
one of the greatest writers who ever lived - William Shakespeare. But, I am off
to look for the bits that are not in the guide books - Stratford’s hidden secrets.
And what surprises I find! Disused railway tracks
converted to cycle tracks, a great community pub, a converted factory where half
of England’s street signs were once made. It’s also the birthplace of the Telly
Tubbies, ancient bicycles and Warwickshire Bananas.
Rather than drive into the town I decide to
walk via The Greenway from Milcote (where there’s a free car park), about 2.5
miles outside of Stratford. Part of the National Cycle Network this five mile
section follows a disused railway line, it’s a high quality surfaced path
suitable for cyclists, walkers and horse riders.
It’s a flat, easy walk and before too long I
reach the point where the river Stour joins the Avon where I cross the magnificent
but somewhat tired Stannals Bridge. I was lucky enough to meet a gregarious
lady whose 94 year old father was a former signalman with the Great Western
Railway over whose tracks I now meandered.
This short section of railway line had three
stations on it, one at Milcote, one alongside Stratford Racecourse (the walk takes
you right alongside the race track) for race days. The last stations at the far
end are where you’ll find two carriages, now used as a cafe and cycle hire
Reaching the town I make a slight diversion
to the cemetery in Evesham Road to pay my respects to the 97 Canadian Airmen
who rest here. Stationed at nearby Wellesbourne they lost their lives there whilst
training to fly the mighty Wellington bomber. There is a memorial unveiled in
1949 by the Canadian High Commissioner in recognition of their sacrifice and
the maples that surround the garden are from Canada, a gift from the Ontario Horticultural
This is also the resting place of novelist
Marie Corelli, and of Edward Fordham Flower who started Stratford brewers
Flowers many years ago.
After this sobering experience it’s a short
distance to the Old Town area of Stratford, where you’ll discover a great pub,
The New Bulls Head, if it’s too early for a pint, they do a very good coffee. A
traditional community pub which also boasts an in-house shop which opens every
morning from 8am for newspapers, bread and groceries.
Landlord Roger Hatch has produced a great little
book with a brief history of Old Town and the pub is well worth visiting for
the tremendous number of pictures of Old Town and the railway.
There is a modern mews development in
college lane, but this was once the site of the Royal Lable Factory. Amazingly
it was here that over 50% of all the road signs, street names and place names
used in England were made. Made of cast aluminium many of them are still to be
found. Look on the back of a street sign and if you see a yellow diamond with
RLF on it, you’ll know it was made here, in Stratford.
Many of the town centre pubs have hidden
gardens. Head to The Shakespeare Hotel, a five-star hotel where I drink a
couple of cool beers. It’s rather expensive and quite posh but the garden at
the rear is spectacular.
Not just the birthplace of Shakespeare,
this town is also where the Telly Tubbies were born. Rag Doll Productions were
based in Church Street and up until a few years ago had a shop. These days it
is an optician’s store, but if you look up at the top windows there are two rag
dolls waving a very sad good bye.
The Telly Tubbies were filmed at a secret
location outside of Stratford - keep it to yourselves but it was the Welcombe
Hills Golf Course.
You’ll find choosing a place for lunch quite
difficult here as there’s a huge choice. Sheep Street known to locals as ‘The
Eating Heart of Stratford’ is a good choice and a great little pub is The Vinter,
where you can enjoy a bottle of red and a steak sandwich at a good price.
Afterwards head to The Chandlery down by
the river, home to Pashleys Cycles, Englands longest established bicycle
manufacturer. The Rolls Royce of traditional cycles can be bought or hired here
so you can explore Stratford on two wheels in style. You can also hire a gondola; once afloat in
Venice it was bought over by somewhat eccentric novelist Marie Corelli who
would enjoy punting it on this river.
On the south side of the river you’ll find
Warwickshire bananas growing on the banks of the Avon. Stratford Butterfly Farm
opened in the 1980s and has become a popular destination for both children and
adults. Butterflies from all over the world of all colours and sizes can be
enjoyed flitting about in specially built houses with the climate of a tropical
rainforest. You’ll find a lush landscape of exotic blossom and banana trees
that regularly produce fruit. Any plans I had to sample them were dashed – only
the day before a full bunch had been picked and eaten by a family who had
assumed they were included in the ticket price.
Stratford offers a great day out and of
course if you’re a Shakespeare fan, there’s even more to enjoy.
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