Stratford and north

Trip Start Apr 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 31, 2010

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Cotswolds were our last real hills for a while. On 7 May we walked down from Chipping Campden (accompanied by S and T) into the nearly flat landscape of canals and fields that we'd been admiring from on high.  It was a three-county day: we had breakfast in Gloucestershire, lunch in Worcestershire, and dinner in Warwickshire.  The architecture in the morning was all clean lines and warm Cotswold stone.  By the evening, in Stratford, we were surrounded by Tudor wooden beams and plastered walls grown warped and bulgy with age.  (Or, more often, made to look charmingly antique and irregular despite dating from the mid to late twentieth century).

Stratford-upon-Avon -- despite being Shakespeare’s birthplace and thus far more famous and distinctive than any other Stratford out there -- is permanently saddled with its cumbersome locational suffix.  These days, the "-upon-Avon" serves primarily to distinguish it from an east London suburb, which seems a bit unfair.  Surely the suburb should have been required to call itself “Stratford-upon-Jubilee-Line” or something.  Adding to the confusion, there are at least six Rivers Avon in the UK (we’ve already crossed a completely different one, back in Bath), so it isn’t as if knowing that it’s upon Avon even helps you get the right bit of the country.

With our typical last-minute planning, we’d failed to pick up tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company before they became prohibitively expensive, so for our 8 May rest day in Stratford, we simply hung out in cosy tearooms with friends – first S and T, then A (who had come up for a day trip from London), and finally E, L, and their lovely little son Sam, who joined us for a night’s camping.  The chilly drizzle that had persisted all day gave way to a mostly clear dusk.  We enjoyed a barbeque and a ukulele jam session (L being the inspiration for Joel’s own ukulele efforts).

We had originally planned a very long walk along the Stratford and Grand Union canals for May 9th, but considering Sam’s pram, we decided to shortcut a little and drove up to the canal-side village of Wootton Wawen (no, the sublimely ridiculous names did not end with the Cotswolds).  Our friends H and E joined us for that day’s hike -- finally bringing the number of British visitors above those of Americans!

Though this should have been by far our easiest day for navigation – just stick with the nice wide canal until you reach the guest house – Joel managed to get us lost at the junction of the Stratford and Grand Union canals.  He figured out what was going on half an hour later when the compass stubbornly insisted that we were going east rather than north.  As a result, though, we did get a chance to see the striking cascade of the Lapworth Locks -- a good dozen locks in close succession

(While we're on the subject, the friendly Far End guesthouse (where we spent the night with E, L, and Sam) is one of the best value B&Bs we’ve stayed in.  For 55, we not only got a lovely ensuite room (rooms with a shared bathroom were even cheaper) and cooked breakfast, but a bottle of wine on arrival and a roaring fire in the sitting room.  Tucked away down a farm lane, the Far End is close to Solihull and Birmingham, but you’d never know it.  Highly recommended).
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