East of Coventry is Rugby, where you can tour Rugby School, birthplace of the sport rugby and made famous through Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Rupert Brooke and Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) were educated here.
To the south are two castles. At Kenilworth, Robert Dudley once entertained Elizabeth I with a 17-day feast and pageant. The second, Warwick Castle, is
situated on the banks of the river Avon. It seems to epitomize the ideal image of an English castle, surrounded by parkland with greenhouses. Inside, in addition to pictures, porcelain, weapons and a grisly dungeon, there are splendid state rooms such as the Great Hall with a Venetian marble floor and oak eaves, or the Drawing Room, panelled with cedarwood and adorned with a baroque stucco ceiling and crystal chandeliers.
The old town of Warwick is full of halftimbered, top-heavy old buildings, with archways, alleys and attractive 17th- and 18th-century streets that invite exploration. The east and west gates of the town (the latter dating from the 12th century) include interesting chapels; note, too, the half-timbered Leychester Hospital (16th century).
Birthplace of the Bard: Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of William Shakespeare, is still dominated by attractive half-timbered houses from the 16th and 17th centuries. Idyllically situated on the river Avon, once a cloth and farming town, Stratford today lives mainly through the marketing of its bestknown native son.
Shakespeare’s birthplace was an Elizabethan half-timbered house in Henley Street. The interior has never been remodeled, and here you can view a recreation of the living conditions of a well-todo family of the 16th century with many Shakespearian memorabilia.
On the corner of Chapel Street and Chapel Lane is the site of New Place, where Shakespeare, after his return from London in 1611, spent the last five years of his life. A formal knot garden in the style typical of the Elizabethan period has been recreated here.
The poet’s daughter, Susanna, married a doctor, John Hall, and Hall’s Croft in the old town displays not only fine furniture of the time, but also the apparatus of a doctor’s practice in the 17th century. A walk along an avenue lined with linden trees brings you to the parish church of the Holy Trinity, where Shakespeare was baptized and buried.
Stroll along the banks of the Avon towards the town center and you will see two of the great Shakespearian theaters here: the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre. Book ahead if possible, or see if there are any lastminute returned seats, for a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Theatre at Stratford has a special magic of its own; the plays burst into life as if reanimated by their setting. North of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre are the elegant Bancroft Gardens.
West of Stratford on the A46, at Shottery, is the birthplace of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
At Wilmcote, north of Shottery, the childhood home of the Bard’s mother, Mary Arden’s House, can also be visited. Here, county life and customs of the last three centuries are displayed and illuminated. Charlecote Park, where the young Shakespeare was alleged to have poached deer, is near Wellesbourne. Back in town, from the center of a darkened auditorium, the World of Shakespeare exhibition takes you back with sights and sounds through time to Elizabethan England, the horrors of the plague and the royal fireworks.
The Warwickshire countryside is rich in thatched cottages and stately homes. There are two fine houses on the A435 near Alcester: Coughton Court, where the anxious wives of Gunpowder Plotters awaited news as to whether their husbands’ plans to blow up Parliament had succeeded; and Ragley Hall, a Palladian house with fine baroque plasterwork in the Great Hall, wonderful porcelain and paintings at every turn, and peacocks strutting outside. To the south, a gray stone country inn at Ardens Grafton near Bidford-on-Avon has a collection of 300 antique dolls.
Head to the M40 east of Stratford for a direct route to London. If time allows, come off at exit 12 for Gaydon and take the shuttle bus to the world’s largest collection of historic British cars at the Heritage Motor Centre.