Day 13: Shakespeare – Part 1

I won’t bore you with the train ride that began our first day in Stratford-Upon-Avon. All that matters is that we left at 10:07 and arrived at 11:15. After a little walking and a bus ride we got to our fourth YHA hostel. Unfortunately we weren’t able to check into our rooms – we had another bus to catch about 10 or 15 minutes after our arrival. It was just enough time for those who needed to change into theatre appropriate clothes. So, yeah. It was a quick turn-around.

Our first real activity in Stratford-Upon-Avon was visiting one of many places related to William Shakespeare – his birthplace. Before I dive into things about William I feel it would be appropriate to give a little background about his family. His father, John Shakespeare, was a leather workman. He fashioned gloves primarily but also did purses and belts. However, he was caught dealing wool without a license and the family lost a lot of status and were fined severely. This was part of the reason as to why Shakespeare was unable to attend a university.

Alright, enough about his father, lets get on to William Shakespeare himself. He was born in 1564 and people have been visiting his birthplace for centuries. These visitors left their mark by writing on the windows that were in the room which Shakespeare was born. The earliest recorded is from 1806.

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Interestingly, for the first few years after being married to Anne Hathaway William’s father died. Afterwards when Shakespeare and Anne had moved out of his birthplace, the building was rented out and an inn added. This inn, the Swan and Maidenhead continued in operation into the 19th century.

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After finishing our tour of Shakespeare’s Birthplace we made our way to another important building relating to the late playwright. It is New Place/Nash’s House. This historic building has been through multiple generations of owners but interestingly enough, the building that we visited never belonged to Shakespeare. In fact, it didn’t even exist while he was alive. William Shakespeare bought New Place in 1597. For most of his life in Stratford-Upon-Avon he lived in this house. ‘Tis a pity it’s not still standing. The reason for this is because the man who occupied it many years later eventually tore it down to rebuild on the land. The building was then added to by another occupant, so while we were able to see where he was born, we were unable to see the building in which he died.

Moving on we took a tour of Hall’s Croft. Built in 1613, Hall’s Croft belonged to William’s daughter, Susanna, and her husband, John. However they only lived there three years, for after Shakespeare’s death they inherited New Place. Incredibly, two of the original windows remain in the house – 400 years later!

Our first adventure in Stratford-Upon-Avon was great and informative. And our day was far from over.

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Day Eight: Trading Ambleside for Oxford

Today we had to say goodbye to the beautiful Lake District town of Ambleside and back to a big city. This time it is Oxford. Four hours, three train rides – one of which we almost missed – and a very short walk later we arrived at our third YHA hostel. Shortly after getting settled in we were all called back downstairs to begin probably one of our most anticipated tours of the trip so far. Our self-guided Harry Potter tour!

Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to get to see everything. Places close earlier here than back home. We did however get to see Christ Church which is were multiple scenes were filmed.

Now, I feel it is relavent to mention that while we were waiting in the Chicago/O’Hare airport Jessica – who was deemed the Sorting Hat – did, as the Sorting Hat does, sorted all of us into the four houses. Dr. Clark helped as well. As it turns out, there are a lot of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws in our group.

Back to Oxford. Christ Church is one of the numerous colleges that make up Oxford University and we were able to walk around it. Just outside of the church was a beautiful War Memorial Garden and small garden of tulips. Then we arrived at the entrance to the actual church. It is an ornate building with many pointed, Gothic styled windows. We wandered down a hallway and came to the first stop on our Harry Potter tour – the staircase. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (England, remember?) the top of the Christ Church staircase was used as the filming point for the first scene inside of  Hogwarts where the first year students are greeted by Professor McGonagall. This staircase also makes an appearance in the second Harry Potter movie when Harry and Ron are late for the feast after missing the train as well as the place where Harry first encounters Tom Riddle.

The staircase wasn’t the only part of the church that was used as a Harry Potter filming location. On our tour we got to see the room that inspired Hogwarts’s Great Hall. Christ Church had a magnificent dinning hall that wowed us all. It had soaring ceilings, long wooden tables, and pictures covering almost every piece of wall space that wasn’t being taken up by large stained-glass windows. It was beautiful and very magical.

We continued on our tour of the church and got to see the Cathedral. Upon entering we were immediately met with a large organ that we had to look almost straight up to see. As we walked through the hallways it was awe-inspiring and tall. It was magnificent. After we walked through the rest of the church – taking lats of pictures in the process – we were on our way to see other Harry Potter filming sights.

The Bodleian Library was used as multiple sets too. The Hogwarts Infirmary used the building’s Divinity Hall and the library was from Duke Humphrey’s Library. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go into the building to see these very recognizable places in the Harry Potter films. We were, though, able to go into the courtyard which was impressive in and of itself. But who knows, some people may make that happen on a free day.

That, sadly, ended our Harry Potter tour in Oxford, but we did make a stop next door at the Radcliff Camera – apparently a filming sight for the TV show Detective Lewis. I don’t know much about this one, but it sounded interesting.

Next up came dinner at a famous English pub. The Eagle and Child, home to the Inklings. In case you don’t know, the Inklings were a group of writers who would sit around, eat, drink, and share works-in-progress. That or they would take turns reading from really terrible pieces they’d found and trying to see how long they could go without laughing. Some of their names may be familiar – J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and many others.

It was a great place to sit and discuss J.R.R. Tolkien’s story Farmer Giles of Ham. This story was very funny, we all agreed, and spurred some great conversation about what made a knight and what sort of hero Giles was. It was very much a story about raising in social hierarchy but also about how it is not necessary. People can be comfortable, like farmer Giles was, without mountains of riches and the best money can buy. Much laughing ensued as we criticized and sympathized with the different characters of Tolkien’s story. It was a good night with pretty good food and an entertaining discussion.

Now, I bid you adieu and wish you a good night…morning…day…whichever applies to you.