Shakespeare's Stratford:Anne Hathaway's Cottage A mile to the west of Stratford, in the small village of Shottery, is possibly the most famous cottage in all of England. William Shakespeare never lived here, but he did pop round quite a lot while wooing his wife-to-be. There was no open-topped sightseeing bus in those days so he had to walk across the fields to see his beloved - farmer's daughter Anne Hathaway. She lived in this picture-perfect thatched farmhouse beside the Shottery Brook, seen here with its scaffolded left-hand half carefully cropped out of shot. There are twelve plainly furnished rooms inside, including an upper storey supported by a gnarled wooden floor just one plank thick. It doesn't take long to wander round, and if you can't make it up the stairs you can view what you're missing in a Virtual Tour room nextdoor. The cottage garden is another modern addition, seemingly introduced to boost production of quaint Ye Olde English jigsaws and chocolate boxes. Further up the hill there's an extensive tree garden, complete with adventurous Shakespearean sculptures and a yew hedge maze, plus a couple of very well-screened coach parks. All this plus a gently-flowing stream, with ducks. Foreign tourists who only get to visit one village during their whistlestop tour of Britain probably think we all live like this. It would be a shame to disappoint them.
Shakespeare's Stratford:Hall's Croft The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust own five properties in and around Stratford, of which this is possibly the least exciting. Its claim to fame is that it was built for William's daughter Susanna and her husband John Hall, the town's only physician. But they only lived here for three years before inheriting William's main residence, so the historical link is a bit weak. Only in Stratford could a house such as this become a major tourist attraction. It's a fine building with a lovely garden, don't get me wrong, and if you've never been inside a well-to-do timber-framed house it must be quite impressive. But the interior is a little drab, and the limited selection of exhibits somewhat underwhelming. As for the upstairs exhibition about 17th century medical practice, that's little more than a room full of printed text pinned to boards, and somewhat reminiscent of the provincial museums I was dragged around as a schoolchild in the 1970s. I wish the restoration appeal well - there is much to be done.
Shakespeare's Stratford:Mary Arden's House I never got as far as Shakespeare's Mum's house, out in the village of Wilmcote, to see the farmhouse and sheep and chickens and pigs and falcons. But I'm told that my £14 five-property joint entrance ticket remains valid indefinitely should I ever choose to return. I shall store it somewhere safe, just in case.