Some places you visit for a purpose and they are enjoyable and fun, some you appreciate for their natural wonders or interesting architecture; there are those that leave us wanting more and draw us back, but there are just a few that inject a little something special that stays with us. For me, the market town of Stratford Upon Avon with its Tudor architecture, literary connections and wonderful position on the Avon, is one of those few.
When I wrote An Unfamiliar Murder, my first novel, I didn’t really consider the location. I set it in a fictional town, loosely based on my own, and was later surprised when local readers contacted me and said how much they enjoyed visiting places from the book (even though I’d called them different names!). With this in mind I played with some real settings for the sequel, The Truth Will Out, and set a section of it in The Trossachs National Park, a part of Scotland that is rich in natural beauty and somewhere I have spent some wonderful annual holidays over the part twenty years. My memories and experiences there made it almost feel like home, so writing about it felt like second nature.
With my third book and current work in progress, I wanted to play with the idea of setting it all in a real place. It felt fitting as it marks the start of something new for me, although still a psychological crime thriller, there’s a different storyline and a whole host of new characters. I spent weeks pondering a suitable location. I wanted somewhere reasonably well known yet unspoilt, with natural beauty; somewhere fitting for my lead character, but also a working town. After long contemplation, I decided on Stratford Upon Avon.
Less than an hour’s drive away, I’ve visited Stratford many times over the years and enjoyed the well-known touristy haunts but, even after many recent research missions, I couldn’t claim to know it particularly well. To go some way to remedy this, last weekend my family and I headed out for a weekend of exploration and a slice of family time.
We’ve visited many of the Shakespearian sites on previous visits and, whilst hubby and I would have quite liked to have popped into the RSC, the programme wasn’t really suitable for our twelve year old. So, we spread our wings and took in what else Stratford has to offer. Here are our highlights:
- The Butterfly Garden – A firm family favourite, this tropical enclosure was packed with a plethora of different species which you can view up close and personal. A few landed on my daughter’s arm, one even on hubby’s head. The relaxed atmosphere allows you to explore at your leisure and the addition of Arachnoland and Insect City, alongside a range of geckos, meant there was a little something for everyone. We will definitely return.
- The Thai Boathouse – I have to admit that the position of our hotel, The Swans Nest, beside the Avon was a little contrived as it directly faced the Thai Boathouse restaurant. Thai food is my husband’s all-time favourite, and it is a rare treat to be able to enjoy genuine Thai cuisine outside of Thailand, but this restaurant definitely delivers. We sat in the conservatory area, overlooking a river sparkling with the town lights at night – an enchanting setting.
- The Riverside Walk – Arguably one of the best ways to experience the real beauty of Stratford is by foot. We took a host of different recommended walks but our favourite was a stroll from the bandstand in the centre along the banks of the Avon. Boats passed as we glimpsed the decadent Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried, and watched a canal boat pass through the lock where the Stratford Canal meets the Avon. The walk eventually takes you to the other side of the river, where you can explore the churchyard of the Holy Trinity and Old Town if you wish.
Finally, I have to say that I’m always astounded at how friendly and helpful online friends are. This weekend couldn’t have been so special to me without the help of @foxtonm and @jillywills who assisted with the finer details and suggested areas of the town for me to explore that fit with various parts of my current work in progress. Their help and support made the research element of the trip much easier and restricted it to a couple of hours, which gave us so much more family time. I wish to extend my sincere thanks to them for this.