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Friday, 15th October 2010
Virginia and I had a long weekend in Stratford-on-Avon. We booked Tabitha and Amelia into the Jobil Cattery in Histon so not far from us, and booked ourselves into Brook Lodge, a slightly more comfortable Bed and Breakfast place in Stratford. Jobil Cattery was adequate, perhaps a bit bare bones, but did for the weekend. True we didn't ask the cats their opinion!

The journey didn't take long to get there, partly because all the service stations we tried to stop at for a bite to eat, and a comfort break, were closed as regards eateries. In the end we checked into the guest house, then had oversize plates of sandwiches at the Bell Inn in Shottery.

As we were in the area we decided to cross Anne Hathaway's cottage off the list. The cottage has undergone revision over the years. When Anne Hathaway grew up in it was two rooms, open hearth fire vented through the roof. The guides were very pleasant and informative, they explained that people lived on bread rather than potatoes as they didn't have potatoes then. They didn't even have carrots as we now know and love them, the garden had skirrets growing which were poor weedy root vegetables now superseded in the modern diet.

The guides also commented on Shakespeare's life with Anne Hathaway, giving a contrary opinion to the populist one that Will ran away to London to write plays and act because he was tired of his 8-years older wife. Shakespeare did marry young (at 18 when 21 was the norm) but stayed with Anne apart from the half-year seasons when acting took him away. Perhaps as people remodel buildings to suit their fancies, so we have remodelled Shakespeare to suit our fancies of how the bard should have been.
Saturday was Castle day. Kenilworth Castle of Sir Walter Scott fame has been revisioned from a Norman castle, to King John's royal fortress with imposing moat, then to the Earl of Leicester's lavishment to impress Queen Elizabeth the first. Lastly Cromwell's lot slighted it (archaic meaning of demolished) leaving big ruins which were not as impressive as Anne Hathaway's Cottage. English Heritage tried hard to get us to join, they do good stuff but we're already in the National Trust and didn't feel like overdoing the membership business.

Better was the National Trust Packwood House. Collector Baron Ash revised the Victorian house back to the 1700s, and filled it with tapestries and tables of the period. I learnt what I took to be coat of arms were actually hatchments, diamond designs left half black, right half white, which were funeral designs in Churches. In a sedan chair there was a rare artists' lay figure which artists could hire cheaper than live models for poses. Baron Ash lucky guy also had a world tour in the early 1920s and there were momentos from that around.

We took in nearby Baddesley Clinton, a Catholic stately home surrounded by a moat. It boasted not one or two but three priests' holes, skilfully secreted in the building. Echoes of times when the authorities in England took religion seriously. The fireplace had a stain by it supposedly of a priest murdered after being caught not being celibate with the Lord's wife. The Pope forgave the Lord after a suitable number of penances and donations. This visit brought my number of banged heads to three on the long weekend.
Sunday morning we went to Stratford Baptist Church, nice that so many there spoke to us. Lively music group with some long serving members on the drums and guitars. Hazardous parking in the street, the authorities patrol every hour to see if they can catch offenders parking a minute more than the legal hour. - street parking patrolled each hour - modern persecution?

Happily we chose to go to Coughton Court for a bite to eat, as well as a second dose of Gunpowder plot era Catholicism. The formal gardens are well thought out and worth seeing. The Throckmortons (imposing name) were very involved with Catholic attempts to return England to the Pope's control.

Lastly we did Ragley Hall, only to find the house closed for a wedding. They did let us off half the entrance fee which was reasonable. Artwork (depending on how you look at it) is dotted around the estate.