Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Stratford: Tourist Trap or Cultural Oasis?

Stratford: Tourist Trap or Cultural Oasis?

Old Dec 21st, 2004, 10:42 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 5,641
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Stratford: Tourist Trap or Cultural Oasis?

I've just visited England's Stratford-on-Avon for the third time and i'm conflicted about the place. I found it a pleasant city on a tranquil river with lots of parks, etc.
And tourist mobs - mobs! I kind of like the place but also feel that i've been sold goods under false pretences. It seems all the Shakespeare stuff, except the theatre, is Ersatz or could be. I visited the three major Shakespeare Properties in town - Hall's Croft, the Nash House and the most important - the Bard's birthplace. Though they were nice it was like the Emperor wearing no clothes - tenuous links to Shakespeare at best. Hall's Croft is where his daughter lived. Nash House is an authentic old house but has no links to Shakespeare's House that used to be next door - it was torn down eons ago by its owner in a tax dispute! Even the birthplace is of dubious authenticity though it could be real. Is the town's whole tourist industry based on fakery? I kind of feel that i'd been had. Not to mention the fact that Shakespeare may not even have written the plays he name is attached to. (The Globe Theatre Exhibiton casts great doubts on this in stuff i read there.) Even the local church, where the Bard is buried charges a special fee just to see his tomb. Yet i enjoyed the beautiful town!
What do you think?
PalQ is offline  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 10:58 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,749
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I think you've summed it up pretty well. We generally go up from London for the day to see two shows, and it's a pleasant enough town to entertain us between the shows. This past summer we were driving and spent the night there, again seeing a couple of shows.
I can't imagine going there if not for the theatre -- which of course is much of what causes the huge crowds.
Patrick is offline  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 11:14 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,283
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
My take on Stratford is that if it weren't for the Bard, the place would be a nice enough town but nowhere near the tourist magnet it is. It crops up on lots of itineraries here but I'm one who doesn't consider it a must-see unless one has a special interest in Shakespeare and/or the theare. I'm fond of both but having visited the sites related to the man, I don't return to Stratford unless I'm there to see a show.

I don't think the town operates under false pretenses. Perhaps a bit gimmicky in spots but it's a cash cow after all. And there seems to be room for both art and cheese in the universe.

Whether or not Shakespeare is the actual author is a matter of genuine academic debate. The post card hawkers couldn't care less.

obxgirl is online now  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 12:05 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 8,156
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
My cousins live(d) in Straford and all my growing up it's where we went on our holidays.

And I love it, cheese and all.

It's pretty. It's got real people in it, it has a nice market, and a nice setting by the river.

It's got a lot of lovely pubs and some nice places to saty. It's within 10 minutes of archetypal English countryside- villages, greens, pubs, scenery.

Great accents, decent cricket team, warm summers and lovely atmosphere.

So.. go, take the icing on the cake- the fantatsic theatre- truly Shakespeare is never better elsewhere- and ignore the Willlie garden gnomes. Or laugh at them
sheila is offline  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 12:19 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 6,260
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I think you can apply the same reasoning: "If it weren't for this...or that..the place wouldn't be the magnet that it is..."

Think Pisa without the Leaning Tower and perhaps even Venice without the canals. People, be they "tourists" or not, flock to these places but are they "traps"?

The fact(?) that Stratford hypes it up for all that it is worth may be what makes it seem non-genuine but the question really is: overall, did you REGRET going there??????
Intrepid1 is offline  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 12:30 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 725
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I enjoyed my visit to Stratford. It is in a nice setting - the one thing I would like to do and haven't is attend the theatre.

As far as whether Shakespeare wrote the plays, I've always felt is if he hadn't why would his friends put the First Folio together in 1623 as a tribute to him? And if he hadn't why would visitors come to Stratford as they have done since 1630? Thomas Jefferson and John Adams paid a visit in 1786 and took part of a chair as a souvenir. There probably wouldn't be much left of his birthplace if we all took something.
rj007 is offline  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 12:39 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 2,184
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I agree with Intrepid1: "If it weren't for this...or that..the place wouldn't be the magnet that it is..."

I live near Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (ever see the movie "Groundhog Day?") and other than a rodent being its main claim to fame, the town would be just another sleepy little place. I did have friends visit from England after seeing the movie, although they kept asking when the "gopher" would be appearing.

Face it - these tourist attractions bring in a lot of much-needed revenue.
twina49 is offline  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 12:52 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 2,707
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I'm a big Shak fan (except for a couple, I've read and studied each of his plays and sonnets) and yet in our five visits to the UK, I've avoided Stratford for just the reasons you've cited. I didn't want to have my imagination despoiled by the reality. Twice, we were close - at Hidcote Manor and at Warwick Castle - and I was tempted.

PalQ, thanks for this post; I believe I did the right thing...
TuckH is offline  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 03:33 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,873
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Stratford is a great little town. Sooooo many fodorites warn people away because it is touristy. Well so is the Tower of London, Warwick, Blenheim Palace, York, Edinburgh and a thousand other places. No one is forced to go into any of the souvenir shops. There is some really wonderful non-tourist related shopping, a few good pubs, a lovely river, a glorious church where Will is buried, etc.

Many people who poo poo Stratford have never been there or have only been to the Birthplace and the shops across the street.
janis is offline  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 05:02 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,283
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
>Many people who poo poo Stratford have never been there or have only been to the Birthplace and the shops across the street. <

Janis, How do you know this to be true?

I agree with you that Stratford is a nice town but there are lots of UK towns which have ...."some really wonderful non-tourist related shopping, a few good pubs, a lovely river, a glorious church..." but DON'T have The Bard cheese factor.

If someone is into Shakespeare and/or theatre, by all mean go to Stratford. Otherwise, skip it and go to one of the other places janis mentioned which have a lot more to offer. Warwick Castle (janis, did you mean the castle or the town?) is a slick and commercialized venture but is a more engaging destination than Stratford. And the town of Warwick is a lovely place if you find the Castle a bit too Disneyfied.

obxgirl is online now  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 05:52 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,749
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
"Janis, How do you know this to be true?"

Actually that's a pretty safe assumption considering there are dozens of tour busses that come there every day and let the people out by the birthplace for an hour or so to see the house and shop, then they have to get back on the busses and be on their way.

I've talked with more than one person who never even saw the theatres and asked what part of town they are in. How could you go there and not see the theatres on the river?
Patrick is offline  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 07:26 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,283
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Patrick, I asked janis how she knew that so many people who "poo poo" Stratford had, in fact, never ever been there or had only visited the touristy bits.

That busloads of people get plopped into Bard Central for an hour or two is only evidence that Stratford is (erroneously IMO) considered a must-see for tourists. I think 30 minutes in any of the other places janis mentioned outweigh a drop-off in Stratford.
obxgirl is online now  
Old Dec 21st, 2004, 11:25 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,873
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
"Janis, How do you know this to be true?"

If you notice I said "many" -- not everyone. How do I know - because I have taught travel classes for years and in almost every one at least one person who has been to the Warwickshire area will say "We would never go to Stratford. It is just so trouisty" or something similar.

And a few of the folks who have posted to the many threads about Stratford say the same sorts of things.

It has just sort of the "Conventional Wisdom" that Stratford is schlocky, sort of like that old canard that the food in London is dreck.
janis is offline  
Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 12:18 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 401
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi Sheila,
I love to see willie garden gnomes!
It's those horrid tour buses that are the real eyesores. But it's a good living for the town, isn't it?

I've been to the UK many times (my ex is a Brit) and left footsteps all over the country. I wasn't too much shocked or surprised by Stratford, just tried to find some funky souvenirs and get the cheesy flavor of it all. Cheesy, yes, but not as cheesy as when we Americans put London Bridge up in the middle the of our desert! Let's have a reality check here.

To me, Shakespeare's all about the music of the words. And after all, were all those plays attended by riff raff like us when they were first performed???
And aren't we all tourists here, at the end of the day?



bellastar is offline  
Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 01:50 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,657
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I'm with Sheila here. I grew up in Birmingham, a short hop from Stratford, and spent many evenings in the pubs there in my yoof. I've always loved Stratford - the river, the pubs, the old buildings - and the Royal Shakespeare Company is second to none (my school would regularly drag us to productions). I don't think I've ever really been bothered by the tourism, because I think as a non-tourist I just ignored that side of things. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I'd dropped by on a daytrip.
Kate is offline  
Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 02:46 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 17,257
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The original question asked whether Statford could be called a cultural oasis. Of course it can't.

It's almost surrounded by far prettier towns, and its cultural resources consist of just one - excellent - theatre, whose productions are available elsewhere. Even its theatre's only marginally better (and far less diverse) than what's on at Birmingham or Oxford, both within a 45 minute drive, and both with tons more other stuff to see or listen to.

Which doesn't mean visitors have to miss it. But PalQ's questions about authenticity are interesting.

Few historic facts tour guides parrot out are beyond question. Old Masters almost certainly didn't produce most of the paintings attributed to them (they were usually made by the whole of his workshop). The evidence St Peter was buried at the Vatican was pretty iffy last time I looked at it. And, as PalQ points out, England's toffs have been in denial that an oik like Shakespeare could produce decent plays since about the day he - or the posh git with the brains - wrote them. Just accept that nothing is as it seems, and that Stratford is really a metaphor for life.

But did Shakespeare write all that? Just remember that the leading It Was Bacon Really 'scholar' is called - and I'm not making this up, honest - Thomas Looney.
flanneruk is offline  
Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 02:57 AM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 1,690
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Is this always an issue with towns associated so very strongly with an individual - Rochester and Broadstairs (both in Kent) both draw heavily on their links with Charles Dickens; Nottingham has spurious Robin Hood "attractions" at every corner; Rye is awash with Henry James & E.F Benson' The Lake District with William Wordsworth; etc. etc. etc

It's natural that various locations will use these figures to draw attention to their attractions so as to raise their profile above the cacophony of competing loacations and attractions.

Don't be disappointed by it - just understand it for what it is; P.R by association.

Dr D.
Dr_DoGood is offline  
Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 07:41 AM
  #18  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 5,641
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The first few times i went to Stratford i was greeted off the train by the smells of the cattle market next to the station. this time in September of this year i saw the cattle market had been bulldozed, symbolizing to me the changing status of Stratford from regional market town to a more tourist-oriented economy. Yet the town still had tons of schoolkids running around and non-touristy shoppers jamming the main shop street. The gardens at Nash House were the most spectacular thing i saw in town - amazingly sculpted shrubs-kids from the nearby private school were holed up smoking pot in its enclaves. I guess Stratford's still a real enough town.
PalQ is offline  
Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 08:51 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 320
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I never had any interest in Shakespeare, (except for maybe the movie version of Romeo & Juliet starring Olivia Hussey). Maybe from too much pressure in high school to study him. The first time in Britain, I stayed 3 weeks but had no desire at all to go to Stratford, even though I went to Warwick & some towns in the Cotswolds. Finally, on the third trip to Britain, went to Stratford for my perception of historic value. Combined it with another trip to Warwick & the Cotswolds. So for me, I have been there, done that & have no desire to go back, even to see a performance. While I would (& have) go back to many places, such as Cardiff, Portsmouth, Dover, Windsor & many more, numerous times, I would not go back to Stratford. Not that it is too touristy, I go to plenty of touristy places again & again. Just that Stratford is not in my interest, my cup of tea, so to speak.
Bill_I is offline  
Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 09:02 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 12,848
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Funny, I have been to London many times over the past 30 years but never to Stratford. Love Shakespeare, and--oddly--have a beautiful photograph taken of "Anne Hathaway's cottage" that my late father took in the early 70's. Dad was a very proficient amateur photographer (ex-Navy Korean conflict) and took the photo in the spring, with hundreds of yellow and red tulips in bloom. He enlarged it to 24" x 36" and, framed, it hangs in my family room. So even though we've never made the time for a special trip to Stratford I see a tiny bit of it every day. Perhaps someday I will go, but it would be less of a paean to Shakespeare than to try to see that same landmark through my Dad's eyes.
kswl is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:15 PM.