ONE of my fond memories from childhood is days out in the car. My parents were
ONE of my fond memories from childhood is days out in the car. My parents were inveterate day-trippers whether it was by motorcycle, minibus or whatever car we happened to own at the time.
A day at the seaside was a treat for all the family so this summer I want to try to recapture a bit of that old magic with an occasional series on day-trips by car.
And what better way to start than with William Shakespeare, that most enduring and globally famous of all British writers and now a homegrown tourist industry par excellence.
Old Will still pulls them in from all over the world - tourists that is: they pass through the Cotswolds all year round in their super air-cooled coaches mainly en route to Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. (He even has his own Twitter account: @ShakespeareBT).
And his birthplace is where we headed in this week’s drive, the virtually indestructible new Nissan X-Trail.
This car was a surprisingly good drive: comfortable, economical and with an overwhelming air of solidity.
This all-new X-Trail was launched in Europe in 2014. and earlier versions proved a hit with many drivers.
It feels a “safe” car and this was borne out when the new X-Trail was given the maximum five-star safety rating by EuroNCAP.
It is also spacious. There is plenty of room for all the paraphernalia of a picnic - collapsible tables and chairs and hampers of food and drink.
And there is seating for a largish modern family group.
The new model incorporates new technologies such as bi-LED headlamps, Nissan Safety Shield and an easy to use NissanConnect navigation and infotainment system.
The new X-Trail also offers improved practicality, with a “theatre-style” seating layout, sliding second row of seats and fully integrated third row of seats with improved leg and headroom.
It is above all a deceptively large crossover SUV that manages its roadspace well by improved design inside and out.
Our day out this time took in Mary Arden’s Farm near Stratford. This is an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Henley (80 miles) and about the same from my home in the Cotswolds so it is accessible for a single day, just off main motorway routes.
If you have children, Mary Arden’s Farm is a good place to start when visiting Shakespeare country.
Other sites nearby include Shakespeare’s birthplace, Hall’s Croft, and probably the best known, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
I hope to visit at least one more of these on another day out this summer.
The farm represents a visual experience of what Shakespeare was likely to have seen when he visited his mother’s family home.
Knowledgeable staff, some in Tudor costume, guide you around well-preserved buildings including an intriguing original dovecote.
A blacksmith operates a real forge, and cooks produce potage - a chunky vegetable soup - daily for the workforce on a magnificent open kitchen fire.
There are also falconry displays, a chance to experience archery, nature trails and an adventure playground.
A picnic seems a prerequisite for a successful day trip and there are open grassed areas and a covered barn if the weather is bad.
I am reading actor Antony Sher’s diary (Year of the Fat Knight) of his highly acclaimed depiction of Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s most fully drawn and popular characters. In the diary of his preparation for the role, Sher says there is no such thing as the definitive interpretation of Falstaff.
It is this uniqueness of the Bard that “has allowed the plays to be done again and again over four centuries”.
The same could be said about the first class tourist industry that has sprung up around Shakespeare.
I’m sure it is here to stay, so there’s no real hurry to visit Mary Arden’s Farm.
But you could try it this summer: it makes a cracking day out in the car.
Visit www.shakespeare.org.uk for details. Book online and save 10 per cent.
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