Monday, 19 March 2018

Like Mary Arden’s farm, well worth a return visit

FOUR centuries after the death of the world’s most famous playwright, the industry that has sprung

FOUR centuries after the death of the world’s most famous playwright, the industry that has sprung up around William Shakespeare continues apace.

Some would argue that the words Shakespeare wrote are all that matters. But to a global tourist industry so too does the place of his birth, his youth and upbringing.

Stratford-upon-Avon is synonymous with Shakespeare and on the “must see” list of any self-respecting tourist coming into Britain from Korea to California.

I recall years ago having a picnic lunch on the grass in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford surrounded by happy Japanese tourists hungry with Will-mania.

Unlike Beatlemania, the likes of which we probably won’t see again, the fascination with the Bard stretches far and wide from this middle-sized Warwickshire town.

But dotted in and around Stratford are places of interest that boast that all-important Will-connection.

These include Shakespeare’s birthplace on Henley Street in the town centre; Anne Hathaway’s cottage in the hamlet of Shottery, where young Will courted his future bride; and Mary Arden’s farm, the home where Shakespeare’s mother grew up. We took a drive from Cirencester in the Cotswolds where we live to Mary Arden’s Farm in this week’s drive — the Range Rover Evoque.

This has become something of an annual event for us and well worth a return visit. There is always a warm welcome and new and interesting things to see — and children love the farm with its array of animals, birds of prey and open space.

You can picnic to your heart’s content. Daily activities around the farm include grooming Ellie the horse; goose parade; falconry display; milking demonstration; Tudor dinner; archery display; and my favourite, goose herding, which visitors can join in with.

From Henley this is not a long drive — it is around 74 miles and should take about one hour and 20 minutes. It is one hour and 10 minutes from where we live in Gloucestershire.

I was driving the luxury compact SUV (sport utility vehicle) — the forerunner of the recently launched Range Rover Evoque Convertible (reviewed in these pages at its UK launch last week). I had not driven the Evoque SUV since 2012 and thought it about time I reacquainted myself with it.

So several runs in the Evoque including the one to Shakespeare-land in the West Midlands was a good test of how I feel about the car today.

I recall being truly impressed originally by the smooth way it drove. I was not sure about the design at the time but have come to admire it.

The Evoque in my first assessment was, I said at the time, “the result of some quite heavy cerebral work. The drive is unexpectedly superb, the interior exceptionally comfortable and the handling surprisingly fluid for a car of its apparent sturdiness.”

Well, on a second reading — some four years on from my column in July 2012 — I can only say that that first view of the Evoque holds.

But interestingly, having driven the Evoque Convertible, I realise how ahead of the game this car is.

It displays at the same time all the hallmarks of Land Rover production — strength, quality build, and thoughtfulness in design. Yet the Evoque is also up for the latest in high-tech equipment. It seems that a company such as Jaguar Land Rover is embracing the new digital age with open arms.

So you get on the Evoque Convertible some of the best in-cabin equipment I have seen this year. I waxed lyrical about the Convertible’s high-tech approach — especially its satnav system — and presumably these will continue to be applied to future models. And make no mistake, this car is a very tough little customer you could practically drive anywhere while cossetted in luxury.

The design of the Evoque is not, I know, everyone’s cup of tea. But I think it shows its designers’ in-touch understanding of true 21st century individuality.

I expect that at the rate of knots that new models change — a bit like the constant updating and search for the new that populates the world of mobile phones and tablets — the Evoque will carry on getting better. And that, for people in the car industry everywhere — from designers to shop floor workers — has to be a good thing.

To find out all about Mary Arden’s Farm and visiting Stratford-upon-Avon, visit

Evoque factfile

Range Rover Evoque 16MY Manual

Price as tested  (including options): £47,880

HSE Dynamic

Yulong White, Ebony Interior with Perforated Oxford Ebony Leather and Cirrus Headlining

20-inch Alloy Style 17 (F) / Style 6 wheels

Features include:

• Evoque Badge — Red

• Engine Badge — HSE Td4

• 2.0 Litre AJ200D TD4 ‘Ingenium’ Diesel — 180hp

Six-speed manual transmission, including Intelligent Stop/Start Technology — 4WD

• Stop/Start (TSS)

• Terrain Response

• Hill Descent Control (HDC)

• Four-wheel drive (4WD)

• Four-wheel drive with standard driveline (4WD)

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