Caravanning at Christmas: A weekend in Shakespeare country
Stratford-upon-Avon comes to life every Christmas with numerous Christmas activities, so hitch up the caravan and get into the Christmas spirit.
Words by Susie Kearley
It's December 2017, and we're staying at Kingsbury Water Park Camping and Caravanning Club Site where the friendly staff help guide my husband, Vic, as he reverses our caravan onto the pitch.
The location is excellent if you enjoy walking around the lakes. You can feed ducks, enjoy the water park's play facilities, or go on the miniature train when it's running. Those outdoor activities are a bit chilly in December, but on a bright day, it's still beautiful!
It's a 45-minute drive to Stratford-upon-Avon, and the campsite is perfect for a visit to Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market, or the Christmas Market in Coventry, too!
We start our Christmas weekend in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon, where the Victorian Christmas Market is buzzing with people and has a great atmosphere. We look around the stalls and try food samples - artisan cheeses, flavoured vinegar and specialist oils. It's a food lover's paradise.
In 2018, the Christmas market takes place from 7 to 9 December, with stalls selling festive fayre and brews, clothes, jewellery, toys, gifts, and seasonal goodies.
We reach Magic Alley, a fun attraction in the centre of town, which takes us on an exciting journey through a magical world, full of wizarding wonders, with quizzes and fascinating facts. On arrival, we see Father Christmas - it's my first time, at the age of 44!
Having each received a gift from Santa, we continue on our way into Magic Alley, where there are scenes of reindeer, festive decorations, and much snow. We find ourselves immersed in a world of enchanted forests, crystal balls, magic lamps and invisibility cloaks, then have a snowball fight with fake snow, beside a Victorian police telephone box.
We see scenes from the Chronicles of Wizard's Thatch series of children's books, and the only disappointment is it isn't bigger inside! That changes this year with a move to brand new premises in Bell Court, in the heart of Stratford.
Magic Alley will be dressed for Christmas from 17 November until Christmas Eve. You'll see all the usual favourites including Santa, a puzzle trail, and the Snow Room. According to the organisers, "In 2018 the snow room will be considerably larger and may well be inside a wardrobe. Now, we don't want to give anything away, but we think Christmas 2018 will blow your woolly socks off!"
Our next stop is Shakespeare's Birthplace, where there's the first exhibition, leading to the house where Shakespeare lived with his family. We see the living quarters, John Shakespeare's glove workshop (that's Shakespeare's dad), the bedrooms, and a back room which was rented out as a pub.
With the dining table laid for Christmas, actors recite Shakespeare in the exhibition hall, and the shop is full of festive gifts.
Victorian Christmas Market
Back on the streets, we immerse ourselves in the delights of the Victorian Christmas Market, passing sellers dressed in Victorian attire. There's a fabulous shop selling nuts, served in all sorts of delicious and unusual ways. People dressed as Santa collect money for a homeless charity and there are men dressed as Victorian policemen on stilts, striding through the crowds.
The atmosphere is merry and high spirited, with bundles of seasonal cheer and fun. We walk to Hall's Croft, where Shakespeare's daughter Susanna Hall, and her husband John Hall, a local physician, lived. They laid the Christmas, and there were twigs of holly and other seasonal decorations around the house.
Tudor medicine and more
It's interesting to learn about Tudor medicine and some of Dr John's 'cures' for various ailments. We'd laugh at many of them today. He did know about scurvy, however, and prescribed vitamin C rich fruits as a cure.
Shakespeare's Schoolroom is our last stop before dinner. It's a fascinating place to visit anyway! We enjoy a lesson with a 'Tudor' schoolmaster, learn to write with a feather and inkwell, and watch a fascinating film about the school, Shakespeare's time as a student there, and the boys' participation in plays.
There's an intriguing film about ancient wall art discovered on one of the walls. For me, it's also interesting to read about John Shakespeare's brushes with the law. William Shakespeare's father, John, was accused of assault, illegal wool trading, dumping a 'heap of muck' outside his house in Henley Street, and various other misdemeanours.
He had civic duties including Chamberlain, constable, alderman, and high bailiff (mayor). He was a professional glove maker and the 'ale taster' for Stratford. Shakespeare's Schoolroom brings to life Shakespeare's schooling and gives us a taste of life for the more prosperous in Tudor England.
Curry and a play
We eat at a curry house just off the high street and then finish our day with a visit to the RSC Theatre, to watch 'Twelfth Night'. The acting is great fun, the costumes are stunning, the quality of the props and scenery strikes me – it's a high-quality production.
The theatre is like the Globe in London, with circular seating around a central stage. It's a great way to complete a day in Shakespeare's Stratford. For 2018, the December performance at the RSC Theatre is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. There's also the opportunity to see Timon of Athens at the Swan Theatre.
Weekends in Warwickshire
There's plenty of other stuff you can do if you take a break in Warwickshire this December. Christmas at the British Motor Museum begins on the weekend of 8 and 9 December, with a Christmas Crafts weekend. You'll make a pull-back (friction-powered) motor, as well as festive sleighs, and robins!
A Christmas Reindeer Trail and Festive Family Tours run from 8 to 23 December. The museum closes for Christmas and New Year then reopens on Wednesday 2 January with 'LEGO Techniques' activities and family tours.
Warwick Castle dresses for Christmas from 25 November, and the guides promise "yuletide glee aplenty with a feast of events and attractions including our Stories with Santa and a Winter Wedding in The Princess Tower."
Shakespeare Christmas 2018
Prices: Couple, electric hook-up, In December per night
Kingsbury Water Park C&CC
Bodymoor Heath Lane, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands B76 0DY
T 01827 874101
Open All year Price £21 (in December)
This site is about 45 minutes from Stratford, and well located for Coventry and Birmingham. It's a large site with clean facilities. Non-members are welcome, but pay up to 30% more.
Dodwell Park Camping & Caravan Site
Evesham Road, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire
T 01789 204957
Open All year Price £21(in December)
Dodwell Park is a family-run campsite just two miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. It's well located for the Christmas festivities in Stratford and other top attractions including Anne Hathaway's cottage, Warwick Castle, and the British Motor Museum. The site offers toilets and washrooms with free hot showers, dishwashing, and a shop.
Chapel Lane Campsite
Chapel Lane, Wythall, Birmingham, West Midlands
T 01564 826483
Open All year Price £19.60 (in December)
This site is half an hour's drive from Stratford-upon-Avon. It's also handy for Birmingham city centre, the Black Country Museum, and Cadbury World. The site offers mostly hardstanding pitches, electric hook-up, and clean and tidy washing facilities.
Non-members are welcome but must pay an additional £12 per night. Chapel Lane is a good base for the NEC Birmingham too, which hosts the Caravan & Motorhome Show.
Stratford Christmas market
7 to 9 December
Magic Alley at Christmas
17 November to Christmas Eve
British Motor Museum Festive Family Tours
8 to 23 December
Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market
15 November to 23 December