I love visiting Stratford-upon-Avon because there’s so much to do. When N’s a little older I shall take him on one of the red open top tour buses, but in the meantime we’ll be working our way around the various individual places to visit. Our most recent was a trip to Mary Arden’s farm over the last bank holiday weekend.
I remember visiting years ago as a child (I definitely take after my mum in wanting to make sure N has some great experiences and learns from the practical side of things to bring learning to life) so was keen to see if I remembered it. Mary Arden was William Shakespeare’s mother, and the farm was her childhood home. It’s still a working farm and you get to experience the farm as it works, along with people dressed in Tudor costumes.
As well as the general activities and animals around the farm, there was also a green man trail. I picked up a sheet even though N said he didn’t want to do it, but in the end we did do some green men spotting although we didn’t get them all. I do think when you pay, you should be told about the children’s trails. We weren’t even though we arrived early before it got busy, but I was on the lookout because I’d checked the website the day before. That’s always worth doing because you can arrange your visit so that you get to see the activities at the set times.
First of all we went for a general amble round the farm. The specific activities – creating your own sheep, and shearing, weren’t happening until lunch time, so I didn’t think that we’d still be there for that.
We had a go first on the green courtyard at playing quoits. N did make me laugh – it took him a while to realise that the aim was to throw the quoit onto the hoops and not just chuck them wildly.
The route through the manor house to the farm meant we got to see the workshops for basket weaving
And wood turning. Unfortunately there was no one working, but N was still interested to ask questions.
N wasn’t too sure about the first pig sty.
‘Why are they in there mummy?’
‘That’s where they’re kept’
And the same questions about the ducks and why they had their water in a trough. Sometimes the questions do get a bit much!
Palmer’s Farmhouse is much as it was in the 1500s. Inside we could watch a cook making food on the fire. N refused to come inside, but it was really interesting to ask questions and see the different foods they might have made.
It’s quite a compact place to visit so perfect for young children with plenty to see. We wandered through the barns set up for later activities, and got a bit close as the geese were walked into their hurdle area to do their ‘show’.
We got to learn about how to keep geese in control while herding them (tip, they like personal space, so walk into it and they’ll move), and how to get them to back off if they seem to be attacking (make yourself as big as possible, arms out etc, and they’ll back off thinking you’re a bigger bird than them. When we were at school and had geese, the head of the school farm always used to tell us to wave paper like wings – guess that’s the same idea of making big!).
We didn’t stay to look at the owl and falconry talk and display which was happening at the time we were there, instead we played a spot of tudor snakes and ladders.
Then it was off to check out the playground. The playground is brilliant. Lots of wooden play equipment to climb, swing and slide on and down. N was in his element
Firstly he rode a horse, and bossed me around, ordering me into the cart so he could drive me to school.
Then the goat got some riding action (ok, that didn’t sound as rude in my head).
And N made good use of every type of swing before more children turned up.
We then had a bit of time before heading back to get some lunch, so wandered off to see the sheep. We met one of the guys who worked at the farm, and he told us about the different types of sheep they have. N was interested in why the sheep had horns (it’s the breed they are), and then the cows when we saw them in their fields (they’ve not been dehorned like our cows are. He seemed to think it was only bulls who had horns so I had to explain that cows and calves also grew them, but mostly they were removed on commercial farms).
They also have some strange wild boar like curly haired pigs. To me it was really hard to see where mud and pig started and ended, but N wasn’t interested in them anyway.
He just wanted to run along by the cows. He wasn’t even that interested in the newborn twin calves either.
Once we’d reached the end of the cow’s paddocks, we arrived at the edge of the wildflower meadow.
They have a path mowed into it, so you can walk through it without disturbing the flowers which is lovely. We walked all the way round, although it was a shame we had to back track rather than the path leading back out the other end.
Considering it was a bank holiday weekend, I would have expected it to be busier, but we pretty much had the wildflower meadow to ourselves. In fact the whole farm didn’t feel crowded at all.
Once we’d had our fill of the yellow field, it was time to get back for lunch. N stopped for a moment to watch and listen to the olde English musicians. I don’t think he was very impressed with the music though, and refused to dance around with a little girl of similar age who was dancing nearby.
The café is a reasonable size, and going at around 12pm we didn’t need to queue. They had the obligatory children’s lunchbox which was perfectly ok. I’m not sure a huge pack of standard Walkers crisps was to be expected though. I’d have preferred slightly smaller packs or an offer of slightly more healthy crisps like baked or ‘childrens’ versions which tend to be less saltier. It included a homemade shortbread biscuit, juice drink, and a standard adult sized yoghurt, and sandwiches (cheese or ham). The latter didn’t really go down well with N who usually loves any type of bread, but this was a heavy plaited style roll. Personally, I think a wider range of children would prefer bog standard sandwich rather than fancy.
The rest of the menu was light bite in style. You could choose some Tudor inspired meals, although I struggled to find something I fancied. I ended up with a brie, bacon and pesto panini which wasn’t particularly tasty, although the salad dressing was nice. I’m slack because I really should bring a picnic to places – there were places to eat undercover which is quite unusual, so even on a wet day, picnics were feasible.
Before leaving we checked out the house. The ground floor had people doing traditional spinning and wool crafts, although N didn’t want to have a go like the other children were. The house had displays about the building of the house with wattle and daub, you could see inside some of the walls, with other rooms set up as they may have been all those years ago. It was certainly interested to note how low some of the doorways were in the upstairs – due to the cost of building bigger doors!
There were also some interactive displays for you to find out more about the history of Tudor houses.
All in all we had a great visit to Mary Arden’s farm, and there was still more we could have discovered and enjoyed had N been more compliant or a bit older to enjoy the more educational side.
As we left there was a red open top tour bus just dropping people off, which prompted questions from N about where the bus then went. There’s so much to see in Stratford-upon-Avon, and apart from the traffic jams to get back to the side that we needed to be, this was a great start to the various Shakespeare houses around the town.
Have you ever visited Stratford-upon-Avon? What’s your favourite place to visit there?