Earlier this month I enjoyed a few days away in Shakespeare country. Husband and I spent three nights at the Billesley Manor Hotel, situated a few miles west of Stratford-upon-Avon. A manor house has existed on this site since before the Norman Conquest. The current Elizabethan Grade 2 listed building has benefitted from a recent multi-million pound refurbishment, retaining character but adding contemporary touches.
We stayed in one of several rooms located in converted stone barns, across a carpark from the hotel reception area. It was modern, clean, spacious and comfortable, although the soundproofing between rooms was such that I could hear neighbouring guests as they moved around, chatted and then later snored. Wi-Fi in the barn was notably glitchy compared to that available in the manor. If we return we may choose to stay in the main building.
Our room was serviced daily, including replenishment of the hospitality tray and bathroom products. A small teddy bear was provided that residents were invited to take home. Of course, we did.
The manor includes a library where Shakespeare is reputed to have written his play, As You Like It. The room is now a games lounge with books on the ceiling.
Adjacent to the hotel grounds is the preserved 11th Century church where the bard married Anne Hathaway (not the only church in the area to make this claim). We walked along local lanes into town to visit her cottage. It was closed for the winter but quieter and more atmospheric for this.
Located amidst rolling countryside and therefore with fewer dining options, we had booked in on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. On the first evening we were treated to a complimentary cocktail. Dinner choices were delicious – well cooked and beautifully presented – although sadly these changed little over our three night stay. Without being told, staff picked up it was husband’s birthday and kindly provided an appropriately presented pudding.
Breakfast included a cold buffet of juice, fruit, cereals and pastries. Tea or coffee were brought to our table and refilled on request. A tasty, full English breakfast was also available but no other hot options. We were pleased this meal was offered until 10.30am, enabling us to take part in the Stratford-upon-Avon Parkrun without having to rush.
The hotel grants guests inclusive use of its spa – a small gym, 12m indoor pool, sauna and steam room. Treatments are also available although we did not try any of these.
The grounds include two tennis courts and a topiary garden inspired by Alice in Wonderland. We enjoyed the short wander this offered. Had the weather been warmer we could have requested equipment for other outdoor games.
A short walk across fields from Billesley is the village of Wilmcote where Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother, was raised. Her family farm has been preserved for tourists but was closed for the winter.
The Stratford-upon-Avon Canal runs through Wilmcote and may be followed into town, passing a steep flight of locks, the final one of which links the canal to the River Avon.
Adjacent to the river are the various theatres in which the Royal Shakespeare Company performs. We considered booking tickets for a matinee but the production looked to be some sort of modern interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing that didn’t appeal. Instead, we explored the pretty town alongside many other tourists. Even in the off season, the place was busy.
Back at the hotel we enjoyed seeking out little touches that make a place more memorable. The dog statue, doggy treats and water bowls by the front door made clear such pets are welcome – a guest staying in an adjacent barn room had a snuffling companion who they walked in the grounds. The bar area, with its cosy open fires, was overlooked by a minstrel’s gallery. We appreciated the atmosphere created by the dark wood panelling, including several ‘hidden’ doors, but not so much the colourful ink splodges adorning more traditional portraits. The globes above the bar may or may not have been a hat-tip to the London theatre.
Staff throughout were welcoming and attentive making our stay relaxing and pleasant. We enjoyed our few days away – the walks, history and literary links that, although Shakespeare focused, included mentions of other luminaries. The rolling Warwickshire countryside reminded us of our home county, Wiltshire. I can think of no better accolade.