Entrance Tickets – Mary Arden’s House, Wilmcote near Stratford upon Avon

“Step back in time for all the sights, smells and sounds of a real Tudor farm and explore the house where Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, grew up.”  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Website

In 1930 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased a property in the village of Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, made some improvements to it, added some authentic Tudor furniture and other contemporary everyday items and declared it to be the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.

This belief was based on supposed historical evidence dating back to the 18th century, when a historian unearthed records of the Arden family in Wilmcote who made the connection with the property based on the rather flimsy fact that Mary’s father, Robert was a wealthy farmer who lived in the village.

For many years after that the Trust proudly showed thousands of tourists and school children around the beautiful half timbered house facing the road in leafy Wilmcote, telling people all about the time when Mary Arden lived there in the sixteenth century.  The image of the lovely house (top of page) was on chocolate box lids, tea towels and postcards and tourists bought dozens of mementoes of Mary Arden’s House to take home with them.  This for example was a jigsaw puzzle box lid from the 1940s:

My first visit to the house was on a school trip from the Hillmorton County School near Rugby, also in Warwickshire, on a day visiting Shakespeare’s town of Stratford sometime in the 1960s.  I don’t have any real recollection of that trip because it was over forty years ago but I do remember visiting with French town twinning guests from Evreux  in 1977 and later taking visitors there when I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1986 to 1987 on every occasion sticking to the official Mary Arden Story.

On 12th February 1995 I took my ten year old daughter Sally to visit Stratford and naturally included a visit to Mary Arden’s House for the very reasonable entrance fee of £1.30 (it now costs £12.50) which by this time was also a countryside and agricultural heritage museum and inside the house Trust members were on hand to provide a comprehensive historical narrative.  A very comprehensive narrative indeed by an elderly gentleman and one that went on at great length about Tudor life and how Mary Arden had sat in front of the fire in the Great Hall, helped prepare food in the kitchen and had slept in one of the bedrooms on the first floor.  It was all very interesting information but it subsequently turned out to be a lot of old nonsense!

In 2000 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had a huge shock because during routine timber treatment, it was discovered that the timber used to construct the house was dated too late to be linked to Mary Arden’s early life and this couldn’t therefore be her house after all, she hadn’t sat in the Great Hall or helped out in the kitchen and further historical research revealed that the large house actually belonged to a family called Palmer, and had to be promptly re-named Palmer’s Farm.

For a while it was thought that Mary Arden’s family home was lost to history and the Trust had lost a valuable asset and a sticky tourist trap.  Lucky for them then that another small house on the estate which they had purchased in 1968 with a view of demolition and close to Palmer’s Farm, was also wood tested and technology was able to pin point the time the wood in this house was cut.  The Birthplace Trust declared this to be the Spring of the year 1514, the dates tallied with Mary Arden and the members of the Trust breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.  Visitors would still come!

This time the Trust carried out more thorough research and what the records revealed was that Shakespeare’s grandfather, Robert Arden, had bought the land in Wilmcote in 1514 and built the house that had sat next to Palmer’s Farm,  The house that for hundreds of years was largely overlooked and ignored because it was considerably less interesting than the farm house.  Mary Arden’s house had been there in Wilmcote all the time, smaller and more modest than anyone had thought.

The last time I visited Mary Arden’s house (the real one that is) was in 2010 and as I paid my admission charge I was minded to ask for a refund on all the previous visits on the basis that I had been seriously misled and provided with false information on several previous occasions.

Sadly however, although the Birthplace Trust itself is now clear about which house belonged to who many other tourist web sites still show a picture of Palmer’s Farm instead of Mary Arden’s house because it is significantly more picturesque and interesting.

Spanish Islands, Postcards from Fuertuventura

Fuertuventura Postcard 1

Fuertuventura Postcard 01

Fuertuventura Postcard 05

Fuertuventura Postcard Traditional Dancers

Spanish Islands, Fuertuventura and Cofete Beach

Fuertuventura Postcard 02

I can date quite accurately the time when I began to question the content and value of my annual holidays, it was in the early 2000s, my young family were growing up and leaving home and there was no longer a need for an annual visit to a beach resort for sun, sand and sea.

One of my last holidays of this kind was to the Spanish Canary Island of Fuertuventura and I wouldn’t really consider boring you with the details of long days spent by the pool at the Fuertuventura Princess Hotel near the resort town of Jandia or lying around on the sand on the twenty-five long kilometre beach and enjoying the freedom of naturist sunbathing except for the fact that Fuertuventura happens to have had possibly the best beach that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting – Cofete.

Cofete is a small village in the south-western part of the Jandia peninsula on the island and nearby it has a sandy windswept Atlantic facing beach that is about five kilometers long and so gloriously empty that every person on it gets about a thousand square metres of  space all to themselves.  The relentless surf pounds the beach and smashes the sand and the place is not really suitable for safe bathing and the advice is that you shouldn’t really swim here unless you are the man from Atlantis or Aquaman because of the high waves and the strong current and the danger of being swept out to sea with nowhere to go but North America!

Cofete Beach Fuerteventura

There is something curiously mysterious about it, deserted, solitary, lonely and brooding away in the background are the eight-hundred metre high wilderness mountains of Jandia. The spine of these barren peaks seem to separate the beach from the inhabited holiday side half of the island with the safer but busier tourist beaches.  The weather is almost constantly breezy, the waves are always mountainous and the beach appears breathtakingly eerie but nevertheless beautiful.  There are never many people on the beach because it is so inaccessible and there are no lifeguards to rely on in an emergency.

To get there it is necessary to drive over twenty kilometres of exhausting pot-holed track that in some places only allows for single file traffic.  Some of the passing places have steep drops to the side, and the journey can only realistically be tackled in a jeep or four-wheel drive vehicle (it is prohibited to take a regular hire car there) and believe me it is a really uncomfortable journey, but one worth making nevertheless.  The route there goes through the very pretty Punta Pesebre, the Playa de los Ojos (Eyes beach), which is difficult to access, and the fishing port of Puerto de la Cruz before the lovely Playa de las Pilas.

At the end of the unmade road the little village of Cofete is a collection of wooden shacks built from driftwood and materials washed up by the waves and most are only lived in by ageing hippies at the weekend.  At the end of the long ash choked track there is a simple but welcome bar where a cold beer cuts through the dust in the back of the throat and prepares you well before going to the sea to wash off the grime from the journey.

On a second day we drove north but stayed on the eastern coast of the island and visited the busy tourist beach of Corralajo where previous sunbathers had built black volcanic stone shelters to keep out the wind and where people stretched out naked on the caramel sand inside.  It didn’t compare to Cofete of course so we didn’t stay very long but made a driving tour of the coastline starting at Lajares at the very north where the waves of the Atlantic crash over the rocks and where two windmills are the only real tourist attraction before taking a meandering route down the coast stopping every now and again in a desperate but ultimately futile attempt to discover something interesting.

Except for Cofete I found Fuertuventura to be instantly forgettable.  It is the second largest of the Canary Islands after Tenerife and there are simply miles and miles of absolutely bugger all!  Good for that relaxing beach side holiday but absolutely hopeless for someone with itchy feet like me!

Cofete Beach Fortuventura Canary Islands Spain

Weekly Photo Challenge: Up Top

Atienza Castle - The Top (1)

The medieval castle of Atienza in Central Spain stands on top of an impregnable fortress hill.  On the top of he highest tower is a flagpole…

Atienza Castle Spain

Postcards from Malta

malta-map

“Valletta equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe. The city is one of the most beautiful, for its architecture and the splendour of its streets that I know: something between Venice and Cadiz.” Benjamin Disraeli

Malta Boats Luzzu

Malta Mdina

Valletta Postcard

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Holy Week and the Semana Santa in Sigüenza

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 1

The Semana Santa is one of the most important traditional events of the Spanish Catholic year; it is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features a procession of Pasos which are floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion. 

At the heart of Semana Santa are the brotherhoods, associations of Catholic laypersons organized for the purpose of performing public acts of religious observance and to perform public penance.  They organise the street parades and also undertake many other self-regulated religious activities, charitable and community work.

In Sigüenza the Semana Santa is organised by the Brotherhood of the Vera Cruz which dates from 1536 and whose members carry the heavy wooden sculptures dressed in armour and military uniform from the days of Spanish Empire in Flanders and the Netherlands.

Only a member of the Brotherhood may take part in the Parade and although membership is open to any baptised person there are some complex internal rules that generally limit who can participate in a procession.  Very often these permissions are passed down through families like a precious heirloom and I have read that in some cases it can take many years to be granted a permission – even longer than getting membership of the Augusta National Golf Club in the USA or the surviving Hereditary Peer’s Club at the House of Lords in London.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 2

The Parade started more or less on time (which is generally rather unusual in Spain) in a dark public park at the bottom of the town and set off slowly in the direction of the cathedral, swaying and sweeping and accompanied by the rhythmic throb of heavy drums and the mournful wailing of trumpets .

First came the men in black cloaks and pointy hats who, although bearing a sinister resemblance to the Ku Klux Klan, in fact precede this rather unpleasant racist organisation by several hundred years, and whose robes are meant to depict the Nazareños or people from Nazareth.  They walked slowly as though their shoelaces were tied together and their conical hoods swayed slightly from side to side as the occupant struggled to see through the two tiny eye slits as they coped with the restricted vision of the hood.

The hoods are called capirotes and were originally designed so that the faithful could repent in anonymity, without being recognised as self-confessed sinners.

After the man who had the responsibility of carrying a rather heavy and unwieldy looking cross came the first of the religious floats, weighing several hundred kilograms each and carried by at least ten strong men who even so had to stop quite frequently to take a breather and rest the floats on wooden poles and on account of these regular stops the progress of the Parade was quite slow.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3

The theatrical display of pageantry and celebration moved slowly along a straight flat road but soon turned left and had to tackle a long energy sapping climb up a steep street that led to the cathedral and required ever more frequent stops.  Each time the float carriers set the structure down on their stout wooden poles, breathed a well deserved sigh of relief and took a few moments to recover their composure.  One thing was certain – these things were heavy – very heavy indeed.  Eventually some clever person in command (clever because he was not carrying the heavy lump on his shoulders) tapped a pole on the ground which meant resume carrying position and then tapped it a second time which meant commence walking.

The magnificently presented sculptures were punctuated with bands of drummers who beat out a steady pulsing rhythm in time with the marching of the men in military uniform carrying the pasos and then the penitents in silken gowns of pristine white and occasionally purple flowing around their ankles and they all marched, sometimes shuffled, slowly and in sombre fashion to the top of the hill and eventually to the cathedral square where one-by-one each of the floats were taken inside the main doors and manoeuvred carefully into position on top of the church pews.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 4

Semana Santa Siguenza Cathedral

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument

La Colonne de la Grande Armée Boulogne France

La Colonne de la Grande Armée, Boulogne-Sur-Mer, Boulogne

The column was erected in the 1840s and is a fifty-three metre-high monument topped with a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte. (Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square is shorter at forty-six metres high).  It marks the base camp where Napoleon massed France’s biggest ever army of eighty thousand men ready to invade England.

It was initially intended to commemorate a successful invasion of England, but this proved to be a bit premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now commemorates instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur.

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