The Thirteen Shakespeare suicides – at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon

One of the delights of visiting the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon is that even if you’re not seeing a play, there’s always some free exhibition to enjoy as you explore the theatre building. As I was meeting a friends for lunch at the Arden Hotel, just opposite the theatre, we popped over to look at the Thirteen exhibition of photographic images by George Chakravarthi.

Lady Macbeth from the Thirteen exhibition at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Lady Macbeth from the Thirteen exhibition at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon

The premise of this artistic project is to capture the spirit of the thirteen unfortunate Shakespearean characters who committed suicide in his plays, for love, passion, honour or pride. The artist, George Chakravarthi takes the part of every character both male and female, dressing up in costume and the resulting photographs are overlaid with other images of texture and colour.

Cleopatra from the Thirteen exhibition at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cleopatra from the Thirteen exhibition at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon

The free exhibition is in the Swan room of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, which you can enter through the Victorian entrance opposite the Arden Hotel and up the stairs immediately to the right. The room is in darkness, with each of the large images displayed backlit with striking effect.

Juliet and Brutus at the Thirteen Exhibition at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

We found the images rich and thought provoking – and even more interesting when you watch the video in which the artist George Chakravarthi explains his thought process for creating each character – watch the video here on Youtube.

Thirteen exhibition at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre -  Orphelia and Goneril Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Visitor Information

The Thirteen exhibition by George Chakravarthi is in the Swan Room at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon until 29 April 2012. Find more information about this and other exhibitions on the RSC website.

More things to enjoy in Stratford-upon-Avon

Afternoon tea at the Arden with Romeo and Juliet
Season and Wild – at the Waterside Brasserie, Arden Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon
The Tower and other transformations – at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon

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Gothic grandeur at Ettington Park Hotel – near Stratford-upon-Avon – video

There’s something mysterious, perhaps even a little spooky about Ettington Park Hotel, near Stratford-upon-Avon. From the outside it’s a cross between a French chateau with high pitched slate roofs and a Gothic mansion with arched windows and black ravens swooping and squawking around the turrets. It doesn’t surprise me at all to learn that the hotel was the setting for the 1960s ghost film, ‘The Haunting’.

Ettington Park Hotel near Stratford upon Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels

Ettington Park Hotel near Stratford upon Avon

But walk through the tiled conservatory area and into the entrance and you’re in a very warm and welcoming lobby, where the friendly concierge invites us to take a seat at the desk to be checked in. He helps us with our small weekend bags and shows us up the stairs with decorative glazed lantern above, along a few corridors and shows us round our bedroom, chatting with us all the while. We’re here through Secret Escapes who have late booking offers on luxury hotels like Ettington Park, that are ideal for couples like us wanting somewhere special to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

We find a large, square bedroom (mind the step as you walk down) with a triangular bathroom carved out of one corner. The comfortable bed has an imposing mahogany headboard with twisted columns, with matching antique style furniture and a spacious mirrored fitted wardrobe. Inside there’s enough hanging space for a few week’s worth of clothes (if you travel light like me) as well as all the usual conveniences of a 4 star hotel;  a safe, iron, ironing board, hairdryer and kettle to make coffee and tea in the alcove.

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The decor is reminiscent of a smart gentleman’s club – traditional but with luxurious touches in the brown, rust and gold colour scheme, leaf patterned curtains and striped silky throw. We really appreciate the thoughtful details that all make for a comfortable stay; the bedside lights with useful angled reading lights, the easy chairs with a magazines on the table to leaf through and the flat screen TV, well positioned to watch while tucked up in bed. There’s a pretty original Victorian fireplace with pine cones, and a decorative plate on the mantelpiece.

Just as I’m setting up my tripod to capture the room on video, the housekeeper bursts in, not realising that we’ve arrived, to bring us a bottle of local apple juice and some choc chip cookies as a welcome gift. As she departs we laugh about it and wonder whether she thought I was setting up to film some naughtiness – we are celebrating our wedding anniversary after all.  The bathroom is classic white marble with plenty of space – a large bath with shower above and a huge Edwardian style sink with a mirror covering the wall. There are even tiny blue floor level lights in the bathroom in case you need to find your way in the night.

The only fault we can find is that the room is on the warm side and only one of the sash windows will open. Unfortunately my dearly beloved sleeps best in a stiff breeze, and we find the room a little stuffy, but in the morning we notice a temperature controls that we perhaps should have played with.

Bedroom in Ettington Park Hotel near Stratford upon Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels

Bedroom in Ettington Park Hotel near Stratford upon Avon

Having settled into our bedroom, we go downstairs to leaf through the weekend papers the Great Drawing room, with green velvet sofas and leather wing chairs. The large room has an ornate ceiling with gilt carvings and enormous gilded chandeliers, a couple of pretty, romantic paintings on the walls and a grand piano in the corner. On the tables are some tall lilies tied with ribbon, perhaps set out for the wedding reception that’s taking place in the hotel this weekend. If this is the place for coffee and conversation, the cosy bar next door is the place for clinking a glass of warming whisky with leather chesterfields, a brown marble fireplace and a grandfather clock.

Ettington Park Hotel near Stratford upon Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels

Ettington Park Hotel near Stratford upon Avon

Drawing room at Ettington Park Hotel near Stratford upon Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels

Drawing room at Ettington Park Hotel

We wander outside onto the terrace with pretty pots of petunias and a view over the parkland surrounding the hotel. Nearby there’s an old church tower, with the ruins of the church and a few old gravestones under the yew trees. It turns out to be the old parish church of Ettington that was partly demolished at the end of the 18th century when the estate was enclosed and the village moved to it’s present site a few miles away. Before it was made into a luxury hotel in the 1980s, the Ettington Park estate had been in the Shirley family for centuries and was even mentioned in the Domesday book. Shakespeare could well have walked through these grounds, as he was a friend of the family who lived here in the 16th century and purchased his home, The Great House in New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon from them.

Church at Ettington Park Hotel near Stratford upon Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels

Chaurch at Ettington Park Hotel near Stratford upon Avon

We make our way back through the formal garden at the side of the hotel, where medieval statues of kings and queens look down on the formal gravelled gardens. The lavender flowers are dry and aromatic, waiting to made into scented lavender bags and the box hedges contain fuchsias and a few pink roses still in bloom. On the 2nd floor we catch a glimpse of a wedding cake at the window and the waft of laughter from wedding guests, while a few gather in the summerhouse with wine glasses to make a toast.

From here we can admire the creamy stone exterior, designed in the Pugin style with decorative carved friezes and patterned stonework. The statues in the niches give the place an ecclesiastical look and there’s a family chapel with stained glass windows. As we go back inside we peek into the library, full of guests enjoying afternoon tea and the dining room laid out ready for dinner with white cloths and green leather chairs in a marquetry panelled room with heraldic shield motifs. That’s where we come for breakfast the next day with the ideal combination of self-service breakfast buffet and service for the cooked breakfast of your choice, at a table near the window where we can see the garden. We can’t leave without having a quick swim in the small indoor pool that we spotted from our bedroom, and nearly get washed away in the foam and powerful jets of the jacuzzi.

Bathroom at Ettington Park Hotel near Stratford upon Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels

Our bathroom at Ettington Park Hotel

Swimming Pool at Ettington Park Hotel Photo: Heatheronhertravels

Swimming Pool at Ettington Park Hotel

I take a little time to read the history of the hotel that the concierge has kindly brought me and discover that the spooky impression of the building isn’t entirely imaginary and that the house has something of a reputation for ghosts. There’s the ghost of Mary the servant girl who frequents the staircase, the governess dressed in grey who walks the corridors and the flying books in the library, as well as a mysterious toad that was discovered alive in a cavity that had been walled up for a century. Apparently the hotel’s a regular stop for the ghost tours. I’d love to have a ghost story or two to tell, but I’m afraid I can’t report anything but a very pleasant and relaxed weekend in a lovely setting with excellent service. Ah well, perhaps we should come back at Halloween!

Many thanks to Secret Escapes who hosted my stay at Ettington Park Hotel. Secret Escapes is a members-only website that’s free to join and offers last minute deals at four and five-star luxury and boutique hotels with very special prices. Secret Escapes works with a hand-picked selection of hotels offering luxury breaks, ranging from UK country house retreats to city breaks and beach resorts.

Ettington Park Hotel, Alderminster, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 8BU

We stayed in a Classic Room in the main house which would typically cost £190-230 bed and breakfast for a Saturday night stay – but do check out Secret Escapes for last minute deals on Ettington Park and other luxury hotels.

More things to see near Ettington Park

Glorious Autumn Colour at Hidcote Manor Gardens – Video
The Tower and other Transformations at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon
A day out in Tetbury – in Gloucestershire

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Country house classic at the Menzies Welcombe Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon – Video


We took a winter weekend break at the Menzies Welcombe Hotel near Stratford-upon-Avon in a mock Jacobean country house set in parkland with its own golf course and spa – read on for my review and video…

We pass the Victorian gatehouse and turn up the drive, lined with groves of beech trees and just the odd sign to hint at the golf course that’s set in the grounds of the Welcombe Hotel. It’s an old country house, built in the 1870s in Jacobean style for a local family, but was turned into a hotel in the 1930s and has been run by the Menzies Hotel Group for nearly ten years.

Menzies Welcombe Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon

Menzies Welcombe Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon

The car park is at the side of the hotel, and we pass through the inconspicuous doorway, past the two doormen, to check in. Oops, their key machine is broken, so they’re not able to give us a card key, but the inconvenience is played down most charmingly and we’re told that instead a member of staff will personally accompany us to open our room.

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We walk through the rather grand oak panelled drawing room, where a fire is burning in the fireplace and a group of girls that looks like a hen party are sitting around chatting. Onward down the corridor and we reach the Garden Annexe, a modern wing built on the site of an old winter garden. Having checked out the website, I’d expected four-posters and traditional decor that are to be found in the a main hotel building, but here the rooms are decorated in contemporary style in shades of soft yellow, green and oatmeal, echoing the formal gardens outside the window.

Garden room at Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Garden room at Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

It’s all perfectly pleasant, with the conveniences of hair dryer (in it’s own marked drawer), tea and coffee making and an iron with ironing board. The fitted desks and wardrobes give the room a slightly corporate feel that makes me think more of a business hotel than a haven of leisure and relaxation, and the bathroom has a classic black and white theme and twinkling black marble surfaces. Everything is clean and comfortable although in a minor housekeeping lapse, my bedside light is not working.

Garden room at Menzies Welcombe  Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Bathroom at the Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Garden room  at Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Garden room at Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The metal windows are disguised by curtains, but we have a lovely view out on to the formal gardens with their box hedges, fountains and classical statues. With the winter sun shining on it, it makes an attractive outlook and I’m sure it would be even nicer in spring and summer when the bedding displays of primroses and rose beds are in flower. The hotel is a popular wedding venue and these gardens are the place for the perfect wedding photo with the grand mock Jacobean house, fountains and flowers in the background.

Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford upon Avon

Gardens at the Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford upon Avon

Once settled in, it’s back to the oak panelled hall where most guests are relaxing with lunch or a coffee and we sit close to the fire that’s burning in the imposing marble fireplace with twisted columns and a classical picture of sailing ships above it. Every so often the doorman walks by, solemnly bearing a single log and lays it on the fire. We establish ourselves on the patterned velvet sofa to read our paper for a while and glance around for the staff to order some lunch. They appear to all be preoccupied in the kitchen, or moving chairs around in the adjoining dining room, but eventually we catch someone’s eye and order sandwiches from the menu – prawn salad for me and beef with horseradish for dearly beloved. After the wait to order, the service is friendly and prompt, but by this time we’re feeling the heat of the fire so we move to a table by the window with leather wing chairs where we eat our sandwiches, served club style with some crisps and coleslaw on the side.

I eye up the other guests trying to judge the type of person who comes to the  Menzies Welcombe hotel – it seems popular with groups of friends and couples getting together, and there are a few that I notice being greeted as regulars by the staff. Judging by the room we pass being set up for an evening dinner dance, it’s a popular spot for the business bash too – with golf for the men and the spa for the ladies. There are a couple of folders on display with press clippings about the hotel and photos from some of the weddings that have been held here.

Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Pannelled hall at the Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Menzies  Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Sandwich lunch at the Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

My husband, who is suffering from a heavy cold decides to spend the afternoon relaxing at the hotel, while I pop into Stratford-upon-Avon just 5 minutes down the road. I spend a happy hour or two exploring the Royal Shakespeare Theatre that has just re-opened after a 4 year building project, looking around the free exhibitions, browsing the shop in the foyer for interesting gifts and take a tour up to the Tower for a view over the town. The theatre opened to visitors in the autumn of 2010 but the new season of Shakespeare productions opens in Spring 2011 and I’m very tempted to come back another time and see Romeo and Juliet.

Having spent the evening in town, we missed out on dining in the hotel, but get the opportunity to enjoy the grand dining room overlooking the formal gardens at breakfast. There’s plenty with a choice of all the usual hot dishes, cereals and pastries laid out and we get a table by the window to enjoy the view.

The one thing we haven’t tried yet is the hotel spa and pool complex and now we wish we had more time to linger there. The entrance looks as if it was an old coach house but behind it is a modern building with water sculpture and a high glass roof. My husband is still suffering so decides to chill out with a coffee and the Sunday papers in the light and airy cafe and reception area, while I try out the pool.

Pool at Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Pool at Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Spa at Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

Spa at Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The changing areas are lovely and I try out one of the foot spas with bubbles tickling my toes before swimming a few lengths in the turquoise mosaic tiled pool. There are heated tiled recliners and plenty of loungers to stretch out on. I share the pool with a couple of dads having fun with their young children, splashing around in the circular bubbling jacuzzi at one end. If dearly beloved had been up to it I wouldn’t have minded spending the best part of a day in here, trying out all the steam rooms and saunas and perhaps treating myself to a massage or facial. In another section through the glass doors there’s an adults only larger jacuzzi and also a small gym and exercise room if you’re feeling really energetic. It’s a fabulous venue for groups of ladies or anyone looking for some pampering me-time.

We’ve easily spent the best part of the weekend enjoying what the Welcombe Hotel has to offer, but there’s plenty more to explore in Stratford-upon-Avon, with the attractive river-side areas, picturesque half-timbered houses from Shakespeare’s day and the different houses associated with Shakespeare to visit in and around the town. Until next time….

The Menzies Welcombe Hotel is great for…

The Menzies Welcombe hotel is especially suitable for groups of friends and extended family and for celebration get togethers. It’s also popular for corporate events and weddings in summer. If you enjoy a round of golf or are looking for a spa break the Welcombe hotel is an ideal choice. The hotel is a short distance outside Stratford-upon-Avon town centre, so ideal for those who want to combine relaxing in parkland surroundings with some sightseeing. We especially enjoyed the attractive formal gardens, relaxing in front of the open fire in the panelled drawing room and the delightful modern spa and pool.

More things to do in the area

Seasonal and Wild – The Waterside Brasserie at the Arden Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon
The Tower and other transformations at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
A winter walk on Edge Hill near Banbury

We stayed as a guest of the Menzies Welcombe Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon – many thanks to them for accommodating us.

Compare prices and book the Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford with Hotels Combined

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