Despite its worldwide fame, STRATFORD-UPON-AVON is at heart an unassuming market town with an unexceptional pedigree. A charter for Stratford’s weekly market was granted in the twelfth century and the town later became an important stopping-off point for stagecoaches between London, Oxford and the north. Like all such places, Stratford had its clearly defined class system and within this typical milieu John and Mary Shakespeare occupied the middle rank, and would have been forgotten long ago had their first son, William, not turned out to be the greatest writer ever to use the English language. Nowadays this ordinary little town is all but smothered by package-tourist hype and, in the summer at least, its central streets groan under the weight of thousands of tourists. Don’t let that deter you: the Royal Shakespeare Company offers superb theatre and if you are willing to forego the busiest attractions – principally Shakespeare’s Birthplace – you can avoid the crush. All Stratford’s key attractions – many of them owned and run by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – are dotted around the centre, a flat and compact slice of land spreading back from the River Avon.

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