Well, after the horror that was the RSC, we had a better day on Wednesday, exploring Alcester, a small market town dating from Roman times, about 10 miles from Stratford. This had a lovely centre, with loads of independent shops,lots of bunting still up from their royal wedding street party, and plenty of reasonably priced places to have a meal.
We then went a couple of miles out of Alcester, to Coughton Court, another National Trust property. It has been the home of the same family since the 15th century and was at the centre of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. The Throckmorten family who live there were prominent in Tudor times, then fell out of favour as they were Catholics - if you climb up to the tower in the house you can still see a priest hole where a Catholic priest would have been hidden if the Protestants had come hunting during the years of Catholic persecution. Later on, in the 18th and 19th century the family were prominent in Catholic emancipation, and one of them became the first Catholic MP. There are also two churches in the grounds, the original one that became Church of England at the Reformation, and a Catholic one, built in 1855, once it was possible to worship freely. If you climbed on up the tower past the priest hole you could also stand on the tower roof for views over the property!
Thursday was spent exploring first Baddesley Clinton, a National Trust property north of Warwick. This one dates from the 13th century and has a moat and even more priest holes than Coughton Court. Plus some beautifully laid out grounds and a (small) lake.
And second, Packwood House, only a couple of miles from Baddesley, and a completely bonkers historic house - basically a 16th century house extensively modified in the early 20th century to make it look more, erm, Tudor. The owner then gave it to the National Trust so that it would stay just like that. This one was fun as we were allowed to take photos (without flash) inside the house.
And the gardens here were incredibly. A set of massive yew trees, known as the "Sermon on the Mount", beautiful flowers and yet another lake to walk round. Unfortunately they'd had a power cut so we had to go back to Baddesley to have a cup of tea(!).
Friday was our last day, and more of a pottering around kind of day. I spent most of the morning at Stratford knitting group - a nice friendly group that meets in a café near Shakespeare's birthplace. One of their members who I also "know" from Archers Listeners got in touch after hearing about our dreadful RSC experience and invited me along (good thing I took the laptop on holiday, and whinged about the RSC online!), but I would highly recommend looking in advance for local knitting groups if you're going on holiday somewhere - nice people to meet, yarn shop recommendations, local recommendations, the chance to pretend you're not really a tourist but are hanging out with the locals...
We then went over to Leamington Spa to have some lunch in the Royal Pump Rooms, then wandered over to find Web of Wool, which I'd visited on last year's holiday. One sad knitter had to stand outside a very shut shop - although obviously someone was expecting to be there that day as there was a pint of milk on the doorstep!
And after picking up a leaflet at Leamington tourist information, we decided to spend the afternoon at Ryton Organic Gardens, a short drive away. These were really cool, the headquarters of Garden Organic, whose catalogue I get, but I'd never thought of them having an actual place you could visit. They had some cool interactive displays, giant plastic vegetables to stand next to (!) and beautiful gardens to wander around. I liked playing with the compost bins...
And that was pretty much the end of the holiday. Except, I saw this in a shop window in Stratford: