Of course, the county’s charming landscapes have inspired many other writers, too, and make an unusually refreshing backdrop for cultural breaks – it doesn’t all happen in cities! Tour in the steps of George Eliot, experience new poetry ‘on location’, enjoy the perfect spot for a good read. Exciting sculptures in beautiful gardens, world-class art in historic settings, theatre and music just around the corner: that’s culture in the countryside.
A stay in Warwickshire’s countryside is the perfect base for catching one of the Bard’s plays performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, or visiting the Shakespeare Houses in and around his birthplace at Stratford.
It’s also astonishing just how many of our rural haunts link to England’s greatest playwright. He descended from farmers in the ancient Forest of Arden and there were Shakespeares in and around the villages of Balsall, Rowington, Wroxall, Knowle and Packwood. Not for nothing are William’s works full of rustic images of flowers, trees and animals.
Visit the pretty village of Aston Cantlow, on The Arden Way walk through delightful Shakespearian countryside, and explore the church where his parents were married in 1557; then relax in The King’s Head where they reputedly held their wedding breakfast. Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway at Temple Grafton (though not in the present church).Credit David Stowell
‘Play fast and loose’ and ‘madcap’ are just two Shakespearian expressions that have enriched our language. Well, he did have a rollicking reputation. Sort fact from fiction at Charlecote Park, where he allegedly poached deer – more likely, he ridiculed owner Sir Thomas Lucy as Justice Shallow (The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV – Part II) for his persecution of Catholics. Then raise a glass at The Bell Inn, Welford-on-Avon, where William reputedly supped with Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson. You might also care to find out about his infamous drinking competition at Bidford-on-Avon.
Of course, Shakespeare didn’t just play, he wrote them, and legend says he penned As You Like It at (private) Shakespeare Hall, Rowington – a one-time home of a branch of the family, it may be glimpsed from the Heart of England Way. And in his youth did William ever meet Raphael Holinshed, who spent his last years at Packwood? Shakespeare certainly liked to consult Holinshed’s Chronicles for his history plays.Credit ©NTPL/David Levenson
Continue in the literary groove with a tour of George Eliot Country, in northern Warwickshire. The world-famous Victorian author was born Mary Ann Evans at South Farm on the Arbury Estate in 1819, where her father worked as a land agent. Living in the area for the next 21 years, she distilled her experiences into works like Scenes of Clerical Life and The Mill on the Floss.
Follow in Eliot’s steps on a walking, cycling and driving tour, including the highlight of Arbury Hall – Cheverel Manor in Mr Gilfil’s Love Story. Eliot tells how Cheverel/Arbury is transformed into ‘the model of a Gothic manor-house’, and you can still admire the saloon with tracery ‘like petrified lace-work’ and other details she describes. Also look up Astley (‘Knebley’) Church and Griff House, Eliot’s childhood home – now a restaurant, pub and hotel, it nevertheless evokes the Tullivers’ ‘trimly-kept, comfortable dwelling house’ in The Mill on the Floss.Credit David Stowell
Rural Warwickshire’s allure for readers goes beyond simply the places that inspired writers. It’s becoming a bit of a booklovers’ paradise per se. Rummage to your heart’s content around Astley Book Farm, one of the country’s largest secondhand bookshops and surely one of the most atmospheric – hoarded in beamed former farm buildings on the Arbury Estate. Find just what you want amid some 75,000 tomes, from antiquarian to popular fiction, and of course a wide range of George Eliot literature.
Also explore the nearby ‘book town’ of Atherstone, where shops like Throckmorton’s, heaving with 25,000 general secondhand books, first editions and rarities, will keep you enthralled for hours.Credit Britainonview
Once you’ve selected your books – or brought your own favourite volume – why not find a scenic place to sit and read: a wonderful escape from our busy world, but easy to indulge in Warwickshire’s picturesque countryside. Choose a still summer’s day and a quiet bench in the churchyard of St Lawrence, Napton-on-the-Hill, a highpoint offering vistas of six other counties on clear days. Take a stroll and settle beside a tree-lined lake in Kingsbury Water Park. Perhaps linger outside a canalside pub or stretch out on the grass of the Big Meadow at Bidford-on-Avon.
You are also welcome to relax and read in the atmospheric Great Hall of moated medieval Baddesley Clinton. Or peruse family papers and magazines at Upton House and Garden, just like the 1930s house party guests of Lord and Lady Bearsted.Credit Britainonview
And here’s a novel – or rather, poetic – idea: a chance to experience new verse in a landscape with rich links to England’s great poetic traditions. It may surprise, but some 400 years ago modest little Polesworth saw impressive gatherings of literati, including poets Michael Drayton, Ben Jonson, John Donne and possibly even a young fellow called William Shakespeare. In modern times that has inspired the Polesworth Poets Trail featuring ten specially written poems – the majority competition winners – and passing significant landmarks from the settlement’s history.
Enjoy the resonances of Jane Holland’s The River Anker on the riverbank, and Garrie Fletcher’s God’s dance within us in the Abbey churchyard. There are Famous Men and Memories of Pooley Mine, and stimulating sculptures by Planet Art that interpret the poems. Polesworth poetry is renewed, refreshed, alive and kicking!Credit Colin Lea
When it comes to feeding mind, body and spirit, there’s little to beat the smorgasbord of art, architecture, landscapes and lunch that is a trip to Compton Verney. The Georgian mansion-turned gallery of world-class art is surrounded by more than 120 acres of Grade 2*-listed park landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown: enjoy a picnic in the lakeside or woodland areas while you admire the classical vistas – art writ large, with birdsong if you’re lucky.
After your hors d’oeuvre head into the mansion, where six permanent collections showcase art that is currently under-represented in British museums and galleries. Feast, for example, on the ‘Golden Age’ of Neapolitan art 1600–1800, British portraits from the Tudor period, one of the top three Chinese collections in Europe, and the UK’s largest British folk art collection.Credit Compton Verney
Who was the inspiration for Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion? The answer hangs in the Blue Parlour at Stoneleigh Abbey: a painting of Elizabeth Lord, whose secret marriage, separation, family disapproval and eventual reconciliation fired the author’s imagination. Austen visited in 1806 – for 400 years the Abbey was the country seat of relatives – and the house and its family intrigues soon resurfaced in her novels. Join a special Jane Austen tour to discover her ancestors through their portraits in Stoneleigh’s impressive Library, and see just how the Abbey influenced descriptions of Sotherton Court in Mansfield Park.
Portraits that paint a picture of their times may also be found at Tudor Coughton Court, home to the Catholic Throckmorton family for 600 years. In that time the Throckmortons enjoyed favour, lived in fear and oppression post-Reformation, and later helped bring about Catholic emancipation. Come face to face with some of the brave personalities in a fascinating ‘family album’ of paintings.Credit ©NTPLAndreas von Einsiedel
Fancy meeting a galloping bronze crusader, a large steel ammonite or enigmatic cloaked figure beside tree or field! Go for a walk at Ragley Hall and these are just some of the curious, exciting and challenging encounters that suddenly appear along the Jerwood Foundation Sculpture Trail.
Paths thread 2.5 miles around garden and woodland laced with large-scale 20th-21st century works by famous and emerging sculptors, creating unusual interactions with the natural environment. Spot Dame Elisabeth Frink’s Walking Man striding purposefully across the grass and Antony Gormley’s compelling Insider VIII, then ponder Sarah More’s limestone Standing Stone that proclaims ‘Journey well / It is quickly done / I will stand always.’
For more art, on the move and in the open air, maybe ramble the 5.5-mile Coventry Canal Art Trail, an easy excursion on the fringe of rural Warwickshire. From Lady Scurrying to Snake in the Grass & Fish Railings, there’s plenty to spark the imagination.Credit Ragley Hall
When you visit rural Warwickshire, you’ll always come across something new – also a reason to return. Arts on our Doorstep and Live and Local help to bring arts and events into the heart of communities in the countryside. Check the calendar, too, for annual literary and music events around the area, maybe taking you into the worlds of J R R Tolkien and Philip Larkin. Or venture into town during your stay for some theatre, music, or visual arts at Warwick Arts Centre.
And why not get creative? The Machado Gallery in Barford, run by sculptor-designer Sue Machado, not only hosts exhibitions, art, musical and literary events, but also art classes and courses.
Barford, incidentally, is where Victorian novelist Mrs Gaskell went to school for a while and attended St Peter’s Church. The village features prominently in her novella Lois the Witch. There’s definitely something in Warwickshire’s country air that inspires!Credit Live and Local
Stay in WarwickshireBook cosy BnBs or luxurious hotels
Sign up here to receive our latest news and special offers
If you are thinking about visiting Warwickshire and would like a guide to help you plan your stay have a look at the e-brochure for the whole county
For a sneak preview of what we've got WithinWarwickshire check out these videos or download a podcast or two