We live relatively near to Stratford-upon-Avon but I’ve never felt the need to follow the Shakespeare tourist trail. If this is your kind of thing I can assure you there’s plenty to keep you entertained in the town. But it doesn’t float our family boat. Instead we spent some time exploring Stratford’s alternative attractions.
The MAD museum
Described as a centre of Kinetic Art and Automata the Mechanical Art and Design museum is a great place to visit if you like marble runs. The museum, well hidden in the centre of town, is full of moving models and mechanical sculptures. It’s the kind of place that Wallace and Gromit would enjoy.
Around half of the models are variations on the marble run theme. We pressed the white buttons underneath each exhibit and watched mesmerised as the marbles flowed through.
The other exhibits were moving models, for example men fishing in a boat. The level of detail and amount of work which went into designing and creating them was phenomenal. This may explain why some exhibits appeared to be for sale at exorbitant prices but it also made it feel more like a gallery than a museum.
My daughter enjoyed the interactive LED display which lit up as she moved her hand across it. Both kids had great fun with a clapping machine. Stand in front of it, clap loudly and hopefully it will clap back. Except my daughter could never quite manage to clap loud enough!
Although it’s relatively small we spent a good hour playing with the models. Whilst I felt the entrance price was a little on the high side it’s a one of a kind attraction and well worth a visit for novelty value.
We stayed overnight in a hotel right next to the canal. Having over-indulged in a fantastic Greek meal the previous evening and an all you can eat breakfast we felt the need to walk off a few calories.
Wrapped up warm against the biting wind we headed out along the canal path. It wasn’t the most picturesque of walks as we were mainly passing industrial units. Yet there was still plenty of bird life to be seen even if I couldn’t spot the bullfinch my other half pointed out. If the weather had been warmer we’d have walked further out into the countryside but even so, it was good to get out and stretch our legs.
Stratford Butterfly Farm
I have already mentioned the cold. So where better to escape it than a heated butterfly house. Oh how I wish it could be this warm all the time.
The farm always has around 1500 butterflies flying. I don’t think we saw anywhere near this number but there were more than enough to ooh and aah over.
It is, of course, a photographers paradise, as evidenced by the amount of photographic gear many visitors carried. The butterflies were certainly photogenic, even if they wouldn’t stay still at crucial moments!
It’s not just butterflies; there are huge fish, an iguana and lots of non insect eating birds in the glasshouse too. There’s a separate section which houses spiders and insects and another room for caterpillars. I think it was possibly the wrong time of year to be looking for caterpillars as we didn’t manage to see any. Either that, or we were just useless at spotting them.
After a couple of hours we’d warmed up but couldn’t really justify spending any longer in the butterfly house. We walked over the river and back into Stratford for one last coffee shop stop.
So we managed a weekend without Shakespeare. I feel slightly guilty that we didn’t introduce our children to the world’s greatest writer but we had fun and enjoyed family time together. I’m sure the Bard would have approved.
- Although we only live an hour away from Stratford we stayed overnight at the Premier Inn Waterways hotel so that we could enjoy a birthday meal out. If you book early enough and are flexible with dates you’ll pay from £39 for a family room. It’s a typical Premier Inn; if you’ve stayed in one before you’ll know exactly what it’s like.
- We ate out at El Greco, a Greek restaurant in central Stratford. We chose the fixed price menu which was excellent value with good size portions. The restaurant is very accommodating to children with either a separate menu or smaller portions of the main food. The only downside is that it is very popular and we ended up eating at 5pm as this was the only time a table was available. Book ahead!
- The MAD museum is generally open year round except for Christmas and New Year. However it does close occasionally for maintenance days so check the website before you visit. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children (age 6-12) costs £19. Children age 5 and under are free. We visited late afternoon when it was quiet but I imagine it gets pretty crowded on a wet day during half term.
- The Stratford Butterfly Farm is open daily from 10am except Christmas Day. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children costs £18.50.