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1 August 2014

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36 hours in Shakespeare country

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V&E went on a gadabout through this historic corner of Warwickshire. They found a versatile mix of venues and bags of character to boot. Welcome to Shakespeare country. Shakespeare country Theatre_Tower_view.jpg   Of all the nights we could have chosen, we chose Valentine’s. Arriving late at the Victorian mansion within Wroxall Abbey (tel: 01926 484 470), we took being married to our work to new heights, dining in a room full of loved-up twosomes. The venue’s two restaurant’s were joined as one for the evening (they can be hired for events, seating 120 guests). Picture a scene from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall; open fires, tapestries and oak. Having arrived late, we made light work of a beef Wellington – its heart all pink and perfect – and then, following a quick moonlit snoop, took ourselves to bed ahead of a busy day’s venue hopping.   Shakespeare country Sonnets_Restaurant.jpg   In the morning, we were whizzed round the estate’s attractive period event spaces, the largest holding up to 100 guests. We also took a short walk around the manicured grounds – Sir Christopher Wren’s walled garden was a highlight. The venue regularly makes use of the lawns for outdoor events. Its new Grand and Garden Marquees, together, will hold 500 guests. Teambuilding activities are another strong suit. Make sure to ask about the new mini-hovercraft racing.   Shakespeare country Aerial_Wroxall_Large_copy.jpg   Next was Warwick Castle (tel: 01926 406 660). Blurry images of school trips came flooding back (it was the go-to for us junior midlanders) as we walked through the impressive grounds. The main house’s Great Hall is fine spot for a themed (with actors n’all) medieval banquet or a dramatic wedding, with views out over the Avon and beyond. It will seat 130 guests for dinner and there are adjoining spaces (part of the castle tour) that can be hired out for a drinks reception. It’s necessary to say that Time Team’s Tony Robinson (what a guy) was also there filming on the day, which added to the excitement.   Shakespeare country East_Front_View.jpg Shakespeare country Great_Hall_Wedding_Breakfast.jpg   As is popular with Blighty’s castles nowadays, the grounds are being put to good use this summer with a host of open-air concerts. Sir Cliff is already booked in. Even the resident peacocks are excited. There’s a host of teambuilding exercises on offer too, with trebuchet building being the newbie package. Good for the CV, right?   Shakespeare country Seated_Concert.jpg   A short carriage to Gaydon and we’re at the Heritage Motor Museum (tel: 01926 641188). Dominating the reception area is the battered Land Rover Defender used in the starting sequence of Skyfall. Yeah, cool. The venue’s main floor is replete with some of history’s finest and most famous four wheelers and regularly makes an atmospheric space for a drinks reception. At the rear of the mock art deco building is a conference centre (with capacity for up to 600 theatre style) and the offices of the Land Rover Experience (tel: 01926 645 001).   Shakespeare country HMC.jpg   A zoom round the facilities and it’s time for our 4X4 session. The track has recently been upgraded to include cliff-like drops, water tunnels, rock climbs and other testing terrain. We join one of the team’s off-road aces in a top-of-the-range Discovery 4 around the track. He does a great job of remaining calm, we do an even better one of not. It’s a lot of fun, though. There are a variety of packages on offer for away day groups to suit time constraints and budgets. Just make sure it’s one where you get behind the wheel.   Shakespeare country gaydon-contact-us-850x425.jpg   From Gaydon, we’re bound for Billy the Bard’s home of Stratford-upon-Avon and a spot of dinner at The Arden Hotel (tel: 01789 298682). It’s over the road from the impressive Royal Shakespeare Company (tel: 0844 800 1110) building, our evening stop. The Arden’s PDR will seat 40 on round tables and there’s a clutch of other rooms for meetings. Before the show (we’ve got tickets for A Winter’s Tale), we tour the RSC’s spaces. As with all theatres, the priority (in both the Royal Shakespeare and Swan auditoriums) goes to performances, so availability is hard to come by. Do ask, though, as the team are flexible and aim to please. Shakespeare country 1206_RSC_Stratford_SWAN2_Credit_Stewart_Hemley.jpg   There are, however, a few other spacious rooms that combine the best of the old mock-gothic building and the £112m redevelopment of 2010, available year round. For a small meeting or dinner, we particularly liked the private-dining Round Room (seats 20 guests) tucked away in the corner of the top-floor restaurant.   Shakespeare country 1206_RSC_Stratford_Spaces_-_credit_Peter_Cook.jpg   Judging by our show, which offered spellbinding performances from the cast, it’s definitely worth getting tickets for groups. Culturally satisfied, we debrief back in The Arden over cake and coffee. Mallory Court (tel: 01926 330214), just outside Leamington, is the night’s final stop. Another event-friendly location, there are a few well-appointed spaces, with the Knights Suite holding 200 seated guests. Outdoors, it’s more of the bucolic idyll we loved at Wroxhall.   Shakespeare country mallory.jpg   The bardacious adventure continued on into Saturday with a look around the newly refurbished Menzies Welcombe Hotel (tel: 01789 295252), near Stratford. It has thrown £2.5m at sprucing the place up, exposing some of the building’s original features – for example, there was a handsome fireplace hidden behind one of the hotel’s bars – and replacing furnishings that compliment the Victorian architecture. The huge terrace space at the back of the property is a good one for drinks receptions (killer view), and there’s a host of dedicated event spaces to choose from.   Shakespeare country Wel_-_Rear_of_the_Hotel_Gardens.jpg   So, despite the cruel fate – woe is us – of acting out our very own Love’s Labour’s Lost, Bill’s back garden offered plenty to keep us edified and entertained. There’s easy access from London and Birmingham and bags of character(s) when you get there. Check it out.   This was first published in March 2013

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