Welcombe Hills Audio Trail - The Story

Welcombe Hills Audio Trail<br>Story
Part 1. Animals of the Welcombe Hills.

Part 1
Animals of the Welcombe Hills.

Hello and welcome to the story behind the tracks of the Welcombe Hills Audio Trail.
What better way to begin the trail than taking a look at the diverse wildlife which can be found across the nature reserve.

Interested in wildlife? Why not volunteer with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Surveyforce, helping to monitor and record wildlife all over the county.

Find a comfortable spot on the reserve and sit in silence for a few minutes and take in the sounds of wildlife. Keep a look out too, you never know, you may get lucky.

Find out more about the animals that live here on the Welcombe Hills.

Part 2. Shakespeare and Nature.

Part 2
Shakespeare and Nature.

Imagery of nature occurs frequently in Shakespeare’s plays and in order to understand the historical context of a Tudor writers understanding of the natural world, here we have present some extracts from books of the time.

John Gerard “The Herball” or “General Historie of Plantes” 1597
Gerard was appointed the first curator of the College of Physicians’ physic garden in Chelsea in 1586. His Herball is one of the best-known botanical works ever written. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has a first edition copy of the book in its archives.

Edward Topsell “The History of four-footed beasts” 1608
English clergyman Topsell’s treatise on zoology, spanning over 1000 pages, features a series of woodcut images of various creatures both real and mythical. Alongside the fantastical lamia, gorgon and manticore (a creature with the body of a lion and head of a man), Topsell depicts cats, badgers, beavers and other worldly animals.

Make a trip to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust archives in the town centre to look at some of these historic texts yourself.

Find out more about the Elizabethan relationship to the natural world told through historical texts and interpretations of Shakespeare’s works.

Part 3. The Obelisk.

Part 3
The Obelisk.

Perhaps the most visually striking feature of the Welcombe Hills is the Obelisk which stands 40 meters in height as a memorial to Mark Philips brother and son to an influential Manchester family who played a significant role in the industrial and political landscape at the time. The manor, now the Welcombe Hotel was made the family home for much of this period and was the final resting place of both Mark and his brother Robert who had the obelisk erected in his brother’s memory.

At the time, Stratford upon Avon was becoming a significant trade hub due to the construction of the infrastructure which linked the Avon to the Grand Union canal allowing goods to flow freely through this rural town. Businesses like Cox’s Yard appeared in response to the increase demand for the warehousing of many different goods from coal to textiles.

The story of the Philip’s family not only represents a time of great industrial change but also of political reform as both brothers were elected Members of Parliament and involved in the passing of the Great Reform act of 1832.

Visit the marina in the town to get a further look at Stratford’s industrial past and take a boat tour to experience the system of locks which link the man-made canal to the river Avon.

This audio track will transport you back to 19th century England and the peak of the industrial revolution, to explore the legacy of the influential Philips’ family.

Part 4. Plants of the Welcombe Hills.

Part 4
Plants of the Welcombe Hills.

The Welcombe Hills is primarily a grassland habitat which means that there is a good variety of plants and wildflowers to be found growing throughout the year.

Walk the hills in May and June to catch a glimpse of the stunning bee orchids.

Find out more about the wild plants of the Welcombe Hills.

Part 5. Ridge and Furrow.

Part 5
Ridge and Furrow.

As you cast your eyes across the Welcombe Hills and Clopton Park you will notice that much of the open grassland has a rippled appearance. This is the remnants of an agricultural ploughing technique known as Ridge and Furrow, practiced from the fall of the Roman Empire until as recently as the 17th century. As industrialisation swept the country, Ridge and Furrow quickly became obsolete and the characteristic pattern was transformed through machine-driven intensive practices. However, in areas that are unsuited to heavy machinery for instance, there has been a tendency to allow this sort of terrain to remain as pasture with no pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers added to the land. The result is that unspoiled and uncontaminated soils persist to support a richer diversity of native plant species.

This feature is most pronounced from certain vantage points and when the sun is lower in the sky adding a beautifully striking appearance to the landscape.

The audio trail track for Ridge and Furrow is located at point 5 on the trail map and takes us on a light-hearted journey back in time to explore our rural heritage.

Part 6. Shakespeare's Landscape.

Part 6
Shakespeare's Landscape.

If you’ve ever wondered what Stratford upon Avon looked like in Shakespeare’s time these paintings by Edward Grubb are as close as we might get to seeing it.
These paintings depict the Holy Trinity Church and the River Avon in all its rural English beauty.
Might those be the Welcombe Hills in the background?

The oldest landmark on the Stratford skyline it the Holy Trinity Church, which is clearly visible from the Welcombe Hills.

Listen to the audio file to discover more about Shakespeare's Landscapes.

Part 7. Margaret's Well.

Part 7
Margaret's Well.

Of all of the features of this trail, this is perhaps the most significant and the most disquieting. It is here that the love-sick Margret Clopton is supposed to have drowned herself in a family tragedy that would have sent ripples through the town. Indeed this story is still told today, some speculating that Margaret’s death which took place during Shakespeare’s lifetime provided his inspiration for the character Ophelia in Hamlet. There is also evidence to suggest that the well also claimed the lives of many young women and is haunted by their ghosts to this day.

Part 8. The Swimming Pool.

Part 8
The Swimming Pool.

The function and use of this rectangular body of water but its most likely role for the most part of its history has been as a storage or supply tank to the leisure ponds of wealthy householders. Nevertheless there is still much debate over what this is and why it has come to be named the swimming pool. Despite its murky appearance the water in the pond is remarkably clean and supports a host of invertebrate wildlife including dragonfly, midge and caddisfly. These in turn will help to support the abundance of birds and bats in the area.

Part 9. Veteran Trees.

Part 9
Veteran Trees.

Of all the natural features of the Welcombe Hills, the ancient trees are perhaps the most spectacular. Ancient trees support wildlife in ways that young trees do not and so they are very important in maintaining the biodiversity of the Welcombe Hills for all of its inhabitants. Looking up into the canopy of a veteran oak tree is like peering into another world. Using the embedded video below you can experience life in the canopy of an organism that can support such an abundance of life above the ground.

Many veteran trees bear the scars of hundreds of years of being in the elements. Large gashes and black streaks indicate where a tree has been struck by lightning! See how many you can spot.

This track provides a comprehensive look at the veteran trees throughout the site giving names of notable species.

Part 10. The Clopton Family.

Part 10
The Clopton Family.

To the west side of the site stands an elegant 17th century house which, for much of its history was home to a prominent and powerful local catholic family who strongly influenced Stratford-upon-Avon for around 600 years.

The most famous member of the family was Hugh Clopton born in 1440, whose rapid rise to success as a merchant eventually lead to him to be Mayor of London. The influence of Hugh Clopton and his decedents can be spotted all over the town today. Clopton Bridge, Clopton Chapel at the Holy Trinity Church and New Place, Shakespeare’s home at the time of his death are all physical reminders of how this family have left a lasting legacy.

Hire a boat out on the river and take the time to sail under one of the 14 arches of Clopton bridge nearby which was built in 1480 and paid for by Hugh Clopton.

This audio track tells the fascinating and sometimes chilling stories from Clopton family history hinting at how the tragedies which befell some of their members haunted the town and perhaps inspired the young writer Shakespeare.