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On the trivia trail with Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon

PUBLISHED: 11:53 07 August 2018

Anne Hathaway's Cottage / Getty Images

Anne Hathaway's Cottage / Getty Images

AndyRoland

Tracy Spiers enjoys screen-free time in Stratford, thanks to Jane’s Trivia Trail

I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to get my children and husband off their digital devices and have a conversation face to face requires a degree. To do so needs creative thinking and persistence. I too fall foul of relying on my phone for emails, texts and social media. Yet I am grateful today for my 18 year old and her iPhone when the sat nav fails and I need to get to a certain meeting point in Stratford-upon-Avon. Once there we experience some valuable screen-free time thanks to a fun-filled team quiz trail devised by Jane Robbins.

Trivia Trails’ is fast becoming a popular phrase in Stratford for visitors and locals alike because they enable people to explore the home of Shakespeare in a fresh, creative way with the added spark of competitiveness. After all, there’s nothing like having the incentive of trying to beat one’s opponent. Even the placid, shy ones in a family can surprise their siblings by proving they have a competitive streak.

I take daughter number one and three, Naomi (18) and Megan (14), two of my drama and literature enthusiasts, with me to meet Jane at Mercure Shakespeare Hotel in Chapel Street, who explains the rules of the quiz trail and paints a picture of Stratford in William Shakespeare’s day. Although the Bard lived until he was 52, the average age was 35 with many dying in infancy due to the plague and living conditions.

Anne Hathaway's CottageAnne Hathaway's Cottage

“People relied on the church bell to get them to work on time and only boys went to school, so women and girls were often illiterate,” Jane tells us. With six females in our house, it is quite a sobering thought.

“As soap was a luxury, the poorer folk only had a bath three or four times a year so the stench was pretty bad. It’s why stages were built quite high to keep away from the smell! As there was no electricity, everyone relied on candlelight and so plays were only put on during daylight.”

Naomi and Megan find boats dedicated to Shakespeare's leading ladiesNaomi and Megan find boats dedicated to Shakespeare's leading ladies

Jane paints a vivid scene of 16th-century Stratford, but before we do her trail, I ask what led to her vision of launching Trivia Trails – which are run in Warwick as well as Stratford.

“For 20 years I worked as a PR consultant specialising in the launching of new gastro pubs, restaurants and live music venues, but as my mother’s dementia worsened I had to reduce my workload. After she passed away I took a year out and during this time decided I would like a change of direction,” she explains.

“A retired business friend offered to brainstorm possible future ideas, which was really helpful. He knew I am one of those ‘organiser’ types, and when I mentioned that I had written a quiz trail to help market one of my Warwick restaurant clients to promote their Sunday lunches, it wasn’t long before we came up with the idea of making use of the two lovely old market towns sitting on my doorstep.

Chloe Thomas and manager Chris Mason at The Stratford Sweet ShopChloe Thomas and manager Chris Mason at The Stratford Sweet Shop

“I wanted to provide an enjoyable way to help people get their bearings, discover areas they probably wouldn’t come across on their own and give a good understanding of how these old market towns evolved over the centuries. It’s a sociable and fun couple of hours, with a little competitiveness thrown in, with the intention of offering 90 minutes of screen-free time.”

Trivia Trails was born with Jane’s first trail in Warwick in April 2016. Stratford followed in September 2017. Jane offers two options for her trails: a 60-minute or 90-minute version depending on what time visitors have. On this occasion, as there are only three of us, we opt for the 60-minute version.

If more people are involved, teams get sent out at two-minute intervals. In our case it is team Megan and team Naomi, who quite relish testing their observational and historical skills against each other. They are each given a clipboard where they can record their answers to both written and pictorial questions; whilst I have the directions to make sure we go the right way and the all-important questions.

Meeting a Nutcracker on the wayMeeting a Nutcracker on the way

“It’s not a race,” Jane tells them, “it’s about enjoying the scenery whilst chatting to your team mates. You will need to look up, down and all around you, but remember to be careful when crossing the road.”

As we set off, Jane gets ready for a party of seven arriving at noon, and a group of 28 at 1pm. Jane’s familiar orange clipboards are becoming a regular sight in Stratford, and those taking part are often asked what they are up to, so each team leader has a handful of flyers to give out, should anyone ask.

Tracy outside The Garrick InnTracy outside The Garrick Inn

My two enjoy some playful banter and are precious about keeping answers private. They get distracted by the wonderful architecture and scenery too which is one of the joys of walking around Stratford. In between answering questions and identifying the pictures on their quiz sheets, they get spooked by the gold-painted human statues, find a Christmas shop, put their head in a Shakespeare cut-out, buy a few Shakespeare-related postcards, badges and books and spend some time in the Royal Shakespeare Company. We also spot rowing boats named after Shakespeare’s leading ladies, discover where Shakespeare lived, and find out more about the great Bard. His twins Judith and Hamnet experienced a very different life than my two.

What Trivia Trails does is provide a valuable history lesson about this beautiful Warwickshire town whilst walking in 21st-Stratford. Despite pockets of modernisation, there’s a sense of timelessness, because every other building seems to have the wow factor and seems to shout, “hey I was here when the Bard was alive and I know a thing or two.” It is an ideal team-building exercise for a business, or the perfect way of entertaining guests.

It may be a cold, wet day when we do Jane’s quiz trail, but it doesn’t stop my two eating ice cream or enjoying themselves. Trivia Trails does provide trivia about Stratford and Shakespeare, but it provides so much more. It provides memories, valuable time-out from the stress and strain of modern-day living, it encourages the use of all senses, fresh air, exercise and a fantastic way of seeing a town in a creative and engaging way.

Shakespeare's statueShakespeare's statue

When the girls and I return to see Jane, a further challenge is set in the form of an optional activity of a jigsaw race, before the answers are given and prizes handed out. Naomi, who wins all round, admits her visit has fueled her passion for Shakespeare, which she hopes to study further as part of her English Literature and Drama degree in September.

As a mum, who relishes any time away from electronic devices, I highly recommend Jane’s Trivia Trails. It has given me precious moments with my lovely children, lots of laughs, playful competitiveness and a couple of hours away from anything that beeps or rings. It is over too quickly and I can hear Shakespeare agreeing: “Pleasure and action make the hours seem short.” (Othello).

Naomi and Megan outside Shakespeare's birthplaceNaomi and Megan outside Shakespeare's birthplace

To find out more about Trivia Trails visit triviatrails.co.uk.

It costs £10 for adults, £5 for kids aged 9-16 and free for aged eight and under. Scheduled dates for anyone to book onto are listed on the website, otherwise private parties can book a date and time to suit their visit.

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