Outdoors: Weekend walk: In Cowslip fields where Shakespeare roamed

Matthew Brace strolls to Snitterfield, in Warwickshire, where the Bard once trod
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The Independent Culture
ABOUT 2.5 million tourists scuffed their sneakers on Stratford's streets last year, but though the locals may moan and complain about the intrusion, it is still a cosy place. Just beyond the outskirts lie some beautiful walks. One is to the village of Snitterfield. Americans consider this to be one of the most amusing of English place names, and many of them collapse with laughter whenever it is mentioned. It is one of my favourite villages, full of beauty and history.

Shakespeare's uncle Henry is believed to have farmed here, and a leaning barn from the homestead still stands on a corner beyond the church. The Bard's grandfather, Richard, is thought to have lived in a house on Church Road, and to have been buried in the church.

Start at Shakespeare's birthplace on Henley Street in Stratford, head down an alley between it and the library, cross the road and go up Great William Street. Beyond a canal bridge, this turns into Maidenhead Road and you need to walk the length of it until it runs out of houses and turns into fields. A footpath leads you through a tunnel of trees and over a sloping field to an old water tower.

This is a good place to take a breather and look down over the roofs of Stratford, with Holy Trinity Church nestling among them. The path leads past some stables and through a gate and stile next to a large mound of earth - a water storage plant of some sort.

From here you can follow the main track, but it is worth ducking off it and picking your way through the woods between the horse chestnut trees. The land dips into hollows and secret valleys. Most of it is densely wooded, but the trees do not grow thickly enough to make the going tough.

You will come out on top of the hill near two trees - a Scots pine, and a lime that was struck by lightning one wild night almost 15 years ago. From here you can look down on the chimneypots of the exclusive Welcome Hotel. Beyond it stands the Needle, a stone obelisk erected in memory of Mark Philips - a local Victorian MP, not Princess Anne's former husband.

Turn through 180 degrees and head for the coniferous wood on the skyline. Walking through it, avoiding any saplings, it is not hard to imagine AA Milne taking inspiration from it for Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood. When the wind blows through the high branches here, it really does whisper.

The wood runs up to a fence where you need to turn left. You may first have to follow it down to a kissing-gate near the obelisk and then backtrack up the other side.

This path will take you along the edge of a field, across a stream and past some farm buildings and a pond. Eventually you get to Snitterfield fruit farm, where scores of local children once spent their hard-earned summer holidays picking strawberries with their parents, and moaning that they would rather be out with their friends.

You will come out on King's Lane. Turn right and walk to its junction with Ingon Lane, where you need to turn left and follow the road across a busy new bypass to a stone memorial cross at the top of White Horse Hill.

The stone bench here is a little hard on the behind, but the view across the Avon valley will ease the pain. When the air is fresh and clear you can see for miles, right over to Edge Hill - site of the first major battle in the Civil War.

From here the road falls into the village, and at the crossroads the Foxhunter awaits. A pint of Saddlers beer goes down well with some home- made faggots. If you're tempted to have a second helping of both, there's always a bus that will take you back to Stratford - but they do not run frequently, so check with the tourist board or Stagecoach before setting out.

From the Foxhunter follow your footsteps back down King's Lane to Round House Farm, where a path is marked leading off to the left. Follow the path along beside a field, cross a fence at the end and turn right, heading downhill past a copse, and eventually you will come to a gravel drive leading to Clopton house, a 17th-century manor-house. As with many old houses, legends abound: Clopton was purportedly a meeting-place for the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot.

You are now on the outskirts of Stratford, and should easily find your way back, stopping off for a drink on the way. Refreshment is in plentiful supply in the town, which has one of the highest densities of pubs in Britain. For atmosphere and - in season - a chance to star-spot, head for the Dirty Duck on the river by the theatre. It's a summer favourite for townsfolk, tourists and actors alike, and it serves a welcome pint of Flowers Original Bitter.

Map: Ordnance Survey Landranger map 151. Stratford-upon-Avon Tourist Office: 01789 293127.

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