William Shakespeare's 450th birthday: Walking from Stratford-upon-Avon to the Globe Theatre

In celebration of the Bard's 450th birthday, Sarah Baxter and her band of brothers set off to walk the first section of Shakespeare's Way to Oxford

"Forsooth, good sir, couldst thou pass those fine vittles" – strange looks shot around the breakfast room – "and, perchance, fill mine cup with yonder dark brew?"

I felt it was important to set the tone early, even over the muesli. This B&B repast was fuelling the start of an educational ambulation. My boyfriend, Paul, two of my oldest school friends and I were in Stratford-upon-Avon to tackle the first section of Shakespeare's Way, a 146-mile trail from Stratford to London's Globe Theatre, through the heart of England. It's a bit spurious: even the guidebook calls it a "journey of imagination", confessing it's "the route the poet may have taken" on his journeys between home town and capital; there's scant proof. But, with this week marking the Bard's 450th birthday, and as the world still knows little about him (including his actual date of birth, which may or may not have been today), it seemed as timely and appropriate a way as any to celebrate.

With brains struggling to recall GCSE English, our merry foursome set off. We started at the beginning: Shakespeare's birthplace. This wattle-and-daub house on Henley Street is where he grew up and has long been ground zero for Will-grims: following a campaign (backed by, among others, Charles Dickens), the house was bought for the nation in 1847 and is now a museum. From here, we wended through Tudor Stratford, passing King Edward VI School (where William studied), the former homes of his daughter and granddaughter (Hall's Croft and Nash's House) and the remains of New Place, the grand mansion he built, which was demolished in 1759. By the time we reached Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was buried in 1616, we'd walked just one mile but covered his whole life, birth to death. What more was there?

A lot, actually. Even if no one knows whether Shakespeare travelled this exact path, we know he was inspired by the landscape of his youth. His works are rich in references to its flowers, animals and rural characters. Just after leaving Stratford, I noticed a glove, trodden into the mud; as Shakespeare's father, John, was a glove-maker, I liked to think it was a sign: we were going the right way.

In fact, there's evidence that Shakespeare stayed at Oxford's Crown Tavern en route to London, so the first 60 miles - the section we were tracing, along the River Stour and across the Cotswolds to the university city - are the route's most valid. After Oxford, Shakespeare's Way crosses the Chilterns and joins the Thames; it's unlikely that William followed the same course, but better to be inauthentic than hike alongside the M40.

Our first day was like an opening act, full of promise, setting the scene: ploughed fields, narrow lanes, village greens, steeples and old oak trees. We passed a man cleaning his leaded windows in handsome Halford, who asked what we were up to. He looked sceptical when we told him that we were following Shakespeare, but pointed us onwards, to cross the old Roman Fosse Way. Clearly, millennia of men have marched here before. Paul was our own Henry V, leading us unto the breach (being best at following our guidebook's often ponderous directions). We happy few, we band of brothers, strode behind him, enjoying the walk's simple pleasures: the roll of sylvan green; fields edged with swaying teasels; quaint porches framed by rambling rose.

Our first picnic spot, a grassy hollow beside the Stour, had an amphitheatrical quality, though there was no literary conversation - Talton Mill Farm Shop's lemon cake proved too distracting. And, later, when I started spouting Shakespeare, I turned to find the boys weren't listening, but lobbing conkers at each other instead. Just like being back at school, then.

On day two of our three-day tramp, I felt Shakespeare receding. In Whichford Wood I quoted some As You Like It ("Are not these woods more free from peril than the envious court? ...Our life exempt from public haunt finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks"). But my words were drowned by three buzzards overhead. In Lidstone, we read of its former inn, which served travellers on the London Road; perhaps William stopped for a pot of ale? But no evidence remains in the sleepy hamlet.

We may not have found much of the Bard, but we did meet The King. Just off the route lay the Rollright Stones, a Bronze Age site that most of the world has forgotten. A man at a trestle table charged us £1 to view the 5,000-year-old stone circle (once described, unkindly, as "77 stumps and lumps of leprous limestone"), the Whispering Knights dolmen and the solitary King Stone. This place is beloved of dowsers and reputedly ripples with Mother Earth's energy. Just what we needed: we were 25 miles into our journey, still 35 miles to go.

On our third and final day we met Churchill. After entering the parkland of 18th-century Ditchley Mansion and joining a stretch of Akeman Street (once a key Roman road), Shakespeare's Way vaults into the vast grounds of Blenheim. Sir Winston Churchill was born here 140 years ago, and proposed to Clementine in the estate's Temple of Diana. The Way took us via the Column of Victory and landscaped lake, the Baroque palace an overwhelming presence to our side. We didn't go in, continuing instead through pretty Woodstock to Bladon church, where Churchill's simple tombstone stands.

It had been a walk of heavyweights, which made following the Thames into historic Oxford an apt ending. Less satisfying was our last stop: the Crown Tavern on Cornmarket Street. The 14th-century inn was once owned by Shakespeare's friend John Davenant, and William is known to have stayed (and possibly to have dallied with Davenant's wife). Sadly, it's now indistinguishable, squeezed above a betting shop behind an 18th-century façade.

However, that isn't quite the end of the story. Parts of the Elizabethan inn remain hidden here, and following discussions in January, the Oxford Preservation Trust is working towards opening these Painted Rooms to the public. Another fragment of the Shakespeare story revealed. For now, though – as with so much connected to this famous but enduringly mysterious man – we had to use our imaginations.

Getting there

Macs Adventure (0141 530 1185; macsadventure.com) organises self-guided trips along the Stratford-Oxford stretch of Shakespeare's Way. Prices start at £375pp for five nights' B&B, baggage transfers and guidebook.

Staying there

The Bell in Alderminster (01789 450414; thebellald.co.uk), an 18th-century coaching inn, serves great food and has characterful doubles from £95. It's hosting a Shakespeare's 450th Birthday Sleepover 26-28 April, with Bard-related events.

More information

Shakespeare's Way Association ( shakespearesway.org); profits from guidebook sales go to Stratford's Shakespeare Hospice.

For more on Oxford's Painted Rooms, see bit.ly/OxfPres.

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?