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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
Paul McCartney backs the
people
News
i100
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
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

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone