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Shakespeare's Way : a journey of imagination

Details:

Publication Type
Guidebook
Author
Peter Titchmarsh
ISBN
9780952685166
Date Published
2006
Size
206 x 146 mm
Number of Pages
80pp
Cost
Purchase Info
Cheques payable to Shakespeare's Way Association
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Supplier:

Type
Path/trail user group
Address
Markel, Brienton, HEREFORD, HR4 7PR

Review:

Bill Orme May 2006

Impressions of walking the route from Bill Orme included in Strider (August 2006):

In a country with hundreds of named walking paths and National Trails it is astonishing that it has taken till now for someone to design a path named after Britain's most famous son, William Shakespeare - The Man of the Millennium. With its opening in April, we now have Shakespeare's Way, a walk of 146 miles (around 240km) from Stratford-upon-Avon, his birthplace, to the Globe Theatre in London, which was owned by him with a group of friends, and where his plays were performed to public acclaim.

With Ann Hathaway and his children living in Stratford, Shakespeare must have made the journey many times and it is reasonable to assume that until he made his fortune and could afford to do it in horseback he must have walked the distance. Since the playwright and poet's journeyings were before the great canals were built and long before the M40 roared down the land, Peter Titchmarsh has titled the guidebook, 'Shakespeare's Way : a journey of imagination'.

There is little to identify the way Shakespeare trod except it is thought that he stayed in Oxford at the Crown Inn, owned by his friend John Davenant. (The building now has a betting shop on the ground floor.) We can still ask ourselves, however, such questions as whether the Rollright Stones were in his mind as the backdrop for Macbeth, which beech wood inspired the setting for A Midsummer Night's Dream, or where did he get his inspiration for 'I know a bank whereon the wild thyme grows, Where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows'.

Beyond that, Peter Titchmarsh has chosen a route to take the walker through some of Britain's most beautiful countryside and villages. We followed closed behind his inaugural footsteps, (literally at times, where he had trodden out the way across newly planted crops), and with the countryside bursting out at the height of Spring, we were considerably impressed by the Way.

At Stratford we visited the Bard's tomb in Holy Trinity Church to find it swamped with hundreds of bunches of flowers as the date of his birthday had just passed. We also visited the Shakespeare Centre, the exhibition at his birthplace, where there was just one bold statement about his walking, that he would have walked to London, 100 miles away, in four days. Following the new route of nearly 150 miles, this suggests he would have done it in six. Since our intention was to take time the smell the flowers along the way, we decided on a leisurely twelve days at about twelve miles a day.

The first third of the walk down to Oxford took us through a string of villages and small towns in their spring garden-best - Preston-on Stour, Honington, Long Compton, Chipping Norton, Enstone - all of which had their notable features identified by the guidebook's carefully written instructions, be it a fine bell tower, an outstanding tomb, an impressive mansion or a mature beech forest. These highlights were matched by Peter's noting of every 'welcome bench', 'useful shop' and 'hospitable inn' along the way. We used them all.

The guidebook follows the format of each self-contained double page showing a sketch map with a detailed description of the route. There are also abundant excellent photographs. While good use is made of many sections of established paths such as the Chiltern Way, the Beeches Way and the Thames Path, walkers are also taken on other sections from stile to stile in fields, on rights of way and bridle paths as well as occasional small section of back roads. Great care is need to pay attentions to his directions as the identifying roundel waymark with Shakespeare's head is discretely added to existing waymarks in many cases, and efforts have been taken to keep the marking low-key.

Four days of walking brought us to Woodstock where we were lucky enough to have a friend take us over Blenheim Palace. It was an interesting contrast to sit as a walker at the foot of the Column of Victory looking down the huge vista to the Palace, and later to experience the view in reverse as a tourist. Having seen the room in the Palace where Churchill was born, we were sobered by our visit along the path to see his simple grey tombstone in the churchyard at Bladon.

After following the valley of the Stour, we entered the Oxford Cotswold country on our way to that big city with all its attractions. The walk by the Oxford Canal led us to our first encounter with the Thames but some of the best walking came when we took off to cross the hills and valleys of the Chilterns with its marvellous beech woods budding lettuce-green leaves, such a treat for us used to the grey-greens of the Australian bush. Once at Marlow we enjoyed another stretch beside the Thames before taking off back into beech woods and the interesting heathland of Stoke Common.

Eventually we hit the Grand Union Canal at Iver and the final stretch into London along the Thames. We were treated to the sight of coots, moorhens and swans busy with their spring nesting and we were specially impressed by the coots' recycling of plastic and foam, an example to us all. For anyone who hasn't walked from Kew to the Globe, we can only extol the unfolding, bridge by bridge, of London's history and architectural heritage.

So what does this path offer that makes it special? We bookended (playended?) our journey with a performance of 'Hamlet' at the Swan in Stratford-on-Avon, and 'Corialanus' at the Globe, experiences to established the focus of the walk. We were conscious that by walking we were joining not just Shakespeare, but all the people over time who have used this way of travelling before the advent of train, car and plane. It gave us the opportunity to experience the character of the English countryside, villages and towns as well as a chance to make people-encounters along the way in a fashion not possible using fast modes of transport. The same comparison between the quality of 'slow' versus 'fast' food can validly be made for 'mechanical' versus 'foot' travel.

Our thanks go out to the many B&B owners who put themselves out to look after us along the way. We used the 'Shakespeare's Way Planner', a listing of accommodation and meal facilities along the path to good effect. However, our biggest thanks go to Peter Titchmarsh and his many helpers who designed and checked the route. We ended the trip by deciding that the guidebook might well have been titled 'The Shakespeare's Way Companion' as we made our way along following the ever-interesting suggestions to discover things of architectural, historical and industrial history interest.

Walk it as a meander as we did, or plan to outstrip Shakespeare's 25 miles a day at a speed of knots, we are sure this is a path that will give great enjoyment to many walkers.


Paths Covered by this Publication:

235 km / 146 miles

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