Thursday, 22 December 2016

It's now been 4 months since the Bard Walk and so I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know how the whole adventure went and to thank you again for your generosity.

At the start in Stratford...

What an incredible experience those 9 days were back in August. The 146 mile Shakespeare Way is subtitled 'a journey of imagination' and it certainly was.

When I started out from Holy Trinity Church on Saturday 13 August I had no idea what lay before me. I have had the privilege of meeting so many kind and generous people, whilst walking through some of this country's most beautiful countryside. The final mileage count was 155.

Along the way I was given access to some incredible places such Shakespeare's Birthplace, The Painted Room in Oxford and Ditchley Manor. 

The walk has made a difference to how I view Shakespeare, his work and family. I always thought that working 146 miles away from your family must have been difficult, and even in 2016 people work on the other side of the world form their families, but the biggest impact was realising how little you could communicate with them 400 years ago. There was no form of regular contact. Shakespeare had to rely on the Stratford merchants visiting London to bring news, and take news home. The likely fact that he didn't even know about his son's death for sometime is a sobering thought, but one now that I can appreciate much more.


I met such interesting people on the way. My hosts all had their own stories and lives that I touched for a brief 24 hours. Just in the same way as Will would have done at the inns he stayed in during his journey. I didn't have to go to Sri Lanka to learn about policemen watching the cricket or be invited to a party at Ditchley Manor - I heard stories about them. Just in the same way that Will didn't need to go to Venice to learn about merchants on the Rialto.

I even learnt the secret of life from one elderly gentlemen in his cut-off denim shorts...but naturally I've been sworn to secrecy!

Then there are the plays and sonnets themselves. There is so much to consider with these, but suffice to say, spending 9 days in the countryside that Will experienced, it has afforded me a fresh view of them. 

Over the last months I have been editing the film I made of the Walk, and I am hoping this will be ready later in the New Year - it's not easy cramming 9 days into 45 mins!

Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who supported me. Everyone's generosity, from providing accommodation to donating money, to giving me a jam donut, has been both humbling and inspiring.

I am very pleased to say that so far the New Beginnings Campaign has received over £38,550 in donations, and the Bard Walk has been an integral part of that.


Monday, 22 August 2016

Day 9 - Our revels now are ended...for the time being at least

Day 9 came and went in a flurry of emotions...can't actually believe I'm now sat at home having completed the Bard Walk.

Yesterday was such a terrific, happy day, full of wonderful surprises, starting even before I set off. I had spent the night at my good friend's Chris Porter (he of Iago and Mr Badger GSC fame), and just as I was preparing to put my shoes on for one last time, who should arrive but GSC Co-Founder Sarah and my girlfriend Claire to walk the last day with me! Such a treat.

Day 9 was actually fairly straight forward and I didn't need the Shakespeare Way guide book at all. Basically the last 16 miles followed the Thames Path all the way from Kew Bridge to The Globe, passing many sights such as the old Harrods Furniture Depot, London Wetlands Centre, Fulham FC, Putney Bridge, Battersea Power Station, MI6, Lambeth Palace....the list then becomes endless!


The home of composer Gustav Holst...

At Putney Chris caught up with us and then as we were walking along the pavement a cyclist nearly took us out! About to complain, I then realised it was actor Noel White who was joining me for the next stage! Noel is a lovely guy and has played Banquo, Claudius and Kent for GSC in recent years.



The closer I got to the Palace of Westminster the more I didn't want the walk to stop. They call it a journey of imagination and I couldn't agree more. It has been such a treat to be at one with your thoughts amidst some of the most beautiful countryside. The cacophony of noise and bustle that I met with on the South Bank from County Hall to Festival Hall was quite overwhelming, but I was struck with the comparison of the Bankside in Shakespeare's day. Bankside, a little further on, was the entertainment centre of London, and so it proved to be so even today - with the London Eye, Aquarium, the Wundergound with cabaret, music and comedy, pop-up street theatre and food stalls.




Do you know, I'm sure Will would have felt very at home here, nor would he have seen much difference!

As I approached the Final Mile a wonderful sight greeted me - a huge throng of GSC Friends, my best mate Alex and the Mayor of Guildford! All amassed to walk the Final Mile with me to The Globe.


 ...and as we approached the end at The Globe itself there was literally a finishing line held out by more friends and my dear Mum and Dad, who had made the trip down especially.

Finally kneeling on the pavement with a medal around my neck and everyone clapping and taking photos it sunk in that I had walked 146 (plus some) miles. Of course, it being London there were also crowds of tourists wondering what on earth was going on, so I helpfully explained doing my PR bit for GSC, and Guildford of course!



Before I went for a drink with everyone I had to continue the walk just a few steps further around the corner from Shakespeare's Globe to the site of the ACTUAL Globe that Shakespeare would have worked in...tucked away behind gates in a private car park are the remains of the first Globe, marked out in the pavement.



It's very difficult to sum up what has been wonderful, challenging experience. I have met so many generous and interesting people on the way and seen some remarkable things. I think I will need a few days to properly summarise the journey, but for now I feel a great sense of achievement and actually (without sounding too silly) a little closer to Will and his world.

Over the next week I will be adding the photos to the blog so do keep your eyes peeled for updates.

For now though I would like to thank you all for reading, for the BnBs, hotel and AirBnBs that have put me up, PG, Adam, Kim and everyone at Eagle Radio, Cotswold Outdoor, Silvertip Films, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Oxford Preservation Trust, and of course everyone who has donated to the New Beginnings Campaign and sent messages of support.

THANK YOU!

Today's mileage: 16 miles

TOTAL MILEAGE: 155 miles



Saturday, 20 August 2016

Day 8 - London calling...and it's raining

Penultimate day...20 miles...

Within 10 minutes of walking I was drenched. Utterly. And the first three sections of the walk were grass fields and paths...squelch squelch squelch.

Now yesterday I was waxing lyrical about loving the rain, and don't get me wrong, I still do, but to know that I had 19.5 more miles with wet socks and shoes was not a happy thought.

Nevertheless, one soldiered on. I had said goodbye to my fabulous previous night's hosts and their guest Benjamin, and picked up my trail in tiny Fulmer which had a 2012 Olympic Gold postbox, and a 1930s phone box!



...and was now heading to the final countryside stage of my walk.

Windsor Castle away in the distance...trust me...

I was beginning to be a little apprehensive of approaching the end of my walk. With every step I could feel that I was leaving the countryside behind. Walking through two country parks, one with incredible redwoods, were my final time with wide open landscapes before the industrial march of bricks and mortar began.

To Shakespeare this wouldn't have been the case. He had to go almost to the steps of The Globe to reach London. For me I was almost in London and I still had 30 miles to go!

The first 10 miles of my journey took me to West Drayton where I was able to buy new socks to put on my feet, and at this point I was joined by GSC's other Co-Founder Sarah who was going to walk the rest of today with me.


Which I can tell you I was very glad of because the Grand Union Canal which I now followed all the way to Kew was the most boring part of my route so far. Flanked by Tescos, cement works and salvage yards this entry to London was not the most auspicious. However, with someone to have a good natter with the time passed easily and we made good time to Kew.

I wonder if Will felt the same sensations as I had approaching London. Or was he fuelled with excitement and ambition? Perhaps a mixture of both.

It was also a wonderful opportunity to reflect on GSC's 10th Anniversary. When you're going from one project to the next you very rarely stop to consider what has gone past. GSC has achieved so much in 10 years which neither of us anticipated when Sarah suggested putting on a play in the castle grounds, all those years ago. So many people have been on the journey with us and supported, advised and encouraged, and to them we owe a great deal. GSC is in such an exciting place and it was inspiring to talk about future plans and to reminisce on the journey the company has taken...oh and enjoy a cream tea in the chintziest, vintage pop-up tea room...Eli our FOH Manager would have been in heaven!!

This is quite a short blog today as although it was a long day, the majority of it was a straight canal!

This walk however has taught me so much about Will, his world...encouraged me to reconsider the world I live in and reaffirmed my faith in the human spirit.

Tomorrow is the final day, and although my legs and ankle are very much looking forward to it, and the thought of my own bed is incredibly enticing, I am going to miss this walk. The people I have met and the solitudes I have felt; the simple approach to getting up and walking. I am so pleased to have made this life-long ambition a reality. Thank you all for your support too, which has been so encouraging.

See you all tomorrow for the Final Mile...and 15 before that!

Today's stats: 22.1 miles

Total miles: 139 miles

Friday, 19 August 2016

Day 7 - Rivers and Woods, and the taste of Northern India

After yesterday's exhaustions I got up a little tentatively to see how my ankle had slept. It was still stiff but not too bad, so after a hearty boiled egg for breakfast I headed off from Marlow.

Incidentally I should add that last night's host Swiss Cottage B&B and seen the GSC programme on BBC South TV last month!

Marlow seemed a very pretty little town with its red white and blue bunting up and the shops all getting ready for business - I'd made a start at 920am.

My hope today was to have a leisurely 10 mile day and then see how the ankle was doing.

Basically the injury had occurred in the dress rehearsal of Much Ado during what became known as he 'commando slide' of Benedick's down the umpire chair...those of you who saw it will know what I mean. Anyway that was nearly 6 weeks ago, but with the 100+ miles I've put it through it hadn't started to grumble. Fingers crossed for today.

The first 5 miles were very easy along the Thames to Cookham. Had a lovely chat with a dog walker who had recently abseiled down the Spinaker Tower in Portsmouth for charity...her dog was called Rolo, a colleywoodle - a colley poodle cross.

Lots of very fine houses along the river with their own slipways. It has been interesting to see that the different landscapes I'm walking through dictates the different ways people live: farms, woodland cottages, villages, rivers....cows


Cookham a very pretty village and the manager of the Bel and Dragon let me film a bit in there...a gorgeous low-beamed 15th Century inn, with brilliant cartoon artwork on the walls by Tim Bulmer. Loved the Shakespeare one!



I'm really looking forward to editing the film I've been recording along the way. Not so much a diary as a documentary I hope.

After Cookham it was back to the countryside and the woods, heading for Burnham Beeches. I think sometimes we forget how much woodland there still is in England, and how dense it can be.

Found a brilliant little pub in the middle of the woods - The Blackwood Arms - who did the best fish finger sandwich I have ever had.


Also an opportunity for me to dry my feet and change socks. Yes today was my soggy feet day. It has rained almost non-stop all day, on and off drizzle or full on downpour. Now I've not minded this for two reasons. Firstly most the way today has been through woodland, so I've been protected from the worst of it. And secondly I am a bit of a pluviophile...that is like the rain, and rather enjoy walking in it....accept when GSC has a show obviously!

I don't know why, but there is something about being in the rain that I find fun and exhilarating...of course so long as you're not on your way somewhere and getting drenched - wet jeans are possibly the worst. Maybe it's that sense of being out in the elements...but like being by the sea and getting hit by the spray, makes you feel alive.  Plus the rain makes a great sound, sort of comforting I think, and reminds me of summer holidays in a caravan in Devon! However, there was a worry that my walk guide was going to turn to mush...

Having reached my 10 mile destination, my ankle feeling good , I decided to press on another 4 miles, thus knocking off 4 from tomorrow's 24, which at this stage is a huge psychological boost. So now I headed to Fulmer. On the way I crossed through a beautiful heathland called Stoke Common, where yes my old friend the cows were grazing! But neither of us bothered each other and they kept on grazing...one mooed - I don't think I've ever SEEN a cow moo before, heard them, just nor seen the them...I've seen sheep bleet and horses neigh, but not cows moo!

Saw this interesting feature...in someone's garden!


My day finished around a dinner table eating the most delicious home-cooked meal from north-east India. My hosts not only came to Fulmer to pick me up but also invited my to dinner with their other guests: an IT specialist from Germany and two girls working at Pinewood Studios for the summer. Jude and Jeanette have been such warm and firmed lay hosts and the conversation flowed like we had all known each other for years. Such a range of conversations I wouldn't know where to start, but the evening was perfect example of what I have come to experience on this adventure. That no matter where you're from or what you do, as humans we all have a common desire to share and be good to one another. The kindness, friendliness and support I have received on this journey has been truly remarkable, and yet seemingly effortless.

On another note, thinking back on the conversations at dinner tonight which ranged from Sri Lankan policemen to how you pronounce Fairy Tales in German to owning a car, I am sure that as Shakespeare moved across the country on his journeys to and form London he would have encountered such richness of conversation and life (and especially once in London). I've not had to go to Sri Lanka or India or Germany or Bath tonight to glean information about those places or their people, just in the same way I'm sure, that Shakespeare never had to visit Italy or Denmark or France to place his stories there.

This walk has really taught me many new things and I can't to see what tomorrow brings! Penultimate day - Day 8!

Today's stats:  15 miles | 4 hrs 35 mins | calories 1200

Total mileage : 117 miles

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Day 6 - Trees, Bond and Banter

Today's walk was always going to be a tough one...my longest yet, 22 miles.

Started in a beautiful converted barn with coffee and museli, looking out over corn fields. With last night's legs fully rested, my ankle feeling a little better I set off down Turner's Green Lane towards Britwell Salome...what with yesterday's Toot Baldon, I felt like is was in a PG Wodehouse novel!

The walk to Upper Maidensgrove was so tranquil, my first taste of the Chiltern Hills and woods. Recited lots of As You Like It to myself as I walked.

The one thing I have noticed however since arriving in Oxford, is that the way marking is much poorer than previously from Stratford to Oxford. So much so for the first of two times today I completely missed a marker and ended up having to double back on myself, about and extra 1.5 miles!

The trees in the woods were just spectacular, in fact all day today the woods provided not only welcome shade but were so impressively thin, tall and quiet. Following me most of the day were also the Red Kites of this area. So graceful and free.

Birch trees...

At the 5 Hourseshoes I was joined for the rest of the day by my very good friend and actor Simon Nock. Those of you who saw this summer's shows will have seen him as my master in Errors and Don Pedro in Much Ado. It had taken him a car journey, 3 trains and a taxi to get to me, but he made it! That's how remote I was today! It was so wonderful to have a friend to walk with for the first time and we had such banter. Simon has been a great friend since he first worked for GSC in 2008, and we share the same silly sense of humour.

However what I had not experienced before was navigating my route with someone else! I hadn't realised how much My head as down before...I think I had just got used to it, commenting to myself on things though it was nice to have someone else talking to inanimate objects...giving names to stiles (Harrys) and hay bales (Gareths).

I also had three radio interviews today! Twice with BBC Surrey and with Kim on Eagle...and typically the last two days have been the worst for signal! In fact that was the first time I had become aware of the need for signal so much...my gps tracker needs the signal to accurately record my distance travelled.  Hence also very little social media from me today.

We walked across Stonor House...little highlight for me as it used my fave Bond film The Living Daylights (Dalton the best Bond - controversial I know) as the Bladon Safe House... The sequence with exploding milk bottles...remember that?


Then on into more woods...now it was soon after this that way markers completely disappeared and despite mine and Simon's best efforts we could not identify the right route...and so we did our best and ended up about 4 miles south west of where we should have been. At this point my ankle started started to complain about the mileage I have been asking to it do. We saught to get to Marlowe via the river Thames as we were much nearer to that but the paths just took us in a massive U. With 3 miles left and us already having walked more than Day 6's quota of 22 miles, it was decided for sanity and my ankle to get the bus the final few miles to Marlowe. But don't worry the day's mile quota was covered!

Having Simon today was a godsend and I really enjoyed his company...we did a little film which we'll release later next month. 

My BnB - Swiss Cottage - was a wonderful sight, and had a bath!

Tomorrow, 10 miles to Burnham Beeches...should be easier as half is along the Thames. But it is scheduled to be my first day of rain!

Today's stats: difficult because of lack of precise GPS, definitely 22 miles covered art least!

Total: 102 miles so far.