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.


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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

Day 5 - Hidden Treasures

A very exciting start to Day 5...and I don't mean just talking to Adam on Eagle Radio - this morning I had a rendezvous to see a special hidden treasure of Shakespeare's past.

I had been granted permission to have a private showing of The Painted Room in Oxford's former Crown Tavern. Not very often open to the public, the room is located above a mobile phone shop and a betting shop, completely hidden from view.

The Crown Tavern was an inn in the centre of the city owned by Thomas Davenant. Later in the 17th century, the author, biographer (and some say professional gossip) John Aubrey wrote an account of Shakespeare visiting this place:

Shakespeare 'was wont to go into Warwickshire once a year, and did in his journey lye at this house in Oxon where he was exceedingly respected.'

Now Aubrey is not always the most reliable source for these sorts of things - we know Will went into Warwickshire much more than once a year - but Will must have been well known to Davenant because he almost certainly becomes his son's Godfather in 1606. Later in his life this godson - also called William - went on to become a playwright, theatre impresario and Poet Laurete...and if that sounds a bit 'like father like son' well William Davenant, when he'd had a few to many sherries, used to boast that he was Shakespeare's illegitimate son!

Whatever the history, this incredibly well preserved room is a fascinating piece of hidden history. The amazingly well preserved wall paintings date from 1564-1581 and are almost still as vivid as the day they were painted. Unbelievably they were only discovered in 1927 by the Oxford Preservation Trust who are now the custodians of the room...they used to have their offices here when John Betjemin was their secretary!

A huge thanks to Stephen from OPT who showed me round and put up with my hopeless number of filming retakes! If you would like to see the Painted Room, they are opening up as part Open Doors in Oxford 10 & 11 September click on the link for more

So after all that excitement it was off to Cuxham, 16 miles south. I started off following the Thames as far Sandford on Thames and then headed for the Baldons and Chiselhampton.

It was great to be back in the country lanes and trackways again...I'd missed them. I have no idea what it is going to be like approaching London...I was thinking, I hit the Thames at Kew which would have been a remote village to it's just part of zone 2!

No cows today but there was a brilliant sign on one stile:

There were no cows thankfully, but at least I'm not the only person who can sense their danger!!!

Popped into a gorgeous little church - St Lawrence's - in Toot Baldon, a welcome respite from the sun.

I flipped through the prayer book that was open for people to write down things that they would like the congregation to pray for. My goodness, the stories contained in here were so touching, a tiny window into the fears and hopes that people are facing and dealing with, from the sweet and gentle to huge life dilemmas. It was such a human moment and made you feel very alive in the world...we're all worrying and dealing with life, all at the same time...all in it together, sometimes we forget that. Not sure how profound that sounds (I have such walked 16 miles in the heat)...but again made me think how perceptive and brilliant it was of Shakespeare to be able to communicate all those fears, desires, hopes and joys with the mouths of characters and situations which at once are in a fiction but seem ever so real.

Saw this lovely King George V post box - look how small the space is for the envelope!

Anyway, here I am in Cuxham at the end of Day 5...and just over halfway!!!

I now have 4 days to do the other half! Gulp! Big day tomorrow, 22 miles to Marlow.

Today's new things: legs now impervious to stinging nettles and jelly tots are a forgotten treasure too!

The view from my digs in Cuxham at dusk...

Day 5 stats: 16 miles | total so far 80 miles

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Day 4 - Morse and the Mad Hatter

Day 4 began with me waking up in my King-size bed, in my 4 star it wasn't a dream, I had had a bath. A huge thanks you to the manager of The Feathers Hotel, Dominic Bishop, for arranging this stay. if you are ever this way...and want a gin or several...did I say there were 400 to choose from?!

After my first live link up with Adam Morris on 96.4 Eagle Radio, I was back on my way. Just a relatively short one to Oxford, 11 miles,

First stop was Bladon and the surprisingly humble grave of Winston Chruchill. There were floral wreaths in his honour from the the Danish Resistance. Other members of the family are buried alongside him.

Then onwards across Begbroke heading for Yarnton, via the charming sounding Frogwelldown Lane...basically an avenue of trees between two frogs but the shade did go down well in the sunshine.

Yarnton was a lovely little village and the church an absolute gem! Many of the Spencer family are buried here who, interestingly, originated from Snitterfield north of Stratford, where Will's dad's family hailed from. There were some exquisite stained glass windows dating from the Middle Ages (an all seeing eye particularly striking)...just outside the main entrance was a medieval cross shaft. There was also a TV crew base in the next field but couldn't see what they were working on!

I then began heading for Oxford proper and in doing so joined firstly the Oxford Canal, and then River Thames for the first time. I joined the Thames at Wolvercote, which for me will always be synonymous with Inspector Morse - the Wolvercote Tongue novel is the only one I have read, but I remember the TV episode starred Simon Callow! I used to love Morse...and still find myself hooked to the tv if one comes on. I think it was a combination of brilliant acting, great story, locations I knew and a gorgeous setting. I am sure 16th century The Trout Inn I passed was used more than once in the series!

The final 2 miles of the day were along the Thames Path starting at Godstow. The ruins of the abbey are still very present, a Benedictine Nunnery founded in 1115. It was given to Henry VIII's doctor in 1539 after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and largely destroyed during the Civil War.

Godstow and the river held another fascination for me, for it was here on 4 July 1862 that Lewis Carroll came for a day along the river with Alice Liddell and her sisters, and so began the stories of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I really hadn't put two and two together that I would visit this place on my walk, but fitting given last year's production.

As Oxford grew ever closer I felt an impeding sense of busyness, of commerce, people and movement, and I wondered if Will had felt the same. Oxford in 1600 wasn't the size it is today, actually quite small, about 4500-5000 people. Double that of Stratford, but certainly nowhere near the size of towns like Norwich, York or Will's closest metropolis, Coventry. Oxford existed effectively because of the University. The castle was old and there was no royal residence in the town.

Nevertheless I'm sure it was a very bustling place and Will would have felt difference.

...and that's all for I say, a fairly straight forward day...mileage begins to pick up tomorrow (17 tomorrow) does the temperature apparently!

Day 4 stats: 11.7 miles | 3 hrs 53 mins | 910 calories | 26,200 steps

Total mileage so far: 64.1 miles

Monday, 15 August 2016

Day 3 - Hobnobing with the Churchills

Day 3 and feet still attached! Day was supposed to be shorter, only 14 miles from Chippy to Woodstock...

Began the day having a quick coffee on a bench outside the Chippy Town Hall...funny to see this town in the summer, I've only ever been here during the winter for two pantos!

Apologies for this morning's eagle radio update. They apparently had a glitch their end, but I will be on air tomorrow!

This was my path for a lot of the morning - helpful in shorts!

This morning I set off heading first of all for Church Enstone arriving there at about midday. On the way I passed the remains of a medieval village - Nether Chalford... It was first recorded in 1086, there is a record of its Chruch in 1412, but then in 1470 they were given to Oriel Cottage, College who cleared them for profitable grazing land. In 1510 Thomas Haybrook acquired permission to enclose and 1524 the village had been abandoned. This happened to so many smaller villages and hamlets...enclosure was much feared amongst the common people, and even Shakespeare ended up being dragged in debacle of land he owned in Stratford.

All of yesterday and much of today you could see the ancient furrowed land that is still marked in the feudal strips that families would farm.

See the Welcombe Enclosures if you want to know more.

A lot of the paths today were grassy fields of trackways - hurrah, no corn fields! My socks were getting full of bits of straw and kernels! Definitely not a fan of walking through corn fields. Walk pet-peeve. A couple of tracks and lanes I walked on would have formed the old London Road from Stratford before the new turnpike road was built after Will, so it is quite possible that he did travel down these very lanes as me today...and some of them have changed condition in 400 years!

"Villainous and boggy" William Harrison called them in 1577, and some were certainly villainous. Roads in Will's day were not great. Only 4 great Roman roads survived, so all routes were via ancient trackways, paths and lanes. I rather like the fact that my route, though probably more windy than Will's it not too disimilar in surface quality. In summer they are hard-backed ruts and very stony.

More than likely Will would have hitched a ride on a wagon for a few pence to begin with and then
later a horse as his fortunes grew. Travel was expensive, two and half pence per mile for a horse, double if you needed a guide! Travel was not cheap...anyway more about that tomorrow.

Church Enstone had a beautiful church, dedicated to St Kenelm, who is mentioned in Chaucer's Nuns Priest Tale...the one with cockerel that sounds like Barry White (you remember), with a Norman entrance.

By lunchtime I was being given a private tour of Ditchley Manor...yes my kind land lady from Chippy, Jeanette, is the Domestic Bursar there and so gave me a quick 30 mins private tour! Such a generous lady, she remembered me from playing Buttons in the Chippy panto 2012/13.

Originally the property of 2nd Earl of Lichfield, the current house was designed by James Gibbs who was responsible for St Martins in the Field Church in London. In 1933 it was bought by Ronald Tree MP whose wife Nancy Lancaster, a society belle, redecorated it with Sibyl Colefax, the interior designer. It was a party house in the 30s and the Churchills used as a retreat during the war, some 16 times as it was safer than nearby Blenheim. Jeanette showed Churchill's study and bedroom. The bathroom, rather sweetly I think, was shared with his wife Clemmie with adjoining doors. For our period there were some very impressive antlers on the wall, whose deer's head has been preserved, and underneath each of them a small poem describing the manner in which they had been hunted and killed. Each one dating from hunts in 1608 and 1610, and each one killed by the King himself.

Leaving Ditchely it was on to Blenheim...4 miles away, thought it seemed much longer. As I crossed the boundary wall of Blenheim Park I was greeted with a huge cheer, and cries of battle....or so I thought...but as I got closer what I thought was going to be some kind of joust or re-enactment, I
discovered the noise was actually sheep awaiting their summer shearing! Wow what a noise!!!

I reached the famous Victory Column overlooking Blenheim which for me marked mile 46... Just another 100 to go.

Finally I arrived the pretty town of Woodstock where my mum and dad were waiting to meet me to take me for dinner. What a treat.

...and talking of treats...near disaster yesterday turned to delight today. My B&B let me down last thing yesterday evening, but the incredibly kind Feathers Hotel came to my rescue! So now I am off to a luxurious bath and a Gin and Tonic...they have 400 different ones behind the bar! And yes, Silent Pool is there!

Once again thank you for all the tweets and Facebook messages and emails of support. It's really lovely to hear from you all.

I have decided by the way for ease, that I will re edit all these blogs with photos upon my return....I am also posting daily videos on Facebook and Twitter

Today's stats:

17.84 miles | 5 hrs 44 mins | 1400 calories| 39,200 steps.

Total walked so far 52.4 miles

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Day 2 - Trying to love cows...

Day 2 started a bit overcast and pretty much stayed that way all day, which actually was quite nice for walking...especially as the week is going to get hotter!

The first section today was through some gorgeous fields and rolling countryside. I did quite a bit of filming early on for the 'countryside' chapter of the film...though I kept getting interrupted by dog walkers!

The first half of the day also involve field after field of cows. Now I like cows. I actually think they are rather beautiful. However, how does one deal with a cow? Or rather how does one deal with walking across a field of cows who all start looking at you and then start moving towards you...then start jogging towards you??

Thankfully I made it to a stile in time just as they were within reach. Once on the other side of said stile I looked back all I can say is that I was reminded of the scene in Zulu when the Zulus all amass on the cliffs above Rouke's Drift....

I was then faced with another 3 fields of cows, followed by sheep. Weirdly these cows, though all lay either across my path or gathered around the stile were as bothered about me as a vegetarian looking in a butchers...they didn't bat an eyelid at me! I was quite put out! The sheep however were disturbed despite being miles away from me...two things...sheep and cows do have lovely faces I have decided.

Oh and I also came across a field of pea-hens, that's baby peacocks!

My first bit of woodland walking today through Wichford Woods, which were a nice change of scenery...and my first steep inclines as I left the Midland Plain. The rises afforded fabulous views back to towards the way I had come. Only 5% of England was inhabited in Shakespeare's day, with the rest either natural woodland, open fields or tilled fields.

Walking in this landscape which is still very open you do get a sense of how nature can dictate your life and anchor you in the rural landscape that surrounds you. Perhaps that is why despite the fact you might be Egypt, Italy, Cyprus, France or Northern Spain, the environments also have a ring of the English countryside about them.

I know a bank where the wild thyme grows
Where oxslips and the nodding violets grow
Quite o'ercanopied with luscious woodbine
With sweet musk roses andwith englantine.
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night... says Oberon in the woods outside of...Athens...or Long Compton...

Talking of Long Compton... a linear village where the habitation is located on along a single road (possibly one of the only things I remember from school geography)...I passed this lovely church and lychgate. The gate is from 1600 and the church is dedicated St Peter and St Paul - it's doorway dates from 14th century, whilst most of the current church dates from the 17th century.

Finally took a wee diversion to see the famous Rollright Stones above Chipping Norton.

A place of pagan pilgrimage for centuries, the stones were once soldiers who has conquered England as far as this and then were turned to stone by a witch...they await the return of their King to release them from their spell! When I last did panto in Chippy I came up here on the eve of the Winter Solstice and chatted with pagans who were holding vigil until the sunrise. Pagan rituals and stories were still part of Elizabethan life, and Will would certainly have heard the stories of the Green Man, Wat the Hare and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight...would he have known about the Rollright Stones? Who knows...but they are about 30 miles from Stratford...

I arrived in Chippy bang on time, and then spent 20 mins on my back with my feet in the air as soon as I was checked in to my B&B...apparently it's the best thing!

Today's stats: 16 miles | 5 hours 20 mins | 35,900 calories

Day 1 - How far?!?

Well the day finally came for me to start my Bard Walk.

The previous day I had been given exclusive access to Shakespeare's Birthplace in Stratford before the public arrived, to film for documentary I am making for our education department.

To be given completely free access around the Birthplace was incredible...and on my own! What were they thinking! It is funny to think of the family Shakespeare going about their business in their home now that the building is museum with millions of tourists pouring around the rooms from all over the world.

By the time Shakespeare was 18 there were 10 people living in the house, which must have been incredibly cramped. And we must always remember that the house was a place of work too with the gloving workshop attached...and the smells that went with gloving too!!

Enormous thanks to Dr Anjna Chouhan who gave up her time to allow me to interview her for the film, and everyone at the Birthplace Trust for being so supportive.

The rest of the day was spent at mum and dad's in Worcester, with my feet up thinking about the next 9 days....

So Saturday 13 August dawned and we made our way to Stratford. After picking up a few extra shots for the film which I missed yesterday, I made my way to my starting point, and Shakespeare's finishing line - Holy Trinity Church.

Shakespeare's School Room

The site of his home, New Place

There to see me off were my folks, my best friend and his wife (Alex also happens to be Chair of our Trustees), and the sister of one of our GSC Friends who lives in Stratford.


There have been so many incredibly kind and  generous messages of support for this walk, which have inspired me to do this, and this morning was no exception....and so with the sun shining I set off...

...and within the first 10 mins I missed my first field gate!!! Possibly down to trying to respond to everyone's tweets and comments! No damage done tho, I was quickly back on track.

Todays's 17 miles took me past Clifford Chambers, Atherstone-on-Stour, Alderminster, Halford and Honington.

The church of St Mary's that I popped into in Preston-on-Stour had an amazing stained glass window which reminded me of the window in Holy Trinity in Guildford in the Queen's of my favourite parts of the church....the incredibly vivid dragon lying at the feet of St George.

A helpful 72 year old in Halford gave me a short cut and told me the secret of his youth...I'm afraid
I've been sworn to secrecy! And an equally lovely lady in a garage in Halford gave me a jam donut for free when she learnt of my walk:

You look like you're on a bit of a walk today...
Yes, to London
Yes...(explanation followed)
Here you must have this jam donut to keep up your energy!

And with that she filled up my water bottle and I was on my way.

I think the main thing I got from today was the enormity of the journey Elizabethans were undertaking in their journeys around the capital. By foot I had only done 6 miles and I already felt like Stratford was a long way away. I know Will probably did most of this journey by cart so hardly walked as I am, but nevertheless, the act of moving slower than we are used to in the modern age really emphasises the distance you are travelling. Cars and trains really have made the country smaller!

The above are two pictures from a church in Halford. The doorway is of Norman origin and the the misericord is the only one in the church and dates from 16th century.

Finally I reached my destination of Shipston and Holly End BnB. The welcome could not have been warmer. Steve and Yvette made me feel incredibly welcome and I recommend it to anyone wishing to stay in the Cotswolds.

I did get lost in the final field of wheat, tantalisingly close but Yvette reassured me everyone gets lost there! The day ended with a lovely dinner the George Town House.

Today's favourite sign:

Day 1 stats:

18.6 miles - 6 hours, 7 mins - 1400 calories - 41,300 steps - 1 jam donut