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Following in the Footsteps of the Bard

A tour of Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of William Shakespeare, one of the world's greatest playwrights.

Distance 2.5 miles (4km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Riverside paths and street pavements, no stiles

Landscape Historic streets

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 205 Stratford-upon-Avon & Evesham

Start/finish SP 205547

Dog friendliness On lead along streets

Parking Recreation Ground pay-and-display car park

Public toilets At car park and top of Henley Street

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the car park, walk along the banks of the River Avon opposite the famous Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Pass the weir until you come to a footbridge over the river, just in front of the A4390 road bridge.

2 Go right over the footbridge and bear right past the old mill building into Mill Lane. Continue up Mill Lane and go through the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, walking around the church to see the river view. Leave the churchyard through the main gate into Old Town and follow the pavement. Just before reaching the turn into Southern Lane, go right into New Place Gardens and walk up to the Brass Rubbing Centre. Continue past the ferry and stroll through the attractive Theatre Gardens by the side of the Avon, exiting into Waterside and passing by the frontage of the old theatre building.

3 Go left up Chapel Lane, taking time to wander through the Knot Gardens on your way up to Chapel Street. At the top of the lane is the Guild Chapel to Shakespeare's Grammar School, with New Place Gardens to the right.

4 Go right along Chapel Street, passing the Shakespeare Hotel and the Town Hall into High Street. Harvard House is on the left, near the black-and-white Garrick Inn. At the end of High Street, bear left around the traffic island into Henley Street and walk along the pedestrianised area that takes you past Shakespeare's Birthplace and the Museum. At the top of Henley Street, bear right and then left into Birmingham Road. Cross the road at the pedestrian crossing and go left up to the traffic-lights.

5 Head right up Clopton Road for 100yds (91m), then descend to the tow path of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Follow this, going south east. Cross the canal at bridge No 68 and continue along the tow path into Bancroft Gardens by the canal basin where you will see an array of colourful narrowboats and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Cross the old Tram Bridge to the car park on the right.

There are other things to see in Stratford-upon-Avon, apart from the Shakespeare heritage. The medieval 14-arched Clopton Bridge forms a splendid gateway to the town. The Town Hall is a fine Palladian building and Harvard House in the High Street dates from 1596. It takes its name from the owner's daughter, Katherine Rogers, who married Robert Harvard of Southwark in London in 1605. Their son John went on to bequeath Harvard University in the USA, and the university now owns Harvard House. The Falcon Hotel was probably one of Shakespeare's regular drinking places and opposite is the ancient guild hall and an attractive row of timbered almshouses. The Canal Basin is a delightfully colourful place set in Bancroft Gardens by the River Avon.

But it is because of William Shakespeare that visitors flock in their millions to Stratford-upon-Avon. Born here, in Henley Street, in 1564, he was baptised in Holy Trinity Church, and like me, attended King Edward VI's Grammar School in Church Street. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582 (Walk 24 visits her cottage in Shottery) and they had three children; Susannah, Hamnet and Judith. However, a country market town was no place for a playwright and poet, so some time in the mid-1580s he headed for London. By 1592 he was the talk of the town, counting Queen Elizabeth and her court among his plays' many admirers. His poetry was first published around this time and he began to accumulate serious wealth.

By 1597 he was able to buy New Place, then one of Stratford's grandest properties, next door to Nash's House on the corner of Chapel Street and Chapel Lane. The early 1600s saw his theatre company gain a royal title (the King's Men), and the Bard, himself, write many of his best-known tragedies, such as Othello, King Lear and Macbeth.

Shakespeare began to spend less and less time in the giddy London theatre-world, and more time at home in Stratford. His son Hamnet had died, aged 11, in 1596, but the boy's sister Susannah had survived and married Dr John Hall in 1607. The couple lived in Hall's Croft, in the old part of the town, until after her father's death. Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616 and was buried at Holy Trinity. You can see his tomb, and that of his wife Anne Hathaway, who died in 1623. It bears the inscription:

'Good friend for Jesus sake forebeare

To dig the dust encloased heare!

Bleste be the man that spares the stones

And curst be he that moves the bones.'

This gentle walk along the banks of the River Avon takes you past the weir and Holy Trinity Church and embraces a stroll through the town to see some of the famous buildings in Shakespeare's Stratford.

What to look for

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, swans virtually disappeared from the River Avon due to poisoning by lead fishing weights. Today they have returned and together with ducks add considerable interest to the many photo opportunities available. In the canal basin, narrowboats assemble to form a colourful foreground for photographs of the Gower Memorial which depicts Shakespeare and characters from the Bard's famous plays.

While you're there

Spare time to visit some of the fantastic Shakespeare properties and indulge in the wonderful medieval atmosphere that permeates this beautiful town. This walk takes you past many attractive buildings.

Where to eat and drink

There are many places to choose from in Stratford-upon-Avon. This short route passes the Black Swan in Southern Lane (known locally as 'The Dirty Duck') which is frequented by actors from the theatre. The half-timbered Garrick Inn in High Street is popular with the local rugby club. The Bell Inn in Shottery has long been used by local walking groups.

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