Why then the world’s mine oyster.
– The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2, Sc 2.
The Roman road crossed the river at its widest and shallowest point, and gave this town its name: Strat-ford-upon-Avon.
The Clopton Bridge stands at the same spot today – five hundred years old, and still carrying all the traffic across the river. Beneath the bridge, the Avon flows both chill and slow. I know the feeling.
I run past the boathouse, the Tramway Bridge and the Rowing Club. The Avon is full of rowers out bright and early. A couple of fours, a sculler or two. There are no canal boats today, but the river is navigable all the way from the sea.
It was the vision of David Hutchings and the Upper Avon Navigation Trust to re-open the river between the Severn and the Birmingham Canal. Stratford New Lock was the last link in that chain, finally completed in 1971.
The lock was built by volunteers from Gloucester Gaol, and Stratford’s Shawshank offered a tough kind of redemption.
The shifting silt provided tricky ground for digging through the river bank, and the working party endured long hard months before their task was complete. A simple monument of stacked girders stands by the lock today to mark the prisoners’ great achievement.
Behind the lock and across the water stands the steeple of Holy Trinity. Shakespeare’s church, where his mortal remains lie beneath this inscription:
Good friend for Jesus sake forebeare
To digg the dust enclosed heare:
Bleste be y man y spares thes stones
And curst be he y moves my bones.
Millions have come to look, but in four centuries no one has moved him yet.
I run. I drift.
A reach of quiet river bank brings me to another lock, then I cut left up onto the wooded undercliff, and up and down between the trees before emerging to greet the sunlight.
The view across open fields of Cross o’the Hill Farm towards the Cotswold Hills looks fresh and green on this bright midwinter morning, the winter wheat pushing up hopefully through the red Warwickshire soil which tells of the Triassic Keuper Marl beneath.
I trot another field or three to find the riverbank again. In front of me stands the abandoned railway crossing which now carries The Greenway across the Avon.
Holy Trinity’s steeple, the Dirty Duck pub and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre all stand ahead, but before I reach them I loop right to cross the river at Lucy’s Mill.
Here, just below the weir and many years ago, I found my first fossil – a common Jurassic oyster named Gryphaea, reworked from limestone hills around the town and washed within Ice Age gravels which floor the river valley.
Stratford-upon-Avon – it’s just a small market town, nestling in a fold of ground where the Roman road once crossed the river.
But Shakespeare called it home. And so did I.
3. Running in Shakespeare Country
23. The uncertain glory of an April day: Shakespeare Marathon 2003
149. In at the deep end – Stratford 220 Sprint Triathlon
35. Stratford saplings and The Seeds of Doom
177. From white box to empty shell – rebuilding the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon