Category Archives: Shakespeare Country

214. Three years of Roads of Stone

past and present high street rye east sussex england by roadsofstoneThings have been slow around here, for a little while now, and in more ways than one.

I’ve had less time for running, and less still for writing. I’ve been unfit, distracted and slow.

And yet — there’s been real progress, too, hidden not far beneath the surface.

Our 95,000 visitors this year may have found only 22 new posts to read, but it’s been a momentous year of change, both in London and abroad.

the old mill horsham sussex england by acirfa virtual tourist comThe great crash formed the backdrop to the year, but it was in America that destiny was decided.

A changing political landscape marked the 2008 US election and the new opportunities that brings, for America and the whole world beyond.
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207. Running back on track — the train on Stratford’s Greenway

stratford-upon-avon-england-the-cantilever-bridge-apr-2009-by-roadsofstoneA sunny April morning, and the view across the River Avon from the cantilever bridge is fresh with scents of spring.

The Greenway lies cool and long before me — a mile of empty old railway track to bring me back to town. Except — it isn’t empty.

Far ahead, where only a dog walker, another runner or a mountain bike should be, I could swear I saw a train. And yet, this railway line closed 33 years ago.

I keep running, and disbelieving, but finally it’s true.

railway carriages cafe greenway stratford upon avon england 2009 roadsofstoneUp ahead, there’s a new piece of shiny track, carrying two old railway carriages where no carriages have stood for three decades or more.

A piece of railway history — a museum display, surely? But there’s something more afoot.
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198. This bank and shoal of time – beside the river in Stratford-upon-Avon

stratford-upon-avon-england-christmas-lights-on-clopton-bridge-dec-2008-by-roadsofstoneBut here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come.
Macbeth, Act 1, Sc. 7.

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.

stratford-upon-avon-england-monument-at-new-lock-dec-2008-by-roadsofstoneThe navigation works were authorised by King Charles I in 1635, and by 1641 the river was open to within four miles of Warwick. But by 1874, the upper section had fallen into disuse.

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. Continue reading

177. From white box to empty shell – rebuilding the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

royal-shakespeare-theatre-river-stratford-upon-avon-england-2008-by-roadsofstone.jpgThere’s a brick building at the end of the street where I grew up. I run past it every time I’m in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Today, it’s just an empty shell.

After more than seventy years, a new Royal Shakespeare Theatre is being built inside the framework of the old one.

It’s a constraining decision, architecturally – which limits the capacity and design of the new theatre, whilst still destroying the marvellous art deco foyer within. Just think – for £110 mm we could have had a Sydney Opera House instead of a revamped old blockhouse with only 1,000 seats – a third fewer than before.

royal-shakespeare-theatre-rebuild-stratford-upon-avon-england-2008-by-roadsofstone.jpgLooking across the river now, I can see empty space where the heart of the building should be.

And in a way, that’s just how it was in 1970 when I saw my first Shakespeare play here – Peter Brook’s famous ‘White Box’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, famously staged inside a chasm of blank white walls.
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149. In at the deep end – Stratford 220 Sprint Triathlon

It’s not even 9 on Sunday morning, and already I’m out of my depth.

Looking out of my new goggles and through a bubble-strewn maelstrom of churning waters, I can see the floor of the pool falling away far beneath me, and just for a moment, I consider drowning.

The truth is, I’m into new territory here. Way out of my comfort zone.

stratford-220-sprint-tri-swimI’d thought it only in concentration camps that arrivals were routinely branded, until the ruthlessly efficient blonde by the desk had smilingly scrawled numbers onto my flesh.

And a few minutes later, fearfully lined up in numerical order beside the pool, we’d all edged nervously forwards towards our fate. This was something different. We weren’t just starting a race – we were being processed.
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42. Twenty six times two – marathon dreams in the Surrey Hills

A familiar sense of anticipation, and a race at last. The last few weeks of training have gone by in a flash, and it’ll be good to see how I fare on the road again. After weeks and weeks of running into the dusk, at last a bright and sunny morning. I’m feeling pretty good today as I open the curtains and look out. Spring seems to have arrived at last, and I can feel it in my step as I bound down the stairs for a big breakfast.

sunken-lane-surrey-hills-and-st-johns-church-wotton.jpg

My mother makes me a mountain of toast and marmite, the sun streaming now through the kitchen window of my youth. It’s a perfect day, and time to get ready. I pull on my favourite racing kit and try to imagine the race, how it will feel. I focus on the good feelings – calm, cool running through the early miles, feeling the distance kick in, but staying with it. For as long as it takes.
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35. Stratford saplings and The Seeds of Doom

Three months to go, exactly. Time for some real action, some solid workouts. Routine five milers and run-walking twelves just won’t cut it now, won’t get me to The Embankment in April, let alone to the finish line on The Mall.

tramway-bridge-stratford-upon-avon-and-london-eye-at-night.jpgI’m back in Stratford-upon-Avon today, the town where I grew up. Scene of my most recent marathon tableau, a grateful and joyous homecoming for the local boy.

The meticulously planned, yet widely unexpected metamorphosis from boyhood wimpishness and utter athletic indistinction to the cool, calm and rakishly collected 3:59 marathon runner.

Well, it looked good on paper, and in my dream issue of the Stratford Herald too, but reality had kicked in somewhere amongst the mists of marathon’s dreaded mile 20. “Run a dream marathon for 20 miles, and suffer like hell for the next 6.2“, as Shakespeare himself would have put it, in describing probably 90% of all the marathons that have ever been run, anywhere, by anyone and everyone, except for Paula Radcliffe.
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