It's the Bard's birthday. Let the good times roll!
To bike, or not to bike: that is the question Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and aches of outrageously sore calves As one pedals up a hill near Chipping Camden Or take arms against a sea of complaints And rest awhile at a pub in the lovely Cotswolds Aye, that is the question To bike or not to bike -inspired by William ShakespeareThe answer: Bike, of course. Combining two seemingly contrary pastimes could, at first, spell trouble for an overseas trip: a love of books and a love of bikes. Without a doubt, I'm a bona fide bookworm. I could claim a fancier descriptive such as 'bibliophile,' but that would be an exaggeration, as would calling myself an expert cyclist. That would definitely be overstating my two-wheeled skills. I love an easy-paced bike ride in rolling countryside with the occasional sweat-inducing uphill climb. Emphasis on occasional. Since I'm a book-lover, and an ardent fan of William Shakespeare's tragedies – and comedies, let us not forget – what better way to mark the 450th anniversary of the Bard's birth (the celebrations for which get under way this month) than cycling Shakespeare's Way in England. Cycling, especially in England, allows the traveller access to back lanes, lesser-travelled side streets, closer looks at historic houses and palaces (anyone up for Blenheim?), along canals, shortcuts through meadows (look out for deer in Windsor Great Park) and through parklands and forests. You won't get that from a padded seat in a car. Activities to mark Shakespeare's birthday run the gamut from plays (of course) and tours of Shakespearean landmarks to lectures and concerts. Coinciding with some of these birthday events is Le Tour de France Grand Départ 2014, making it will be all Bard and bikes throughout the year in England. I got a taste of Shakespeare country on a bicycle when I joined The Carter Company for a condensed version of their Shakespeare's Way 7 Night tour. Instead of the usual route, starting in London (at the Globe Theatre) and cycling to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's hometown, we did Shakespeare’s Way in reverse (well, some of it). You can get an overview of what you'll see along the way by viewing my photo slideshow of Shakespeare's Way by Bike. This particular cycling holiday package, coordinated by a group of keen cyclists who know the area very well, includes The Cotswolds and The Chilterns, lots of time in Stratford-upon-Avon, a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, and various English country villages along the way. You needn't worry about excessive packing and coordinating: The Carter team takes care of luggage transfers, bike hire, helmets, panniers, maps, and everything else you'll need. Day 3, my favourite day: We set off in the morning from Oxford, where we toured the grounds of famous university and walled city, cycled through (or should I say down) the Chiltern Hills, lunched at Heston Blumenthal's pub The Hind's Head in Bray (just next door to his Michelin-starred Fat Duck), did an easy cycle along the Thames and wrapped up the day with an evening performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Rose Theatre in Kingston. Not bad for a day's cycle! At different stages in my travels, I've toured England by train (online booking is simple and there seems to be a train station in every country village), hiking (South Downs Way is easy to navigate), on horseback (including along a busy thoroughfare in London to get to Hyde Park) and now by bike. How would you prefer to spend your time in England? For more on cycling, check out the options on Visit England website.