Forest Survivals in the Stratford District
But perhaps the most characteristic feature of the scenery in the neighbourhood of Stratford is to be found in the union of this rich and varied cultivation with picturesque survivals of the primeval forest territory. The low hills that rise at intervals above the well-turned soil still carryon their serrated crests the lingering glories of the ancient woodland. Though the once mighty forest of Arden has disappeared, the after-glow of its sylvan beauty rests on the neighbouring heights formerly enclosed within its ample margin. These traces of the forest wildness and freedom were of course far more striking and abundant in Shakespeare's day than now. At that time many of the farms had only recently been reclaimed from the forest, and most of them still had their bosky acres "of tooth'd briars, sharp furzes, pricking goss and thorns," their broom groves, hazel copses, and outlying patches of unshrubbed down. And the hills that rose above the chief villages of the neighbourhood were still clothed and crowned with the green and mystic mantle of the leafy Arden.
But, though much of the ancient woodland has disappeared since Shakespeare's day, many traces of it still remain. Any of the roads out of Stratford will soon bring the pedestrian to some of these picturesque survivals of the old forest wilderness. On the Warwick road, at the distance of about a mile from the town, there are on the left the Welcombe Woods, and just beyond the woods the well-known Dingles, a belt of straggling ash and hawthorn winding irregularly through blue-bell depths and briery hollows from the pathway below to the crest of the hill above, while immediately around rise the Welcombe Hills, from the top of which is obtained the finest local view of Stratford and the adjacent country. Looking south-west and facing the central line of the town, you see below you, above the mass of roofs, the square tower of the guild chapel, the graceful spire of the more distant church, the sweep of the winding river, and beyond the river the undulating valley of the Red Horse shut in by the blue range of the Cotswold Hills.
A couple of miles to the east of the Welcombe Hills is the village of Snitterfield, where Shakespeare's grandfather, Richard Shakespeare, lived and cultivated to the end of his days the acres around his rustic dwelling. Beyond the village on its western side there is an upland reach of wilderness in the shape of a hill, covered with shrub and copsewood, and known as the Snitterfield Bushes. Here Shakespeare as a boy must have often rambled, enjoying the freedom of the unfenced downs, and enlarging hi, knowledge of nature's exuberant vitality.
On the opposite side of the town, about a mile on the Evesham road, or rather between the Evesham and Alcester roads, lies the hamlet of Shottery, half concealed by ancestral elms and nestling amongst its homestead fruits and flowers. From one of these homesteads Shakespeare obtained his bride Anne Hathaway. A mile or two on the central road, passing out of the town through Henley Street, is the village of Bearley, and above the village another sweep of wooded upland known as Bearley Bushes.
And at various more distant points between these roads the marl and sandstone heights, fringed with woods or covered with wilding growths, still bear eloquent testimony to the time when Guy of Warwick and his tutor in chivalry, Heraud of Arden, still roamed the forest in search of the wild ox and savage boar that frayed the infrequent travellers and devastated at intervals the slender cultivation of the district.
The subtle power of this order of scenery, arising from the union of all that is rich and careful in cultivation with all that is wild and free in natural beauty, is exactly of the kind best fitted to attract and delight imaginative and emotional minds. It possesses the peculiar charm that in character arises from the union of refined culture with the bright and exhilarating spontaneity of a free and generous nature.
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