It may not have been in his exact footsteps, but keen walker Peter Titchmarsh set out yesterday on the path Shakespeare may have once taken from his home town to work in London.

Mr Titchmarsh, a former Ford motor dealer, is hoping to become the first person to walk the newly-devised Shakespeare's Way, after spending two years coming up with the 146-mile route.

The 79-year-old, who lives in Pillerton Priors, near Stratford-upon-Avon, used existing footpaths, bridleways and minor roads to make up the route of the walk.

And he is hoping it will now become as popular as the neighbouring Cotswold Way, with hundreds of ramblers following in his footsteps each year.

While there is no proof Shakespeare walked along the specific route put together by Mr Titchmarsh, it is possible he covered some of the same ground.

The path takes in some of England's most popular sights, such as the Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxford, and the Chilterns.

Beginning at Stratford, it ends at Shakespeare's famous Globe Theatre on the banks of the River Thames in London.

"I am trying to follow the route I think he might have taken. There is no definite proof of any walk but I am almost certain he walked this route from Stratford to Oxford," Mr Titchmarsh said as he set off along the route yesterday.

"Beyond that he perhaps would have followed the line where the M40 is but that wouldn't have made a very pleasant walk."

The route has opened just before the playwright's birthday on Sunday and the start of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works Festival.

Mr Titchmarsh's desire to create the Shakespeare's Way is not only down to his love of maps and the great outdoors, but also to raise money for charity.

Both he and his wife lost their previous spouses to cancer and ten years ago they created the Macmillan Way, a walk from Boston, in Lincoln-shire, to Dorset to raise money for Macmillan nurses.

So far, £250,000 has been raised for the charity through sponsored walks along the route and guide book sales.

He hopes Shakespeare's Way will be as successful in raising funds for the Shakespeare Hospice in Stratford.

"I love maps, I love walking and I am fairly interested in Shakespeare and that is the best order to put it in," he said, as he climbed over a stile.

"I thought it would make a nice walk, going through some interesting places.

"I did this for two reasons. One, because I thought it would provide an interesting and attractive walk for people who like walking across country and two, because I wanted to raise some money for a worthwhile charity."

Mr Titchmarsh, who has a degree in history, believes Shakespeare would have walked between Stratford and London in what scholars call the "lost years" between 1585 and 1592.

* Information on the walk is available by visiting the web-site