YORK Shakespeare Project is taking to the walls, streets and snickleways of York with a selection of Shakespeare's sonnets in the run-up to Le Grand Départ for the Tour de France on the early evenings of June 25 to 29 and July 2 to 6.

Groups of a maximum size of 15 will set out fromYork Theatre Royal on a hour's walk under the guidance of two alternative hosts that link the event with all things French in doffing a chapeau to the grand cycling send-off.

You can take your pick from TomStraszewski's Henry V at 5.30pm or Henry's new French bride, Queen Anne, played by Rochelle Reynolds, an MA student at the University of York (although despite her name, Rochelle is not French).

"Henry's French queen is our link to Le Grand Départ," says York Shakespeare Project's Helen Wilson, who is co-directing Sonnet Walks with Straszewski as part of the York: Be Part Of It festival.

"On his walk, Henry is preparing York to be fit for his Queen, but unfortunately York in not quite ready in some cases, so the sonnet walkers will encounter a few rather burly gentlemen quoting Shakespeare sonnets and speeches. Queen Anne, for her part, finds York a very curious and idiosyncratic place.

"We cast Henry and Anne as modern young royals going walkabout in the style of William and Kate, so they won't be wearing Shakespearean garb and the people they meet on their way round York – our 11 "sonneteers" – will be people going about their daily life in York. So, for example, we have a stonemason, a workman and a lady of the night."

The company of "sonneteers", spread between the two weeks, will comprise such experienced hands as YSP chairman Maurice Crichton, Jamie Searle, Mick Liversidge and Shirley Williams and Val Burgess, from the 2012 York Mystery Plays. Bill Laverick will reprise his north eastern-accented rendition of Sonnet 130, My Mistress' Eyes, from York Shakespeare Project's A Shakespearean Evening at Bedern Hall in April.

Sarah-Jane Strong, Jessica Glanz, Louise Larkinson and the Canadian-Portuguese Roberto Machado will be on sonnet duty too, as will three 17-year-old YSP debutants: Finn Ella, from Rowntree Players, Sam Platts Levitt and Sophie Tyler.

"Sam and Sophie will be doing the Pilgrim's Kiss, the sonnet from Romeo And Juliet," says Helen, who is delighted by the new blood joining the YSP ranks.

"For quite a few people, Sonnet Walks will be the first Shakespeare they have done. Years ago, they were known as 'sugar sonnets' because they were a distillation of meaning, but unlike a Shakespeare speech they're not easy for actors to learn because they're full of contradictions and the grammar is tricky, but once learn, never forgotten."

Helen believes the Sonnet Walks can provide an introduction to Shakespeare for those yet to venture into the theatre to see one of his plays. "I just want to get across to people that you don't have to have read all the sonnets before you come on the walk, but hopefully you'll want to explore them more afterwards.

"Some of them are funny, some are surprising, some are moving, and they're all living and breathing works and very much character based. So, where possible, we've picked sonnets appropriate to the locations, such as doing Sonnet 55, which is about marble and monuments and stone, and that's why we've made it the Stonemason's sonnet."

York Shakespeare Project is following in the steps of Shakespeare's Globe, where Mark Rylance introduced sonnet events under his artistic directorship, and The Shakespeare Players at Guildford in celebrating the sonnets.

"But as far as I know this is the first time that Sonnet Walks have been done in the north, and I hope it will become a tradition in York because there's certainly enough locations and enough artistic inspiration in the city to do it every year, not necessarily by YSP but by other groups or projects too," says Helen.

The City Of York Council gave YSP a £1,000 grant to support the project and there could be a longer-term benefit to come, reveals Helen. "We intend to spend quite a lot of that funding on starting a project to film Shakespeare's sonnets around the city," she says.

Any interested film-maker should look at the YSP website, yorkshakespeareproject.org, for more details.

York: Be Part Of It presents Sonnet Walks, with York Shakespeare Project and City Of York Council, on the streets and walls of York, from June 25 to 29 and July 2 to 6. Walks start at 5.30pm and 6pm at York Theatre Royal and end outside York Minster.

Tickets cost £5 on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on the door, although booking in advance is advised. Each walking group is limited to 15, so walk-ups may not always be accommodated.