This has been the only leg so far that has felt like an endurance test. A persistent soaking rain has made it heavy going. I’m writing this at Whitchurch Station, amazed that it has only taken a morning to get there – it felt like a wet lifetime in wet lanes.
Breakfast at the Egerton Arms comprised cereal boxes in the room. I realised this morning that there was no bowl or spoon, and no staff in the building to ask for such things. I briefly considered improvising with a teacup and a penknife, but decided just to take the Nutrigrain bar and head off.
I started on the A41, watched by a large bull (reminding me of the Alan Garner book I had finished last night, where the Bull was a kind of pagan god.) By road the journey to Whitchurch is only 10 miles, but life as a pedestrian on a red road isn’t much fun, so I headed into the woods. The path skirts Broxton Hall, and stumbling on temple in the bluebell woods was a promising start.
Bickerton Hill, a National Trust woodland, was the highlight of the day, and the climb to its fortified top worthwhile for the views, even in the wet and grey.
Down from the hill, the Sandstone Trail passed through a field with what I think was another bull in it (no udders, on his own – I’m sure a non-townie would immediately recognise what I saw as something innocuous, like a sheep, but I didn’t want to take any chances).
The road was drifting towards the A41, and I thought I’d see what the roundabout (junction with the Malpas Road) offered. There might have been a garage, or even (in my hopeful imagination) a Little Chef… No such luck – just a closed down pub. So much for my theory that all crossroads are hives of commerce. Beginning to feel that a cereal bar and water aren’t sufficient rations…
I did another short stretch on the A41, but decided to head back onto paths. Watching people whizzing past, dry and warm, with unlimited access to hot beverages, was becoming annoying, even when people honked and waved encouragingly at the eccentric character on the verge (perhaps thinking it would bring them luck, like a blessing from a naked fakir). The Sandstone Trail is well-signed and well-stiled, and normally I would enjoy following it, but after a while the slogs through muddy fields and tummocky grass became a bit much, and I went back on to tarmac.
Eventually I was back on the A41 again, weary now, pack like a stone, caffeine withdrawal making the wet world seem like some strange unwelcome invention, every word an elaborate curse. And then it was over. The station has no facilities of every kind – it makes Ormskirk Station look like St Pancras – so I’m typing this to pass the time. I’m looking forward to an hour at Crewe, when hot food and drink may be a possibility…
Still, it may have been hard, but I’ve reached Shropshire and a good starting point for a future journey towards Wolves. Hopefully in the dry.