We started the day in the AromA Cafe, a bright, modern, angular place very different from the slightly ramshackle and homely Cheshire Ice Cream Farm where we kicked off last week. The guy behind the counter had a luxuriant blond Van Dyke, like a young Custer or Rupert of of Hentzau; I didn’t know whether to pay him or challenge him to a duel. My chai latte was sickly and nice, probably as good as you’ll get outside of a battered tin cup in a KL market; Jen‘s toast was disappointingly fancy.
We realised that the building used to be the Lamb, a vast and decaying pub we stayed in some years ago. A coaching house with a long history, its current fate is to be transmuted into apartments and this breezy cafe. Emerging, I noticed that there’s a Costa in the same block, and several other cafes within eyeshot: for a moment Nantwich seemed like a brick heart pumping coffee. Perhaps a resurrected Hogarth could etch a Caffeine Boulevard to accompany his Beer Street (below) and Gin Lane – a slightly manic thoroughfare awash with febrile energy, citizens racing wide-eyed in a thousand futile directions; a street now running through every town centre in the land.
I set off, past the church (coffee available) and out, quickly finding a footpath between houses and a school that took me to a wooded nature reserve.
I saw no other walkers for the next six hours. Often I found myself in lush meadows, seemingly undisturbed, surrounded by woodland.
Never far from roads and farms, I seemed to be on a forgotten trail, finding things like this sculpture-like dead tree with just miles of breeze and sun for company.
I stopped for a drink at Wybunbury, a pleasant-looking village whose church is split, with the (new) church at one end and the (old) tower at the other. In between is the Swan, a Robinson’s pub. I scanned the pumps, calculating ABV, time of day, temperature, distance remaining, likelihood of further pub stops, novelty value of trying new beer, poetics of the names, appeal of the different styles (etc) with the quick reptile mind of a professional gambler. This moment of supercomputing led me to order a pint of ‘Dizzy Blond’, from the blond barmaid – post-feminist irony saw us through this moment of potential difficulty. It was a nice pint, in a ‘like lager but don’t worry, it’s real ale’ kind of way.
I moved on through more lush meadows. Falling blossom filled the air. It was pleasant. I don’t know if there’s a God, but my speck of consciousness felt in tune with a beneficent reality for some moments.
As I’ve said before, Cheshire are good at signing, and the cheerful little yellow arrows can usually be spotted on the far side of fields, even with my 2D eyes (and with many other yellow dots around, buttercups and dandelions.)
However, on less frequented routes, the indifference or hostility of landowners can make navigation difficult. In this case, the yellow arrows had disappeared from some stiles; electric cattle wires cut across the route; unmarked paths led to fields of frisky bullocks. I lost patience when an electric wire sliced across a the top of a stile – let’s just say I adjusted the arrangement.
(I do realise that these wires aren’t deadly. When I was nine or ten, we had a farm holiday in Gloucestershire. The only other child was a girl called either Nicola or Tania Cream (one of the few people who can play the ‘What’s your pornstar name?‘ game and arrive at a less raunchy-sounding one.) We ran around the farm, climbed haystacks, chased sheep and dared each other to hold the wires. As I remember it’s not much worse than licking the terminals of small battery… I also know, despite being a total townie, that bullocks aren’t fanatical death-machines, but in my old age a field full of curious, large young creatures running towards me is a bit much.)
Some woodland cooled me down in every sense. End-of-season ramsoms and bluebells populated the shade. After a while I crossed the M6 on a bridlepath, enjoying the strangeness of encountering the motorway I’ve been on dozens, maybe hundreds of times from a new angle.
Jennie was waiting for me in Keele. We had to get going quite quickly, so a proper look at Keele will have to wait for next time – which will probably be late June or early July.
So I’ve finally got on to a different map, into a different county that I know little of: ‘the creative county’ according to some roadsigns. OK then: create me, baby…