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Posts Tagged ‘A41’

I left Chester along the Shropshire Union Canal, on a dry, grey and intermittently windy morning. Canals can be surprising varied, and this is an interesting one, where each bridge creates its own little environment, and strange junk punctuates the long miles.


canal


junk


A long stretch of barges made the canal into a kind of watery street, the watercraft and sometimes elaborate moorings an unbroken row of colourful, individualist residences. One or two were burning aromatic logs against the chill; one was on the move, its drivers (?) looking cheerful with mugs of tea. (Note to self: buy Camelbak and fill with fine Assam…)


After a few miles, a watery silhouette of Beeston Castle could be seen over crow stubble fields.


I turned off the canal at Crows Nest Bridge, and walked on roads for a while until I came to Cheshire Ice cream farm. Let me just say that this place is great – as a walker I was given a discount in the tea room, with an offer of free refills for my teapot. I had a nice piece of cake and the rest of the food looked good too.

Many of the other customers were cyclists, streamlined in lycra, every piece of apparel designed to reduce wind resistance. Compared to these, I felt clumpy and flappy, like some eccentric fellow wearing a special apparatus to increase wind resistance, perhaps for a bet. The cyclists looked like a different species, elongated and elegant, like elves or aliens from a low-gravity planet. However, unlike Tolkein’s elves or Bradbury’s Martians, the cyclists are bedecked with logos – perhaps corporate sponsorship is the price they have to pay to visit our lumpen world.


From the farm I headed towards the hills south of Beeston and Peckforton castles. So far the journey has been pretty flat, partly because of the landscape and partly because of my reliance on disused railways and canal paths. This tumbled landscape came as a bit of a shock…



Around 2 I reached the Pheasant, a food-oriented pub overlooking the Cheshire Plain, the kind of place where you can query the provenance of the truffle oil and not be openly mocked. Finally I had my Chester-brewed beer, this time something called ‘Thirst Quencher’ which sounded less walk-derailing than yesterday’s ‘Devastation’.

Feeling slightly waney in the aspic afternoon, I headed onwards. The path skirted wooded hills in a series of curves.


curves


I came down to the A553, left it for a while to cross pathless fields rather than risk the traffic, and reached my stopping point, the Egerton Arms. Not a bad place to end up, one of the large roadhouse type pubs that adorn the old lorry routes.

I explored the crossroads. A good place to bury a vampire I believe, or meet the devil. I did neither, but did meet the proprietor of the a garage-cum-bakery, a good example of roadside enterprise, but unfortunately not open early enough tomorrow for me to get supplies there.

Had some very good fish and chips, a pint of Jennings, and went to bed.

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Before setting out this morning, I watched a recording of the Red Dragon movie. As I like to follow trails of coincidence as well as physical routes, in Chester I looked for some William Blake in Waterstones, one of the shops in the medieval Rows, a sort of upper storey to the streets. (The title of the film and the book it is based on, and much of the lurid action, relate to a Blake painting.) I could have got a decent hit of Blake for just £1.90 (Dover Thrift Edition) or £2.00 (Everyman), but settled for a Vintage Classics collection, selected and introduced by Patti Smith (£6.99). Massaging my post-purchase blues by the fire in the Bear and Billet, a 17th-century pub by the south city wall, I decided that opting for the costlier, fancy-schmancy, fanboy version had been a good move, if only for a quote from PS’ intro: ‘Thus we are condemned to stagger rootless upon the earth in search for our fingerprint on the cosmos‘.

Today’s staggering has been into, and out of, Chester – via outskirt streets lined with tattoo parlours, martial arts suppliers, charity shops, fancy dress hire shops, alternative therapy emporia and the like. The centre is, by contrast, resolutely upmarket – even the ‘Hed Shop’ has the alienating glow emitted when a high-end luxury-goods niche is being mined.


chester

There is a denseness to Chester, perhaps from the accumulated layers of time – still a Roman city (‘The Empire Never Ended’, as Philip K Dick warns), with accretions from more recent periods still visible and interwoven with the modern – half-timbered Disney shop, constellations of gum on stone flags, market minstrel singing James Blunt, wifi-enabled Via Principalis.

turrets

I felt lighter as I moved away from the main drag, walking down Bridge Street – the heritage and lifestyle elements were still there, just a bit less closely-packed. (Jen: I bought an Aga! Only kidding…) I enjoyed the aforementioned pub stop (where I could have had a Chester-brewed beer, but as it was called ‘Devastation’ and had 5.2% alcohol instead settled for a nice IPA from the Isle of Man), and soon afterwards dragged my spiritually weary and uncertain bones into St John the Baptist Church, next to the Roman amphitheatre. This was once the city cathedral, and is an impressively beautiful church with a sense of a place well-used and hospitable. The Rector barrelled towards me like a visitor-seeking missile and a hearty conversation ensued. Normally I hate being accosted in places o’ worship, but this guy is OK by me: a priest who has ‘seen the worst evil of mankind’ (according to a press cutting in the porch), and who aims to raise £9m to transform the church for a wider range of uses both secular and spiritual.

From there I visited the Visitor Centre – rather desultory from a tourist point of view, but with excellent ‘bathroom facilities’. (Note to self; given age, plan route on WC availability as well as (ideally combined with) wifi access.) This is here the plastic horned helmets come from, and a starting point for walking tours. One of these, the ‘Gladiator Tour’ is advertised by a lifesized image of a fighting man covered in (but not particularly bothered by) a lot of wounds. (I’m not being sniffy – I doubt that the ‘peace and reconciliation tour’ would get many punters (‘On your left, you can see the site of the house where a Quaker merchant once provided better conditions for his clerks’) and I would have tugged at parental sleeves and demanded the Gladiator one when I was 12 – but it’s interesting that a moment comes when the bloodier details of war, wretchedness and oppression can be turned into fantasy and entertainment.)

Then out again, on the A41 – a road which could take me on much of the journey; a road we used to live a few yards from back in Wolves. Everything connects. More of the lower-rent shops, backpacker hostels in converted pubs, an astrologer, the American Excess Party Limo (a white minibus looking particularly grim in the stark grey light of a cloudy April afternoon).

By four I reached my overnight accommodation (the first to be needed on the journey) – a Premier Inn. I like Premier Inns, but am less keen on their food-partners, Brewers Fayre pubs, often found next door, and presumably run by the same company. In my experience these can be adequate, bad, ingeniously bad (serving a pie upside down so that it resembled the steak-and-kidney pudding I’d ordered) or even surreally bad (serving three small Yorkshire puddings, each with a roast potato nestling in it like and egg in an egg cup, as a surrogate for a ‘giant Yorkshire pudding filled with beef and vegetables’ requested by Jen). The menu in this motel room mentions ‘guest pie’ as one of the options, implying some Sweeney Todd arrangement between the two establishments. Nevertheless I had a look at this one (the Twirl of Hay), but the rows of chilly beer pumps and queue of people waiting to order made me think that this was one of the ‘places fit for woe’ written about by Blake. So I went to Sainsburys instead and bought grazing food.

(Outside the supermarket, a poster says ‘Life flows better with Visa’, reminding me of a flyer for the a talk about ‘Surrendering to the flow’ in a handout from the Chester Theosophical Society I glimpsed back in the Rows. Visa branding at an ontological level now…)

I’m writing this on my EeePC and would have posted it too, bringing this blog into real time, but the wifi charges here are designed for the expense-account market so it’ll have to wait… Jennie is also staying in a Premier Inn tonight, just not this one, so we’re taking advantage of the fact that we’re in identical rooms to create an illusion that we’re actually together. It’s like being at home, only more purple.

premier

Back to my Blake book – any serious walker will find resonance in Blake’s print, The Traveller Hasteth in the Evening


traveller

All this lot of photos

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