Posts Tagged ‘keele’

We drove to Keele, listening to a programme about Bob Dylan (with Lenny Henry struggling to discover what all the fuss is about), which led me to force Jennie to listen to my favourite Dylan track Idiot Wind: ‘blowing every time you move your mouth, Blowing down the backroads headin’ south.’ Which we were.

Jennie dropped me of in Keele village, and I resumed walking vaguely towards Brighton. First of all I wandered through the university campus. I had expected my ‘marketing mind’ to kick in, evaluating USPs and other quanta of desire, but I never really felt I’d arrived at the actual university. Some of it seemed almost abandoned, though the some of the older buildings were attractive, leading to a fantasy of romanticised students playing Secret/Midnight Garden games on moonlit lawns.

Then I was walking out down a treelined avenue, through some woods right alongside the motorway, and under the M6.

I passed some forbidding farm buildings, then followed an overgrown path to a short and scary stretch of A-road. (Perhaps not surprising that the path was overgrown as it only leads to a bend where hurtling death-machines accelerate towards you, with nowhere to retreat except hedges that springily force one outwards…)

But this brought me to a road with a cool name (adorned with sadly deflated balloons):

From there I walked through Swynnerton Old Park and Hanchurch Heath, experiencing major deja vu – I’m convinced that J and I walked here, back in the mid-90s when we did such things, perhaps in a route from a magazine.

Here I found a sign about woodland donated by Lord Stafford for the ‘perpetual enjoyment’ of the people, a nice concept, like perpetual motion. I contributed my share of enjoyment, got slightly lost, found another overgrown pathway which led to a filed of head-high rape. I detoured around this, and eventually recrossed the motorway, three hours after first crossing it (having made a journey that would be a few heedless minutes on the motorway itself.)

I marched along beside pylons for a while, then traversed the A34 near Tittensor, fortunately with less traffic danger. The wide grassy central reservation reminded me of a story by Gene Wolfe titled (I think) ‘Three Million Square Miles’, which I read in an anthology of SF stories on environmental themes called ‘Ruins of Earth’ back in the 70s. In the story as I remember it, the protagonist searches for the vast tracts of land in the US that are simply unaccounted for, and realises that they are comprised of tiny anonymous bits of territory, odd parcels of space that don’t have a real identity or purpose, but are simply there.

I met up briefly with Jen at Barlaston, having snapped some killer material for her Democracy and Proper Drains blog. However the charms of Barlaston failed to lure us in, and I continued on alongside the Trent and Mersey canal.

(If the sprayer of this graffiti wished to denote sympathy with the Thule-Gesellschaft, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or other historical unpleasantness they have botched the job by drawing it the wrong way round. Still, my advice would be don’t bother having another it’s not big and it’s not clever, fool.)

After a while it became another pleasant canalside walk. Strange sounds; a distant, invisible fairground and the bass hum of an electrical installation. A Virgin train sped past, on a route I have whizzed along many times, without observing this stretch of water, this place in all its particularness.

The approach to Stone was gentle. Some new buildings offereing a ‘marketing suite’ made me feel at home (my marketing receptors sated at last.)

I finished off with a drink at the Swan, a nice pub with real-ale selection that is, according to its MySpace page, aged 47 and male.

All pictures from this leg

Start 53.005288, -2.289468
Finish 52.899530, -2.146720

13.4 miles of Staffordshire loveliness

28 June 2008

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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…

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