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On a hot, sunny summer evening we drove southwards. After crossing the Runcorn Bridge the traffic was pretty slow, so we stopped for something to eat in a pub called the Chetwode Arms –  bit pricy but a good bolthole from the A49 (known in our household as the ‘old lorry route’.) A few hours later we reached our destination for the night, the Premier Inn at the services on the M6 Toll Road. As well as being a handy position, this appealed to me as not only is it on the country’s best modern road, it is also near Watling Street, the Anglo Saxon trackway. An interweaving of ancient and modern routes seemed like a good place to doss down.

We have stopped here before – back on Valentine’s Day I was fantasising about the fate of a trapped bird here – but never overnight.

Staying here made it seem more real, although it retained vestiges of unreality. Glimpsing the bright food/retail are through doors mere yards from where we had slept (enjoying the trademarked and quality assured Premier ‘Good Night’) was odd, like stumbling out of bed to see a different country in the next room.

Early next morning I explored the immediate environs of the services. I spotted some wildish growth on a low hill, with what looked like a cairn at the top. I didn’t quite believe it would be an ancient artefact, but thought an artwork of some kind was a possibility.

I walked up to discover that this was, in fact, a Roadchef branded bin for the benefit of picnickers.

The non-cairn offered a great view of the services, gleaming in the morning sun and protected from evil forces by some rowan trees.

We had a hasty breakfast in the food courtural area.

Later, we stopped in a different services with what looked like much the same curve-roofed eating space.

It occurred to me that I’ve never eaten in a giant works canteen, like the one in the Burton factory I was writing about recently, but I’ve been in countless vast leisure canteens in service areas and malls.

Finally we were heading towards the start of the walk. It was shaping up to be a hot day. On the radio, a lady was talking about the thirty years she had spent seeking the big cats of Britain – roaming beasts that many consider to be mythical. Despite the poverty resulting from full-time cat-seeking she had ‘had a ball’ pursuing elusive, beautiful creatures. I don’t have her dedication to the cause, with my day-job and other hobbies, but maybe my autobiogeographical quest has some similarity to hers. For both of us a camouflaged detail (a shadow glimpsed on a hillside, or a special shape falling) may be worth running after in expectant delight.

To be continued

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Awake early having slept since 8pm, having had strange dreams perhaps caused by reading Alan Garner’s Thursbitch, a powerful novel of overlapping time, set in Cheshire, deep in the language, mythology and geology of the place. Morning reading somewhat lighter – ‘At Your Leisure with Premier Inn’, a free magazine left in the room. Although produced ‘In association with the Daily Mail’, it doesn’t focus exclusively on the interests of Mail readers (‘The Dover Premier Inn is a great place to relax and thrash yourself into a moral panic about immigration…’) but does offer a copywriter’s view of Britain, divided into tourist zones where ‘whichever attraction you choose, there’s always a Premier Inn close by’. Written for people in the (to me inconceivable) position of entertaining children as well as themselves, it’s full of hyped up, accelerated statements: ‘For the ultimate North West experience check out some of these great attractions: Belle Vue Greyhound Stadium…’

In this scheme, the North West is a place to ‘Do something different’, whereas the Midlands promises ‘Novel ideas for great days out’, (‘novel’ referencing the literary connections, ‘the fascinating worlds of Robin Hood and William Shakespeare, Ivanhoe and DH Lawrence’. The phrase ‘walk back through fossilised time’ brings me back to Alan Garner territory, and the track of today’s walk…

twirl

First in the pub as soon as it opens, that’s my policy – in this case 8am for breakfast in the Twirl of Hay. The plan is to stoke up on the all-you-can-eat options, enough to avoid the necessity of a lunch stop, but not so much that I become an immobilised Mr Creosote figure. It’s a friendly place and the breakfast is nice. I enjoyed sitting there as people drifted in. Background music started with a Kraftwerk track, but sadly strayed from a promising krautrock theme into more easy-listening territory. I ate porridge and looked at the motley walls of reclaimed brick, traces of paint and staining indicating the diverse origins of each brick, wondering idly if events of the past might be imprinted on objects in the environment, as suggested in numerous ghost stories such as Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape. If so, what happens when the bricks are dispersed – the outhouse wall that witnessed a fevered betrayal now divided between new-build replicas of converted barns, strategically-sited copies of olde worlde pubs, commuter-belt garden walls? Is the recorded experience replicated in all of them? Does each new construction become a massive cutup text of hauntings, or do they all blend into a supernatural emulsion?

If ghostly consciousnesses linger here, I hope they enjoy the endless music (‘Just like Starting Over’), the workaholic wifi breakfast emails, the alcoholic afternoon chasers, the daily dust settling on dried flowers, the slowly evaporating condiments…

vinegar

But don’t be put off by my entropic whimsy. This breakfast gets 4 stars, the staff are great, all is forgiven on the Fayre front. I’m stoked up, like James Bond ready to ski away from Blofeld’s mountain headquarters. Hang on, that makes me George Lazenby – oh well…

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