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Continuing my journey from Southport (in the North West) to Brighton (on the South coast), I walked from Stafford station to Wolverhampton – the town where I lived between 1986 and 1999. On the way I saw a sinister picture of a dog-like creature, sunk beneath the River Sow; had an Alice-like glimpse of the M54 from the other side of the fence; and found some beat-generation-style graffiti.

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Thinking
As the train approached Stafford, a recorded voice advised ‘Please make sure you take everything with you.’ I couldn’t obey as I didn’t have everything – just some things. (Even so, my daysack was heavy – probably heavier than some people carry for a camping trip .) Carrying all possible things around could be handy- think how useful MP3 players are – we would never need to struggle to describe something, just whip out the actual object. But then, maybe we do have everything – if the present moment is all there is, then it contains everything, or at least as much as we’re going to get. Each of us is a kind of mobile everything. I stepped off the train.

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Actually walking
I set off along the river. I always seem to be leaving and entering places alongside water. It’s like sneaking out of a place, through the ‘ripped backsides’…

These bits of Stafford seemed lush and overgrown – with something of the science fiction ruin about them.

I had planned to walk over Cannock Chase and end up in Penkridge. However, just outside Stafford I decided to change tack and head for Wolverhampton, which I calculated would be about 16 miles away (in practice it was 20).The rationale was that heading south on a route interwoven with the M6 was truer to the purpose of the journey, walking a journey usually made in cars and trains. I left the Sow and joined the Staffs and Worcester Canal for many miles of waterside walking in an increasingly hot day. (Had a brief stop at Penkridge, for a rather chilly pint of Banks’s – a beer last sampled on a February leg of this walk.)


Under the M6

Digressing
Staffordshire have provided some good signs explaining the wildlife of the Radford Meadows. These have their own poetics, for instance inscribing the idea of a ‘Winter Wonderland’ on the baking landscape. Helpful though this is, I’m thinking I should get myself into some real wilderness soon, where the viewpoints remain unwritten.

I left the canal to walk a few hundred yards along the A5 (the famous Roman road Watling Street and an earlier Celtic trackway) to Gailey Island. My sole motivation was to visit a shop, often seen from the car, which is festooned a vast profusion of signs.

If I expected a phantasmagoric emporium, a shop selling everything, I was disappointed. But it was a nice shop selling many things, from vintage brandy to logs.

From there I walked a few miles on the A449, a dual carriageway helpfully supplied with pavement. However I doubted that pavement was supplied to cross the M54, so rejoined the canal (thus adding miles to the journey.) More miles, more canalside architecture, eventually approaching Wolverhampton via a spectacular avenue of poplars. (At this point a boat went past, piloted by a skinny guy sporting a magnificent tattoo of Conan the Barbarian, based if I wasn’t mistaken on a John Buscema drawing from the 1970s.)

Weary and aching, I was glad to reach a bridge with a name I recognised. I left the canal at Hordern Road, and let the autopilot take me to the Newhampton
I must have been here hundreds of times and always admired its happy mixture of clientele – bikers, bowlers, CAMRA members, locals, students – I’ve seen bishops, prostitutes, and artists in here through a real-ale fug. A pub as a place with everything. From my brief visit on an blazing afternoon I couldn’t tell if it is still like that, but I can vouch for the quality of the beer based on a pint of Landlord.

I crossed the ring road – home of the much-mourned ‘ring road tramp‘ and, once, resting place of the remains of a murdered woman, undiscovered for some weeks. Back in the present, a young woman came at me and asked for ‘something…anything’ while I was taking a picture. In the heat of the moment, defensive, I gave her nothing – not my finest moment.

I walked through the city to the station. The route was lousy with memories, too many – everywhere I looked was somewhere I had lived, worked, played, laughed, cried or got married. All the good stuff – my personal everything – has come with me up to the North West, so there’s no point reminiscing. Next time, I will try to revisit this town with fresh eyes, as a visitor – maybe make some new memories.

Leaving
One thing I did enjoy seeing was the regenerated Low Level Station. When I lived in Wolves it was an empty shell, and the route to the Great Western Pub was through picturesque desolation. It seems to be on an up, vast schemes unfolding. A mashup of the station building with a new Premier Inn seems to be the first step.

All photos from this trip…bostin’! Gi’t some ‘ommer

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The first Velvet Underground song I ever heard was Beginning to See the Light, played on the John Peel show around 1977. In it, Lou Reed babbles exuberantly about ‘Wine in the morning/And some breakfast at night’. Having a cooked breakfast washed down with a pint of IPA in a Wetherspoons pub at 9.30 in the morning in the middle of Staffordshire may not have quite the same transgressive poetry, but it was a heartily decadent way to start a walk (and refreshing after some wet and dysfunctional public transport.)

The Wetherspoons chain (large pubs sited in converted buildings of various kinds) is interesting. The combination of their hugeness, cheapness, decor and range means that any given one can combine the roles of pub, cafe, restaurant, Darby and Joan club, sports bar, perpetual beer festival, tramps’ hostel and unofficial branch of social services, often without any obvious clash. This one had been converted from a Post Office and maintained its role as a communications hub by offering free wifi.

After re-buying the map I had forgotten to bring I left Stone along the canalside. Almost immediately the weather started to improve. Under the bridge someone had written WHIT POWER, suggesting (considered alongside last week’s poor-quality swastika) that today’s crytpofascists live under bridges, like trolls, thereby failing to benefit from the education system. I photographed this instead:

…love hearts left on display but the accompanying names painted out by officialdom; their policy must be ‘love all you want, but never define the object’.

Much pleasant walking along the canal, adding to the many miles of tow path I have done so far.

I left the canal at Burston, and joined a little-frequented path.

The weather threatened rain (‘It’s a twister, Aunty Em!’)

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but it was bright again for a few miles of quiet lanes.

I entered Stafford via a large, open common

then a road passing an industrial estate.

The final stretch into the own centre passed the kind of specialist shops that have somehow escaped being replaced with out-of-town or town-centre operations: fireplaces, cake icing, tattooists. And a large prison.

In Stafford I sought out an end-of-walk drink (partly as self-invented tradition and partly to justify this post title.) Signs pointed to a beer festival in a theatre, and I thought ‘why not?’ The first Stafford real ale festival for a number of years, it focused on local brews procured within a 30-mile radius. I had a half of Slaters Common Road Bitter, named after the road I had just walked down – food miles <1. Then something else that tasted like nettles fermented in a training shoe. And (foreshadowing a later leg) some nice beer from a pub in Netherton.

After that I wandered back through Stafford to the station, and considered the walk concluded.

All the pictures

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