Posts Tagged ‘staffordshire’

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!’)


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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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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