There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Stone Circle: Part 2 Fulford to Sandon Bank

Fulford is a pleasant village, but we spent more time there than intended. After pulling on our boots Mike, Lee, Francis and I spent some time wandering up and down the road trying to find the footpath. A gap between two houses did lead into the fields but was clearly in the wrong place and not obviously a right of way. After satisfying ourselves there was no other route we were about to set off when a passing paramedic stopped his ambulance and confirmed we were heading in the right direction, which was nice of him – I just hope he wasn’t on his way to an emergency.

Beyond the houses we found an overgrown and dilapidated stile in roughly the right place and crossed the fields to Greensitch Farm. Looking back, we could trace our path through the dewy grass, but the unseasonably warm sunshine suggested the dew would not last long. Finding our way through the farmyard was a challenge, but eventually we struck out southwest on a well-defined bridleway. The official Stone Circles route takes the minor road out of Fulford, linking with the bridleway later. The footpath, though, is clearly marked on the map, if apparently rarely used.

....we could trace our path through the dewy grass...
Fulford

Despite some mud - horses churn up the surface in even the driest spring - the bridleway was a pleasant path, rising gently to the minor road where we turned west onto a concrete track past New Buildings Farm - not the most resonant of names, nor any longer, the truest.

Undulating fields

Turning south, we spent the rest of the morning in undulating fields with the occasional bosky dell and meandering stream. Francis described this countryside as bland, and to some extent he was right; we climbed no steep hills, descended into no deep ravines and saw no great views unfold before us. On the other hand, it is always pleasing to walk in gentle sunshine through rich pastures lined with trees bursting into leaf. The varied greens were fresh and full of promise, the blackthorns were covered in snowy-white blossom, and the stinging nettles - and this is important when you are wearing shorts – had hardly raised their heads above the ground.

Blackthorn covered in snowy-white blossom

Not so long ago the sight of a buzzard was worthy of comment, now it is commonplace to see a pair circling overhead or being chased off by an anxious crow (or possibly rook). We sat in a field to drink our coffee and watched a chaffinch perching on the fence and two blue tits checking out a hole in a gnarled oak as a potential nest site. Further on, the clear and unmistakable song of a chiffchaff (well, it was clear and unmistakable once I had asked Francis what it was) filled the valley.

After 5 km of field paths we reached Milwich, a pleasant village though its name presents a pronunciation problem. Francis lives in Baswich, pronounced ‘Baz-itch’. Nearby Colwich, on the other hand, is always ‘Coll-witch’. Milwich looks like a word where the ‘w’ is asking to be pronounced, but Mike’s local knowledge assured us ‘Mill-itch’ is correct. Consistency was never the strong point of English spelling.

However it is pronounced, Milwich features a pub, which is still open, and an old and characterful school building. A sparrow hawk flew down the street just above ground level and perched on a garden fence.

Milwich's old school

From here we reversed the route we had taken in the Baswich to Swynnerton walk until Coton Mill Farm. On Mill Lane, the first swallow of summer sat on a telephone wire, enjoying the sun but maybe wondering if he had arrived a tad too early.

Later we breasted a low rise and crossed a stile into a field of sheep, each ewe accompanied by one or, more often, two lambs, still at the age when they stay close by their mothers. From this elevated position, and amid much baa-ing, we were able to gain the mandatory glimpse of Rugeley power station, its cooling towers just poking above the distant hump of Cannock Chase.

The mandatory (if distant) view of Rugeley Power Station

After Gayton we left the official route, which precedes directly to Salt via the Sandon Estate and diverted through the village of Weston in search of lunch.

We approached the A51 intending to take a field path to what we assumed would be an underpass. Seeing no obvious exit from the field we walked towards the A51 and then took a slip road beside it – presumably an earlier incarnation of the main road itself. We soon realised we were walking into a cul-de-sac, the only underpass being already full of the main West Coast Railway line. As we turned the landowner chugged up beside us on a sort of motorised bedstead, turned off the ignition with a screwdriver and engaged us in conversation.

He did not mind there being a footpath across his land, he said, but wondered where it went. He had a point as it clearly went nowhere. He then wondered why the council had sent two men to spend a day putting a stile next to his gate, which he never closed. He furthered wondered why they had planted the post for a finger sign right next to the railway’s nine foot iron fence. He seemed to think we should have answers for these questions, but we could offer little but sympathy and a suggestion that he write to the County Footpaths Officer. To ensure he had his story right he explained it all to us again, and then once more to be certain. We tried to leave as he started the fourth run through, it was half past one, lunch was still twenty minutes away across the A51 and the beer was calling, but we heard him out again, just to be polite.

It had been a long morning by the time we reached Weston. We sat in the sun outside the Saracen's Head and enjoyed a sandwich and a couple of pints of ‘Dog Father Ale’, an excellent beer though the name must have looked better in the planning meeting than it does on a beer pump.

Our afternoon walk was a mere 3 kilometres as the crow flies, but our non-corvine navigation turned it into 5. We started with a zig up the Trent and Mersey canal and followed it with a zag through Salt and south towards Hopton Heath. Just after leaving the canal we re-crossed the Trent. I remarked on how much it looked like the Danube at this point, but nobody took me seriously.

Along the Trent & Mersey Canal

From the canal, we were again briefly on the official route. We walked through Salt and up the steepish slope to the woods overlooking Hopton where the Parliamentarian rearguard stood at the battle of Hopton Heath.

Looking back towards Salt

Leaving the official route again to avoid repeating last autumn’s walk over the battlefield and past the somewhat underwhelming monument, we zigged northeast, making a long, gentle descent to the minor road. A swift climb up Sandon Bank took us to the Seven Stars Pub where Francis’ car was parked. The building looked as sad as only a derelict pub can look.

Francis was unimpressed by the morning’s walk, but I enjoyed strolling over lush fields under a cloudless sky.  The afternoon section, though brief, had been more varied and involved more contours - and had been completed under the same warm sun. We encountered one path which should have been signed but wasn’t and one that was signed but should not have been – and took an ear-bashing for our trouble. Otherwise the footpaths were well signed and the stiles in good repair, as they usually are in Staffordshire.

It would be nice to think that Part 3, scheduled for May 21st , would attract the same benign conditions. Unfortunately, when it comes to weather, all the planning in the world guarantees nothing.

5 comments:

  1. lovely day for a walk.

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  2. Yes, it was a lovely walk. I only thought the first half of the morning - before our dead-on 11am coffee break - was bland. By the way, what's a bosky dell? Wasn't that a 1970's Lindisfarne LP?

    I did quietly enjoy your comment on the similarity between the Trent and the Danube - a little dig at Mike's comment on his youthful escapades.

    Once again, an excellent and amusing report of a fine day out.

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  3. Mike still maintains that the Trent - in summer - with low water - on a sunny day - with warm water and 'sandy' beaches - from a canoe - with a picnic - with no trains going past - can feel a little Dordogne-like! And yes it was a good day for a walk despite OS not agreeing with local residents at the start of the walk!
    Mike

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  4. Perhaps we should plan two walks to contrast the Dordogne and the Danube!

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  5. The Trent is like the Dordogne at Tittensor and the Danube at Salt. At Nottingham it resembles the Volga and from Newark onwards is almost completely indistinguishable from the Amazon.
    Well that's what I think, anyway.

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