Barthomley to Stoke-on-Trent. 12 miles.
I think I was still in shock this morning, I emptied the coffee sachet into the bin rather than my cup and then I used my asthma spray on my armpits. What more could go wrong?
The advantage of the taxi back to Barthomley was I didn’t have to face that busy road again. The driver was Turkish and on the way I got his life history. He lives in Alderley Edge because that has more say with the girls on dating sites than Crewe would have. He made out he was also a football agent and told me to look out for an up and coming star at Liverpool – Harvey Elliott.
I’ve inserted an extra heel pad into my right boot.
Well signed and stiled field paths took me south from Barthomley, heading for a valley which the guide book author rated as one of the most scenic stretches on the way. Mill Dale. I wasn’t that impressed. Once I had found the path down into the valley, I felt hemmed in by fencing. I would have liked to wander by the water. Yes, there were good stretches of water in the distance, but I seemed separated from the reality. This was reinforced at the end near houses where the way ahead was obscured, deliberately? I made my way up into fields above the valley.
I crossed what must have been the M6 and then started climbing a small hill with views back to the Cheshire Plain, Mow Cop to the northeast and then down to villages with a monument to Wedgwood prominent on Bignall Hill behind. I assumed it to be for Josiah Wedgwood of ceramics and pottery fame, but I find out later it is a John Wedgwood, 1760-1839, a local coal mine owner and employer. Within a few hundred yards, the scenery has changed – gentle Cheshire to grittier Staffordshire.
Audley is the first village I come to with a welcome little bakery where I can sit outside in the sun and enjoy a coffee and cheese slice. Naughty but nice. The route winds its way between villages using green areas which in the past have been a hive of industrial activity. The area was rich in coal, ores and clay. First Leddy’s Field reserve and then the much larger Apedale Country Park. I meet three walkers who lived around here as children and can remember the pits and railways. They are having a nostalgic meet up.
Walking along the old railway, I make good progress. A park warden tells me of the problems they have had during lockdown with bad parking and litter. They were reduced to a skeleton staff who spent most of the time dealing with the nuisances and now are way behind with their general work. He is a keen walker, having completed many long distance paths, and is proud that the Two Saints Way comes through his patch. In another part of the park there is a heritage centre, museum and narrow gauge railway. Tours of some old mines are possible.
A steep road, there are a lot of hills today, brings me into Chesterton, an old colliery village, and the outskirts of Stoke. It is urban walking for the rest of the day. The pubs here have closed down, the church has an unkempt appearance and the streets untidy with litter The café I find specialises in Staffordshire Oatcakes These are a local delicacy like an oaty pancake, very popular in the Stoke area, I buy one filled with cheese and sit on the steps of the nearby Salvation Army hall to eat it with my coffee. I must look like a tramp.
The walk along the canal was varied from industrial wastelands to upmarket waterside living. There were reminders of the pottery trade all along the way. I stuck to the canal towpath, whereas the Two Saints Way wandered into the old garden festival site and on to visit the Potteries Museum. I had hoped to see the Staffordshire Saxon Hoard there, but the museum is closed until later in the year, which is a shame.
My Airbnb room in Stoke was not far from the canal in the student area, my hostess is a holistic practitioner and a musician, the house was an oasis of calm. Down the road was an Afghanistan restaurant which served fabulous food, the staff were obviously concerned about their relatives and happenings out there at the moment now under the Taliban. Most won’t be eating as well as I am – Qabuli Pulau.