Stoke-on-Trent to Stone. 13.5 miles.
A long day.
Having slept in I crept out of my Airbnb at 9am, nobody else was up. My first priority was to find breakfast. By the station, all the cafés and bars were busy with football supporters topping up their alcohol levels before travelling to Birmingham for a derby match. I found a popular little café near the Cathedral where I had another oatcake, this time with an egg filling.
The Cathedral was large and imposing, but with rather run down grounds, it was not open. The present church is from the 19th century. In the graveyard is a Saxon cross from the earliest 8th century church. The cross has fine carvings, which may be the origin of The Staffordshire Knot emblem. Another church was built in Norman times and its arches survive in the graveyard. Apparently inside the Cathedral is a memorial to Josiah Wedgwood and also to Stanley Matthews the footballer. I found the graves of Spode and Wedgwood. Time to move on.
The canal was regained for a few miles to get me out of Stoke. A typical stretch of urban towpath but well-used by joggers and cyclists. Somehow, I walked past the Britannia Football Stadium without noticing it, its new name is the awful Bet365 Stadium. I did however spot the sign on the marina — line dancing?
I cut through the backstreets of Trentham and arrived at the entrance to Trentham Gardens, a very popular family destination, I did not have time to visit the Gardens, but I called at their café for my mid-morning brew. Shopping seemed to be the main attraction.
After crossing the River Trent, I passed by an old courtyard, the original entrance to the estate. It seemed a shame it was going to ruin. Across the road was a modern courtyard development modelled on it giving no doubt very expensive accommodation.
A steep track led up the hillside into King Woods on a ridge, all part of medieval hunting grounds. Down below, traffic crawled along the M6 on the stretch I broke down on last week, that’s another story. I couldn’t miss the football ground from up here. Despite all the cars and crowds below at Trentham, I was the only person walking along the airy ridge. I was surprised then when I came across a Colditz type wire fenced enclosure. Apparently this is The Monkey Forest, one of the Trentham attractions which must have cost millions to construct. There was no sign of the Barbary Apes that live in there, but I hadn’t paid my entrance fee.
I made my own assault of the hill in front of me to come out into the open at the 1st Duke of Sutherland’s statue. His statue was erected here in 1836 as an indication of his service to the local populace. This popularity didn’t extend to his time in the highlands, where he was responsible for much of the Highland Clearances and was hated by the Scots for evermore. His statue on Ben Bhraggie has been threatened with demolition on many occasions. There were good views down over Trentham Gardens with its lake and the Stoke area in general, and quite a few people had come up here for that reason. (heading photo)
At the bottom of the hill was the little village of Tittensor with the church of St. Luke’s in the middle of a housing estate. It had an attractive timbered tower, a Duchess of Sutherland foundation stone, a bench for refreshments and the now familiar TSW interpretation board.
There was a very pleasant stretch over Tittensor Chase’s sandy heathland. Just visible in the high bracken were a Saxon burial mound and a much larger hill fort, Bury Bank, which at one time was the capital of Mercia and probably the birthplace of St. Werburgh, a then princess, to King Wulfhere. This family has gone into folklore from the ‘fact’ that Wulfhere killed two of his sons, Wulfad and Rufin. Read the full story involving St. Chad here.
Then I was back on the Trent and Mersey canal towpath for a mile into Stone. The town makes much of the legend mentioned above. The main street looks similar to many other pedestrianised town centres with its Costa Coffee, Wethespoons, Mountain Warehouse etc.
The St. Michael’s Church was built in 1758 in the grounds of a previous Augustinian Priory, where there was a shrine to St. Wulfad, who was supposed to be buried here under a pile of stones. Today the church was closed so I couldn’t view the stained-glass window dedicated to Wulfad and Rufin. In the grounds was a family Mausoleum of Earl Vincent, an admiral in the time of Lord Nelson and a Crompton grave.
My hotel for the night was out of town. On the way I stopped at a garage to buy some milk and in conversation with the attendant found he had some involvement with the church back in Tittensor. He is doing the Two Saints Way in day sections, we compared experiences, a strange meeting. My hotel, Stone House, was the best of the trip yet.- a sumptuous bath and an excellent Indian restaurant.