I enjoy a leisurely breakfast, this should be a short day. Another gel pad is added to my right heel, I’m beginning to walk on high heels.
Behind hedges and walls across the lane is Aston Hall, now a home for retired priests. It was here in 1839 that the bones of St. Chad were found, having been hidden at the time of the Reformation. They are now strangely in Birmingham Cathedral rather than the more obvious Lichfield. A lady dog walking told me how she discovered many of the local paths around here during lockdown and had noticed the TSW markers. I enjoyed a long stretch through fields with open atmospheric skies, just what you need to put a spring in your step in the morning.
I then entered a watery nature reserve. A man birdwatching was eager to tell me of a large bull blocking the path at the next stile. He had taken evasive action and clambered along the banks of the stream, he was in no hurry to return. Forewarned, I proceeded carefully and sure enough the bull was lying there with his herd of cows. I never know which breeds are allowed in fields with public footpaths, and I probably wouldst recognise them anyhow. A bull is a bull whichever breed and this was a large one. I couldn’t see any obvious escape route, so I stood and watched for a while before tiptoeing cautiously past against my better judgment. I’m alive to tell the tale.
Burston village was across the canal, a few cottages surrounding a millpond, delightful. Behind and strangely adjoined to the last cottage was a little chapel, St. Rufin’s. (he of the legend) It is thought there has been a church in this vicinity visited by pilgrims since the Middle Ages.
A peaceful stretch of canal was now followed with boat owners relaxing or busying themselves with jobs on board. I watched as boats negotiated the locks, by now I think I would be able to navigate these canals.
The guide book said leave the canal at the ornate bridge… This took me into the village of Salt, I had promised myself a pint and sandwich in The Hollybush Inn, one of the oldest pubs in the country. Alas, it was closed. An appointed caretaker has been here since last July 2020 keeping an eye on the place. He was sat outside and pleased to chat, but there was no offer of a brew, even when I expressed my disappointment. There followed a bit of hilly walking and wandering through large fields to come out in a crop being harvested on the edge of an MOD property. The incongruous memorial behind bars told the story of the Battle of Hopton Heath, fought here in 1643 between Royalists and Parliamentarians. The entry into Hopton through sandstone cuttings was promising, but the village was mainly modern bungalows.
My way onwards to Beacon Hill was obvious and the hill promised views to The Wrekin and Cannock Chase. All I got was the approaching dark rain clouds over Stafford.. I’d had no rain all week, but ended up donning waterproofs for the last mile or so through the streets of Stafford. By the time I reached the centre, it was dry. St. Mary’s church was much better cared for compared to Stoke Minster, but unfortunately was closed. The foundations of an earlier Pre-Norman church can be seen in front of the church.
The narrow lane leading to the high street passed the largest wooden framed town house in England. Shame they can’t spell ‘phone’ Next door was my comfortable hotel, The Swan an old coaching inn, and opposite was the oldest building in Stafford, St. Chad’s Church,1150. In its grounds was the base of a Medieval stone cross.