Sunday, 28 September 2008

The golden age of steam - Pattingham to Bewdley

Penkridge, Pattingham and Bewdley, all places I'd wanted to re-visit. Not just because they were nice places to stay, but more so because of the people I met there. Then, strangely enough, when it came to it, I didn't want to go back to Penkridge library, or the farmhouse B & B in Pattingham, because somehow I knew it wouldn't be the same. There was, however, one person I'd already planned to meet, and that was Adele in Bewdley. We'd exchanged phone numbers last year, but losing the phone, meant losing her number. Meeting in "The Pack Horse" Pub last year we'd shared histories over a glass or two and vowed to keep in touch. But perhaps it was just as well we were not destined to meet up.
The phone rang "Hello! Peter here! I've arranged for the press photographer to meet us at the Pump House at 3pm, is that ok?" I gulped, and quickly set the calculator whirring in my head. Bewdley to Worcester, 20 miles at approx. 3 miles an hour, with extra time for brief stops and getting lost, meant leaving at 7.30 am. "Fine" I said, breezily, "I'll see you there!"
Oh, it was so hot, sticky and unbearably humid today, I couldn't wait to get down to the river. To spur myself on, I earmarked a "blue cup" on the map, to treat myself to a large orange juice with plenty of ice, and what passed the time was meeting a retired policeman, full of local knowledge and stories of last year's floods. In the pub garden, it was hard to believe a year ago I'd have been 3 foot under water.
Was it the heat and fatigue that had made me imagine the haunting distance sounds of a steam train? Or was it all the nostalgic thoughts of yesterday? No, as I reached the river, there up above was the "Severn Valley Railway" chugging back and forth between Ardley and Bewdley. I had to take a look, not least because there might be the prospect of an Ice Cream. Sadly, it was already getting late and the shop was closed. As the last train to Bewdley pulled up to the platform, it was calling out to me "Come on Carol, you're tired, hungry, and it's only 5 miles, I'll get you there in a jiffy"
Now, can you imagine the powers of restraint I needed not to jump on board?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

A Transport Manifesto- Pattingham to Penkridge

"Pillock?" she enquired, scanning a finger down the visitors book, "Er no, the name's Pollock, actually, I made the booking over the phone, perhaps you misheard me" I laughed, she looked puzzled. Young and Polish, she clearly knew not what she'd said. It was early morning in a Pub in Penkridge and I was itching to get going, once I'd extracted myself away from the jolly landlady who wanted to know all about the trip. How good it felt to be back in the Black Country. From the moment Keith dropped me off at Coventry station, where, with perfect timing, I caught the only straight through morning train to Penkridge, friendliness prevailed, from the ticket office at the station to "Curry's" in Wolverhampton, I was met with smiles and greetings. Why, I was even getting to like the accent!
Dumping the rucksack in Penkridge I made my way to Pattingham by train and bus. With an hour to spare in Wolverhampton, while "Curry's" were obligingly charging up the camera for me, armed with a town trail map I explored. And was pleasantly surprised. Wolverhampton is like one of many post industrial towns, making the best of their heritage
For the first time in the history of the Lejog/Jogle I found getting lost actually worked to my advantage! Following the Shropshire Union Canal, watching the barges chugging slowly up and down the canal, I started to muse about how our whole transport system had completely changed, for the worse really, in the last 50 years. While Beeching was ripping up train tracks, canals were drained, and tram lines removed, arteries of motorway were threading throughout the land, and the age of high speed travel arrived along with jumbo jets and Concord. Deep in thought, I found myself in the middle of a housing estate, and on asking for directions, was guided to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal all the way into Penkridge.
So back to the Transport Manifesto. It seemed to me that in the name of progress we'd actually gone backwards. All because we've lost our sense of time. Continuously seeking ways and means of getting ourselves, and goods from A to B faster. If only the time element was taken away, we could return to the days of transportation by foot, bycycle, train, boat or barge.
But it would take a brave Transport Minister to radically tackle today's problem of pollution, overcrowded roads, and a confusing and inadequate railway system. I reckon whoever is in charge of National Express should be appointed. What a fantastically efficient way of travel. How else can you travel from London To Inverness (return) for £2?
And so all the new Transport Minister has to do is make us all go on compulsory "Canal Bank Holidays" Why? To get us all to de-stress and chill us out to the level where we can accept a slower pace of life. I've never been on a canal boat holiday, but it seems you've got to learn the art of travelling slowly and waiting patiently at all those lock changes.
And so, after a day of sunshine and "bon homie" along the tow path, I spent the evening in the "Littleton Arms" with Kim and her husband, good food, wine and lively conversation. Perfect!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

And so we went home - Uttoxeter to Penkridge

"Where shall I drop you?" asked Kim, "At J.C.B. City!" I cried. And we sped off back to Uttoxeter at the start of yet another grey drizzly day. I'd met Kim on a "Natural England" training course, where we'd swapped "if you happen to be passing through this area..." contact details, and here she was! Why J.C.B. City?, well, the surreal landscape of "giant prawns claws" had really caught my attention last year, and I'd ever since regretted not taking a photograph. I think Kim must have dropped us at another smaller depot, as it didn't look quite so majestic, especially under grey clouds. Never mind, it was onwards and out of Uttoxeter, a place I'd never imagined I'd be in again. As we left, I thought back to last year, the enthusiasm of the local press, how we'd "posed" purposefully walking down the High Street, for "how many times was it?" to get the photo they wanted. This was no time for nostalgia as there were more pressing matters to deal with, e.g. the burgeoning blisters on Sheila's feet. Sticking to the roads to make the journey quicker we stopped en route at a pub where the locals were busy preparing for a big BBQ "fun & games" event. As we left under menacingly dark skies, it looked likely to be a wash out. Or hopefully not, because as we walked southwards, the weather certainly improved for us and it looked like we could enjoy a scenic route into Penkridge along the canal in the afternoon sunshine.
But we didn't. Why?, because, as usual, I talked too much when I should have been map reading.
Faced with a ford in the road caused by the heavy rain, I had to persuade a doubtful Sheila that there really was no alternative. Besides, "It won't be that deep" two seconds later we were ankle deep in water. It wasn't pleasant squelching into town on yet another main road. Had we gone back (as she suggested) we'd have picked up the right track to the canal. Oh dear. When Sheila, cried "I need Blaster Plisters!" it was lucky we hadn't got far to go and could see the funny side of what she'd just said. And finally, to round of a "cracking" day, if we were hoping, showered and refreshed, to venture out of the hotel into the evening sunshine, it wasn't to be. The thunder cracked, the lightning struck, the heavens opened and it was another night dining at the "Quality Inn"
The following morning, we weighed up the situation. With the odds stacked against us, rain, blisters and the fact that I'd probably walked too much for too long, we made a decision, booked the first bus back to London and called it a day.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Weddings and Wimbledon- Fenny Bentley to Uttoxeter

Well, that was a welcome reprieve! Thanks to Jane. It was interesting to read someone else's "blog" and saved me two days of "What do I write now?" moments.

I have to say it was quite exciting waiting for Sheila to alight from the bus in Ashbourne, as this was the first time someone on this trip had come out to join me en route. We celebrated the prospect of three days walking together with a nightcap in the pub. Sheila fighting fit, and fully equipped with the pedometer, was rearing to go. Yes, today had been a great day of sunshine and easy walking along the "Tissington Trail" the B & B in the delightful village of Fenny Bentley was luxurious. Things could only get better.
Or maybe not. The next morning dawned with drizzly rain as we set off along the last stretch of the "Tissington Trail" towards Ashbourne. Circumnavigating Ashbourne, by the third "I think we've been down this road before" experiences, we were confidently giving directions to the locals, never mind the passing tourists looking for Uttoxeter race course.
Sticking to the minor roads was easy, but looking for the ever elusive "Limestone Way" was a tricky business. Ploughing through the undergrowth and a nasty patch of nettles, we somehow stumbled, albeit briefly, upon the "Staffordshire Way"
Fed up with all this "which way" confusion, we decided the best option was to find a road, any road, that would take us to Uttoxeter- our destination. Happening across a farmhouse, in the middle of nowhere, we knocked on the door. It looked like no-one was home, until through a window we saw this old crone in nylon overalls, circa 1950's, (the overalls, not the crone) of about 104 heaving herself out of her chair. Three years later she eventually managed to open the door. Now, we didn't quite get what she croaked in answer to "Where is Uttoxeter?" but she pointed wildly in a southerly direction, and that was good enough for us. Where there's a farm, there has to be a road. Unfortunately it was the A515 into town. And even when we got there, the next problem was how to get to Penkridge? The bus driver at the bus station obviously hadn't chosen local Geography GCSE, as he hadn't a clue, but fortunately a passenger on the bus had. According to her, if we got a bus to Stafford, we could then get a train to Penkridge. But not before we had to kill time waiting for the bus in the greasiest of spoon cafe's where, lingering over a stewed cup of tea, we had time to admire how the proprietess dealt swiftly and efficiently with the local "Riff Raff" Any attempt by them to loiter in the caf and they were sharply booted out.
And so it was after a long, long, day we finally arrived at the "Quality Inn" in the middle of a wedding reception. Too tired to venture further than the bar, we joined the wake of the wedding party and the bar staff around the TV watching Wimbledon Highlights. The highlight of our day was a pedometer reading of 20 miles walked. 2,800 calories used which = eat, drink and be merry-Hurrah!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

In the Dales – Parsley Hay to Fenny Bentley

So lucky to have one of the really lovely days of the year weatherwise – fluffy white clouds and blue sky. Set off early to hit the trail – Tissington Trail – at Parsley Hay. This is one of the several Peak District trails converted from the old Matlock to Buxton railway route after Beeching did his worst in the 60s. It's such a pleasant, slightly downhill, route, passing through the beautiful drywalled farm land of the White Peak.

After a lunchtime and coffee encounter with a longdistance lorry driver who without any reluctance unfortunately showed his injured ankles(?!), and Carol tried to persuade him how much he needed to join a WH group (to no avail sadly), we had a pleasant afternoon's walk along to Tissington and its famous Hall; a 'stunning Jacobean manor house' - a lovely spot to which I must return with husband Neil sometime, not least for the delicious cream tea which to our delight, awaited us when we stopped off for a break. Tissington village is a lovely spot and has one of the Peak's renowned Well Dressing festivals, usually in May each year.

From there it was a short hop to Fenny Bentley, strung out along the main Ashbourne to Buxton road, but thankfully the comfy looking B+B where Carol was meeting Sheila was high above it in a really peaceful spot. We parted there and I made my way back to the main road for the bus back to Parsley Hay, hoping I had done my bit for WHI and Carol this year. Will be back for more (and to make sure Carol and Keith do the 'missing' Hope to Bakewell bit or thereabouts!)

Back over to you Carol...

Successful Walking for Health day in Sheffield – 3 walks in 1 day!

Bit of a drizzly day dawned, but we had big plans…Set off for Grenoside in north Sheffield to meet up with the first of the Sheffield Walking for Health groups. We found Tina and Jim with all the group in Grenoside Community Centre car park, with a stunning view over towards the northeast of the city, Wentworth and beyond. Had a lovely walk through Greno Wood, with Jim telling us details of local history, and everyone keen to hear Carol’s walking experiences and how the Surrey group is organised. Returned to a welcome cup of tea and biscuits in the adjacent Church hall, slightly overlapping with Mother and Toddler group still clearing away.

Decided we had time for a quick visit to town (and shopping, Decathlon very successful last time!) en route to our second walk in the west of Sheffield with the Fulwood group – Whiteley Woods and the Mayfield Valley. I was really pleased as I even got to go down lanes and byways I’d not been down before. Our round walk passed the long-established Mill House Animal Sanctuary, the field opposite full of a beautiful herd of Jerseys with one huge bull! – fortunately we were safely the right side of the fence. Leader Sue Lee chatted at length with Carol about the way different WHI groups were set up and the problems of getting grant money etc, though it seemed reassuring that some difficulties were the same wherever you are in the country!

After another much-needed cuppa in the famous Forge Dam café, it was home for a quick meal and catch-up on the computer before our final walk of the day, with the Center Parcs Six (well 4 of them anyway including me Jane). We walk every week if possible, putting the world and ourselves to rights. Ecclesall Woods is near my home and wonderful for walking; the WHI groups sometimes meet there along with other local groups. We did our usual circular route, under the canopy of one of the most beautiful Ancient Woodlands in Yorkshire; by the 16th century, most the area was coppice woods, part of the manor of Ecclesall, but it was acquired by the City Council in1927 from the Wentworth Woodhouse estate. Wonderful bird and wildlife but not much in evidence this evening. An earlyish night as a much longer walk in the Derbyshire Dales tomorrow.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Last of the free wine.

Wiping the greasy counter bar counter, she sighed. "Yes, can I help you?" in a way that said "You are the last customer I'm serving tonight, I just want to go home" On that point I was in total agreement. On any trip there are highlights and lowlights. Last night, sitting in a dismally deserted Wetherspoons on a grey drizzly evening, I tried to have positive thoughts. On the plus side, I got a free glass of wine with my meal (whoopee!) eating a tasteless rubbery beefburger served up by an apathetic young waitress was, hopefully, going to be the lowest point. Surprisingly, for a reasonably large town, Halifax had few restaurants, all of which (apart from Wetherspoons) stopped serving at 9pm.
In the spirit of it can only get better, it did. A totally different scene emerged the next morning. Leaving from the more prosperous leafy south side of town (in the sunshine) was more Harrogate than Halifax. Imposing Victorian mansions bordering vast green parks paved my way towards Huddersfield.
There's something quite exhilarating about standing on the brow of a hill looking down over Huddersfield and being able to see the far side of town, knowing where you're heading. To the canal, that's where, and to any long distance walker the prospect of walking alongside a canal is a welcome relief...for about the first 5 miles, then, it gets boring. Two days later you come across the next one, and the excitement starts all over again...
And so I wended my way to Holmfirth. Somewhere I'd specifically chosen to get to. Not because I'm a huge fan of "Last of the Summer Wine" but I figured the location of an incredibly long running and boring series must have something about it. Disappointingly not. It wasn't just mediocre, it was dire. While waiting for Jane, my next host, to arrive, I attempted to walk the steep hill to "Norah Batty's House" Halfway there I thought "What is the point?"
I just didn't get it. How could a "comedy" about three men, who never seem to get any older, still be going for over 30 years?
And so with a sigh, I made my way back down the hill.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Hell, Hull or Halifax - Skipton to Halifax

As the saying goes - "Hell, Hull, or Halifax, which would you choose?" I chose Halifax. Why? Well, last night Alan was being paternally concerned. He wasn't going to let me leave the house without knowing where my next bed was coming from. Lis had been checking B & B options in Hebden Bridge and there weren't any! Consulting the map it looked like Halifax was nearer to Holmfirth (the next destination) and so at 10.30pm a rather surprised Landlady took a very late booking.
In a supreme effort to avoid hills (difficult in the Pennine region) I chose to follow the River Aire out of Skipton. Following a river is easy, trying to negotiate a miriad of "ways" was definitely not. From Keighley to Haworth there was "The Worth Valley way", "The Bronte Way", "The Howarth Way", "The Railway Children Way"...confused and disorientated I could have been on the "Jenny Agutter Way" for all I knew, but somehow I stumbled out of the undergrowth onto the road which led up a very, very, steep hill to Howarth. Did I need to take it? No, I didn't. Not only did I find a flat river option but also, as luck would have it, a lady dog walker to guide me up to the main road into Halifax.
Why no photo's? Well, with a borrowed old phone of Alice's. I took the pictures but have no way of getting them out. Hopefully, eventually...where there's a will there's a way.