Day 40 second half - Beaudesert to Rocester
This was a walk in two parts. Because of the heat, and my leg, I needed to reassess the miles from today onwards. I decided the best thing would be to divide the miles up between the days to even them out, taking advantage of David being with me till Thursday for lifts and general back up. Therefore I did some miles yesterday evening after returning from Wales, and the rest early this morning before the crazy temperatures hit.
It was a wonderful break in Wales watching Katie and Tom get married. The happy couple were ecstatic, and we had the joy of two days carousing and feasting to celebrate. Not necessarily a rest for my leg, but the shapes I threw on the dance floor to Chumbawumba just couldn’t be missed. And the wonderful thing about it was that I got to see my girls for the weekend. We played together for the ceremony, and hung out as a family during of the event. It was so, so good to have us all together.
It was also great to see a bit of Wales whilst driving to and from Cardigan. Some End to Enders walk taking in Offa’s Dyke - I wanted to go the other side of Birmingham to explore the Cotswolds. But I was also conscious that in doing that I missed out an important part of the UK. Doing this journey to the wedding and back meant that at least I feel I touched upon the country of my birth.
Having made the four hour journey back to the Lichfield area, we firstly went to check the final bit of HS2 works. This felt like an incredible luxury, to check out the best route in a car before committing to it. Confident I wouldn’t be affected again by road or path closures, David dropped me at the edge of Cannock Chase and I started walking in the warm early evening. I had no rucksack, regular clothes instead of walking clothes and was wearing ordinary trainers. Almost like a normal person.
The road from Cannock dropped down into Rugeley. The roundabout in the centre has statues of four miners, talking of the town’s industrial heritage - it was a centre of deep shaft coal mining in the 1950s onwards. The statues made me wonder if women were ever miners. If so, they didn’t get a sculpture this time around.
The other part of the town’s industrial history came from Rugeley being on the canal and then later the railway network. I was delighted to take in a bit of the canal en route. The heat was bringing the boaters out onto the tow path, I’d imagine they get pretty warm in there. Not as warm as the boat that was a floating fudge factory.
The water was lovely to walk alongside, reducing the swelter a little. After turning inland I had the benefit of a farmer’s irrigation strategy, which was watering their broad beans, plus the neighbouring hedge and also me. Definitely wasteful, but very refreshing.
Everywhere is parched. The ground has fissures inches wide, which grab the ends of my poles and make me abruptly stop, pinioned to the ground. The crops look almost past it in places.
Colton was where I thought I might stop, but I felt there were still some miles in my legs so instead I arranged to meet David the other side of the Blithfield reservoir. I reckoned it would be about 3 miles. A bit of an underestimate - there were issues with the path, and then the lovely walk I thought I’d take across the edge of the reservoir turned into a long detour. I was very pleased to see him waving at me across a field, ready to transport me back to Lichfield for a meal.
A hot and sadly too short night and we were up early so that I could continue. Even at 6am it was warm, but bearable to walk in. Today it was mainly part of the 92 mile Staffordshire Way I was following - I’ve been in Staffs for a few days, and today I would also duck in and out of Derbyshire. There were a few dog walkers out giving their animals some exercise before the forecast apocalypse heat. The sun seemed enormous, brewing up for its big day.
I wandered around a field observed by cows before I got myself settled on the right path, they were fortunately amenable to my interruption. Abbots Bromley seems a friendly place, certainly the other early risers gave me a cheerful greeting and advised me not to get too hot. That was my plan.
The route today was predominately over farmer’s fields. There is an enormous difference between the way some farmers maintain the footpaths on their land. I use the stiles as an indicator. If the stile is well maintained, with a solid base and clearly marked, I am pretty confident that the path will also be clear. However if the stile is rotten, falling down, wobbling so that its a leap of faith to stand on it, then I am concerned that the path following will be problematic. And this goes for the cows too. A well maintained stile gives me confidence that the animals in the field are suitable to be put in combination with walkers. A poorly maintained one, or one that has just been replaced with a fence and barbed wire and I wonder whether the cows I can see will be frisky or otherwise tricky.
I walked through 4 cow fields incident free. But when the next stile was actually collapsed on the ground, I looked twice at the large herd of cattle blocking my path. I decided I didn’t have the strength for the courage it would take to walk through them. I’d reached peak cow. So I took a longer route, on road, where I could temporarily not worry about being charged at.
A new experience was encountering swarms of midges. I’m expecting to get these in Scotland, but they were an unexpected delight here. They got in my mouth, my nose, my hair and my eyes within seconds. I have the required anti midge equipment for Scotland in what is known as my suitcase of dreams - a suitcase with lots of supplies that people have brought up for me when visiting. But sadly my attractive midge helmet was safely packed, so I just had to continue with many extra midge passengers.
Before setting off, I thought that I might stop for the day at Uttoxeter. But it was only 8 miles in, and that was going to make tomorrow, when its going to be even hotter, too long. So I decided to have a proper break for some breakfast, and then carry on. I was looking for a cafe, preferably with air conditioning, when like a middle class mirage, there was a Waitrose. With a cafe. Not only was it lovely and cool, they also have lovely cool staff. Kelly and Jess said that I needed extra sugar for the journey and gave me a free yum yum to keep me going.
Continuing on the Staffordshire Way to Rocester (pronounced rosta, not roaster) was a bit of a gamble, as the heat was revving up, 30 degrees by 10.30, and there was no road intersection for David to come to rescue me if it all got too much. But I decided I was ok to give it a go. The path follows the river Dove for much of this leg, nestling alongside it with very tempting views of possible swimming points.
I’d remembered something I read last night about cold water shock if previously very hot, and desisted from jumping in, however appealing. I also bore in mind that I didn’t have my swimming costume with me, and thought a passer by might also get a cold water shock that I didn’t want to be responsible for.
It was really hot. There wasn’t much shade, and I was panting from tree to tree taking advantage of what little there was. I always carry some emergency water on a hot day, separate from my hydration system. The camelbak is great, but you have no indication when it’s about to run out. Last summer on the Coast to Coast I got caught out by this and had to walk the last couple of miles of a very hot day without any water. I never want to do that again, so have a small bottle separately for a crisis. I drank that today.
As I approached Rocester the landscape was changing. There were hills in the distance, and sheep in the fields. The uplands of Derbyshire are not far away. The accent is changing again too, the nasal Midlands is moving into the shorter vowels of the North.
I was very pleased to reach Rocester. The old mill was once owned by Richard Arkwright, who invented the spinning frame. Now it’s the JCB academy, a school that specialises in engineering and business. I guess Mr Arkwright might be quite pleased about that.
I was properly flagging, and had probably done a bit too much. I virtually inhaled a disgusting cold sugary drink, and spent the rest of the day hiding from the heat in various air conditioned places. The pub that we were due to stay in told me last night that ‘not gonna lie, the rooms we’ve got are super hot but we’ve got some adhoc fans’. So because I had my lovely driver husband with me I went for a rewrite of the itinerary and booked an air conditioned room in a service station Premier Inn. Not pretty, not glamorous, but it was comfortable, had a bath so that I could get rid of the final midge passengers, and most importantly it was cool.
Stats (for today and yesterday added together)
Distance travelled: 21.5 miles
Total ascent: 1570
Calories burned: 2664
Local tipple - Kronenbourg 1666
Dinner from Burger King - actually a lot better than expected, just what I needed
Chilli cheese bites
Veggie whopper and fries
Video of the day part 1
Video of the day part 2
New song of the day
Tintagel by Arnold Bax
Not a song as such, this is a wonderfully evocative piece that was kindly sent to me by my friend Cathy, as she thought the imagery of the sea might help metaphorically cool me down. The melodic line surging up and down definitely transported me back to that amazing place in Cornwall.