Staffordshire, no bull: I was very happy to be back researching routes again today.
Right in front of Stafford station is Victoria Park, and it looked very neat, fresh and attractive on this cloudless, warm spring morning. I probably didn’t: I’d had a 5am start in York.
The River Sow runs through it, and overlooking its waters is a splendid statue of local boy Izaak Walton, the ‘compleat angler’. His 1653 guidebook of that name contains not just practical information on catching carps or pikes, and literary references, but has a few gags too: ‘I have in severall places mixt some innocent Mirth’, he tells us in the intro. I’m with you on that, Izaak, mate.
Anyway, a decent, if typically uneventful, railtrail runs from Stafford ten miles or so westwards, and I struck along that.
Halfway along is Gnosall, the only place in England that begins with a silent G, apart from Gnottingley. The only animal that begins with a silent G is gwildebeest.
I looked in vain for a cafe with outside tables in Newport, at the end of the railtrail, and carried on along almost totally empty back lanes across rolling farmland north and then east, aiming for Stone.
At Bishop’s Offley there was a ROAD CLOSED sign, so I asked a helpful local chap if it was possible to get through on a bike. No, was his response, but he kindly talked me through a very detailed detour. I thanked him profusely, ignored his advice naturally, and got through on my intended ‘closed’ road no problem.
Eccleshall seemed a pleasant large village/little town with an impressive range of cosy-looking real-ale pubs and bars – all closed, which at least encouraged me not to misspend my afternoon, but to cycle quickly on. Plus it had a large and well-fenced prison, which also encouraged me to cycle quickly on.
Stone is a characterful canal and market town with a pedestrianised main street full of indie shops, pubs, and a very welcome bakery with outside tables. The towpath is all cyclable and well-surfaced and led me conveniently to an M&S foodhall, where I stocked up on provisions for my industrial-estate hotel tonight. (Its restaurant, and all neighbouring pubs and eateries, were closed.)
I diligently followed the Sustrans signs for the route back to Stafford. As usually happens with Sustrans routes, I ended up going wrong because the signs had been rotated by mischevous hands or just the wind: the last four miles were on the A38’s six-inch-wide gravelly footway, an arm’s length from HGVs barrelling past at seventy. I wasn’t keen to make any right-turn signals.
I had booked a stay at the Premier Inn on the northern edge of Stafford, in soulless hinterland of ring road and newbuild. It was thirty quid a night and fantastic: ground floor room easy to wheel my bike into, big deep chunky hot bath with a glass of wine, IPL commentary on the radio, and my M&S packup for dinner. I like researching cycle routes.