We awoke to a still, sunny morning in Leek. We were the only people at breakfast; indeed we discovered that we had been the only guests overnight! An enjoyable full English set us up, and by 9 o’clock, we were walking back down the A53 to rejoin The Staffordshire Way. Leaving the main road, we climbed through Longsdon Wood before descending down to the Caldon Canal by Deep Hayes Country Park. From here, the going was easy, heading south along the canal past Cheddleton Flint Mill and on to the Churnet Valley Railway(CVR) station at Basford Bridge.
We rested here primarily because the station’s public conveniences were open despite the fact that the line and station were closed. We nosed around the station and rolling stock; we hadn’t realised that the CVR was such an active organisation; we were greatly taken with an advert for Brief Encounter evenings, and eventually continued along the tow path humming Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. I’m not a great fan of tow path walking. Unless there’s a chance of misinterpreting instructions, or getting hopelessly lost, I tend to get bored. The day remained windless and mild, but the sun had disappeared behind a pall of light cloud cover. We were walking down the Churnet Valley, the canal sharing this corridor with the river and the railway. We passed a restored drawbridge over the canal, and at Oakmeadow Ford Lock, the canal descends to meet river, and actually uses The Churnet for the next mile or so. The remnants of old lime kilns signalled the approach of Consall and lunch!
Thankfully, The Black Lion was open (one never knows in these straightened times). It was warm and welcoming and served Dark Ruby, classified as a mild, but incongruously weighing in at 6% ABV! Having ordered lunch, the young landlord returned with the largest baguettes that I have ever seen!
As a result, we waddled our way along the canal, only too aware that most of our circulation system was busy dealing with our stomachs and ignoring the calls from our hapless lower limbs! Half a mile on from The Black Lion, we came across two men renovating and painting one of the locks. They explained the function of the pile of wooden planks often found in the proximity of canal locks. These are stop planks; these are slotted into grooved uprights to form a dam; ash is rubbed into the line along adjacent planks to make them watertight. The dam holds back the canal water, allowing repairs to be made (to locks or bridges) on the dry side of the dam. Soon after the prettily-named Cherry Eye Bridge, we climbed out of the Churnet Valley. This was a pig of a climb, only partly relieved by steps and a handrail. The route over fields took us to Kingsley, a village we have often driven through but at which we had never stopped.
The afternoon had become somewhat overcast and dull. We trudged on through Kingsley Holt before joining our old friend The River Churnet. For the second time since our immoderate lunch, we found ourselves climbing out of the Churnet Valley. This ascent was more gradual, through the woodland of The Hawksmoor Nature Reserve, but we seemed to be going uphill for an eternity! The guidebook and map concurred that we had only been on the ascent for half-a-mile; we didn’t believe either of them. On emerging from the nature reserve, we found ourselves at a ‘bus stop! There was a ‘bus to Alton at 1611; it was now 1620! I have little doubt that had we reached this point just 15 minutes earlier, we would have hopped on the ‘bus. However, we would have missed the beautiful last three miles into Alton: the descent through Sutton’s Wood to Stoney Dale, and then along Ousal Dale with its pool. We were blessed by some late afternoon sunshine as we reached The Ramblers’ Retreat Café. Would you believe it? – it was shut! Probably for the best – had we sat down, we probably wouldn’t have been able to get up again.
We had one more steep climb, to get up to Toothill Rock, with its views of the fairy-tale Towers of Alton. All of a sudden, we were in the village. We were so tired and befuddled at this point that we rang The Bull’s Head Inn, our intended place of rest, to get directions to complete the last few hundred yards. The Inn was comfortable with a welcoming bar. We ate well with vegetable lasagne and salmon with tagliatelle. Although we were tired, we played our usual game of trying to find out as much as possible about the other guests and residents. We were in the midst of earnest young men – we had arrived in Alton not many days before the start of another Towers season. These were electricians and mechanics tweaking old rides and providing the finishing touches to new ones. Truly technicians of terror!
P.S. I fell asleep with my glasses on.