On waking, we knew that this was a day of reckoning. We were only too aware that our tanks were all but empty. There was no way that we could complete the projected 17.1 miles to Penkridge. There was the potential for lopping off a couple of miles by taking a short cut across Cannock Chase, but even with this abridged itinerary, we felt that we would struggle. We then considered catching a ‘bus to Stafford, with the aim of re-joining The Way just south of the town. but Mrs Hollins, our proprietress at Marsh Farm informed us that Abbots Bromley is a one ‘bus kinda place, and unless we wanted to go to Uttoxeter or Lichfield, we would have to make alternative arrangements! She suggested walking The Way to Wolseley Bridge, and catching the ‘bus into Stafford from there.
Whilst finalising our day’s journey, we determinedly calloried-up at breakfast. Outside the weather was once again fine with little wind. Marsh Farm is about a mile north-east of The Way, which passes through Abbots Bromley. Rather than walk the busy B5234 into the village, we decided to take the quieter B5013 which forms The Causeway across Blithfield Reservoir and climbing up the hill to the village of Admaston, before turning left onto the tiny lane to Stockwell Heath where we would re-join The Way. Stockwell Heath proved to be a pretty hamlet arranged around a duck pond.
We travelled south through the next village – Colton with its Church of St Mary The Virgin and its hump-backed bridge over Moreton Brook. We continued south until we reached the active, noisy west coast railway line. At this juncture, the railway ran cheek by jowl with the Trent and Mersey Canal and the River Trent itself. As we reached the towpath with a view to heading west, we fell into conversation with a man walking his dog who kindly shared his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Wolsey Bridge – Stafford ‘buses with us.
As in the Churnet Valley two days beforehand, the river and canal meandered happily together. However, the surroundings here were flatter and less eye-catching. Bishton Hall, a rather grand pile sitting on the north side of the canal broke the monotony of towpath walking. Not far beyond the Hall, we left the canal for our ‘bus stop at Wolseley Bridge. But firstly, we availed ourselves of lunch being served at the Wolseley Arms. Their sandwiches were substantial; their beer was Timothy Taylor (which I had noted with pleasure on the previous evening in The Goat).
The ‘bus to Stafford arrived on time, taking us through Colwich and Little Haywood, as well as giving us a glimpse of the Shugborough Estate. The end of the route was at a ‘bus stop near Sainsbury’s, Stafford. We politely asked the driver whether the ‘bus did not continue to the town’s ‘bus station. He kindly explained that this – a ‘bus stop on either side of the road, by Sainsbury’s – was the nearest thing to a ‘bus station that Stafford possessed. We asked him where we could catch a ‘bus to Penkridge. He pointed across the road. “Hey up. There’s one – just about to leave”. A whistled message to his fellow driver allowed us to scamper across the road and clamber onto our second ‘bus of the day. This was truly a personal and seamless service. Three cheers for Arriva!
In Penkridge, we were staying at the Hatherton Country House Hotel; this had a crumbly, 1960s feel to it, but with friendly, efficient staff. We wandered into the small town for blister plasters, water and wine. This took some time as we looked for a bottle with a screw top; considerations of weight meant that a bottle-opener did not make the cut when we were packing our rucksacks. We won’t make that mistake again!
Returning to the hotel, we went for a “swim” in the smallest swimming pool I have ever seen. But we alternated bobbing up and down in the pool with sitting in the adjacent steam room to ease our aching muscles.
In the evening, we again ventured out in search of an eatery. Next to the hotel was the town’s graveyard – an extension of the church and churchyard which lay on the other side of the railway line. Graveyard and churchyard are connected by an unlit tunnel running beneath the railway. This was a significant short cut into town. Happily a torch had made the cut when packing rucksacks – we put it to good use through the spooky tunnel. We found the Bridge House Inn – rather bright and well scrubbed, but welcoming and serving good food. We decided to take the long way ’round on our return to the hotel. Even with a torch in hand, we didn’t want to push our luck.