Mothers’ Day, and our son fulfilled his filial duty by driving Julia and me to Mow Cop, some 10 miles to the north of The Potteries. Laurence seemed to be bemused; this could be due to the fact that he had been denied his habitual Sunday lie in; it may have been because his parents’ behaviour was causing him concern. In any event, we arrived at Mow Cop Castle before 9.30a.m. We were anxious to make an early start as the day promised to be a long one.
We had bought our first house way back in 1980 on Mow Cop and we knew the topography of the village. We paid our respects to the venerable Old Man of Mow, and continued along Congleton Edge. It felt weird to be heading north at this early stage of the walk knowing that our ultimate goal would be the very southern tip of the county.
This sense that we were walking in the wrong direction prompted us to discuss our private fears about the hours and days ahead – blisters, arthritic toes, dodgy knees, and the fact that we were carrying serious weight in our backpacks.
We sensed that there was the prosperous earth of Cheshire beneath our feet, and a glance at our map confirmed that The Way indeed had strayed over the border.
Although we had started to climb on leaving the railway, the route to Bosley Cloud was steady rather than steep. On reaching the trig point at nearly 1,100 feet, we felt that we had cracked it – we had reached the highest point on The Way on our first morning, and we were barely breaking sweat! To reinforce this sense of wellbeing, we enjoyed the great views to the north and west; to the south, we could trace with our fingers our way ahead to Rudyard Lake and beyond.
The descent from The Cloud took us through the picturesque Ravensclough Wood to the disused Churnet Valley railway line.
Julia had predicted that all the local hostelries would be full to overflowing with families celebrating Mothers’ Day. She had therefore prepared a packed lunch which we devoured sitting on the limestone ballast of the old railway.
Reassuringly, we were now travelling south, and it was not long before we came to The Knot Inn at Rushton Spencer. Julia was right – the place was heaving. So we had a swift drop of Hancocks Ales and continued on our way. We were now on familiar ground having walked around Rudyard Lake just a couple of months beforehand.
The Way took us down the west side of the lake, and at the lake’s southern tip, it followed the stream which acts as a feeder channel to the Leek Branch of The Caldon Canal. It was a beautiful end to the day, the sun slanting down from the west, and not a breath of wind; but we were getting tetchy and slow. As we emerged on to the A53, and bade The Way “hasta mañana”, we knew that we were still three-quarters of a mile from our hotel in the middle of town; we also knew that this was all uphill. We sat forlornly in a ‘bus shelter for a few minutes before reflecting that this was Sunday and that this was Leek and that there may not be a ‘bus until the morrow.
We therefore reached The Peak Weavers both exhausted and elated. Our room not only had an ensuite bathroom, but the bathroom had a bath. We traded accounts of our aches and pains whilst we soaked luxuriously (in series, not in parallel) and looked forward to our night on the town.
We walked out rather stiffly into the balmy Staffordshire evening; we soon found respite in an hospitable Belgian bar. As we sipped our muscle-relaxing Belgian beer, the aroma of lovingly prepared food coming from the kitchen was too much to bear. We had been advised that the Cock Inn was the place eat, and so we drained our beers and waddled the couple-of-hundred yards to the recommended hostelry. We jauntily asked for their menu, but the barman’s forehead took on a forlorn and pitiable countenance as he beeseeched us to “Have a heart; it’s Mothers’ Day; we’ve been serving meals all day!” The implications were clear; not only were we not going to get fed in The Cock Inn, but we were also being accused of being insensitive and cruel! I resolved to add The Cock Inn to my long mental list of “We’re not going back there again”. Discovering that the Belgian bar had stopped serving food in the meantime only added to my smoldering vindictiveness.
However as we meandered back to the hotel, we stumbled upon the So Thai Restaurant. The manager, who hailed from Cumbria, was young and friendly. The food (Tom Kar, Tom Yum, prawn green curry, sizzling duck) was spot on. And so the spectre of going to bed aching and hungry was laid to rest. We just went to bed aching.