Day Three, 16th March, 2010. Alton to Abbots Bromley – 15.1 miles

Bright, sunny start to the day! And a great English breakfast, enhanced by the presence of a Burleigh milk jug on the table. However, when we left The Bull’s Head and tried to find our way out of the village, our mood darkened. We were looking for Back Lane, but could not find a road sign. However we found a stile in what we took to be the appropriate place; we crossed a field, but we were still a little uneasy; there was a lack of the reassuring yellow arrows with their Staffordshire Knot logo. But the sun told us that we were going in the right direction, and a lady walking her dog was vaguely reassuring. So on we went until we reached that point at which our unease outweighed our dogged optimism. We retraced our steps to St. Peter’s Church in Alton. We started again, trying to make sense of the directions in the official guidebook to The Staffordshire Way. After some strong cursing (which seemed to do the trick) we came to the correct stile, and headed on towards Denstone

Indeed it was a lovely morning, walking along Saltersford Lane, and then along a disused railway, from which you could just make out the remnants of the Uttoxeter branch of The Caldon Canal.

The remnants of the Uttoxeter Branch of the Caldon Canal
The remnants of the Uttoxeter Branch of the Caldon Canal

From Denstone, we followed our old mate, the river Churnet, climbing through the pretty Barrowhill Wood on its east bank, before dropping towards the incongruously enormous JCB factory and the big village/small town of Rocester. We caught Rocester in one of its more sleepy moments, basking in the sun. We really wanted to nose around the Roman remains, but we knew that we had to reach Abbots Bromley by nightfall! We did, however, pass Tutbury Mill, built by Richard Arkwright in 1781-82, and being rebuilt in 2010 by Mr Bamford as an academy for JCB. Despite all the noise and scaffolding, we were quietly impressed by the imagination and effort involved in transforming this old relic of the industrial revolution into a contemporary seat of learning.

We left Rocester by way of the eastern bank of The River Dove. The walk was easy as we basically followed the river downstream. The only alarm was provided by the clay pigeon shoot at The Doveridge Sporting Club. Until we realised what was happening, our paranoia played all sorts of tricks! The old Dove Bridge marked the end of our peaceful riverside walk. This is quite a landmark as it is visible from the adjacent A50 and always looks dramatic with water frothing over the weir.

The Dove Bridge near Uttoxeter
The Dove Bridge near Uttoxeter

Fortunately, there is an underpass these days beneath the A50; from the 1996 official guide book to The Staffordshire Way it sounded as if we were in for some juggernaut-dodging! The Way skirted the racecourse and brought us to the edge of Uttoxeter itself. We followed our lunchtime instincts up Bridge Street, and stopped at the first hostelry: The Old Swan. This is a Wetherspoons pub, but it certainly fit the bill with comfortable sofas and decent food (vegetable soup and chicken & tomato paninis). Indeed our sense of comfort almost got the better of us as we found ourselves contemplating the possibility of a ‘bus to Abbots Bromley.

Our afternoon’s seven miles were unnecessarily arduous. We regretted not looking for a ‘bus to Abbotts Bromley! It was a matter of stiles. The three miles from Uttoxeter to Hobb Lane resembled an assault course!

Evidence that we were in real country! Spotted near a stile at Knightsfield Farm
Evidence that we were in real country! Spotted near a stile at Knightsfield Farm

Looking into this, IPROW (The Institute of Public Rights Of Way) have issued clear guidelines on the structure of stiles, which in any event, are seen as a last resort, as even the most user-friendly stile prevents great swathes of the community from crossing it. Their website includes an illustrated stile specification produced by Hampshire County Council. We encountered the following problems on this Uttoxeter – Hobb Lane section:

  • the stiles were far too high
  • the hand-holding (higher) post was often missing or had been sawn off
  • steps were often non-existent; when present they were damaged or defective
  • wire mesh was often placed against the rails, preventing getting a foothold on those stiles which had no proper steps

It is our feeling that the state of stiles on public rights of way are a national disgrace. As a result, many of these ways are unusable for those with health issues or whose agility is compromised by age.

Sunset. Where's Abbots Bromley?
Sunset. Where’s Abbots Bromley?

The land south of Hobb Lane was rather featureless – a landscape dominated by the regimented ranks of conifer plantations, and with precious little hedgerow. We limped into Abbots Bromley in the twilight of  six o’clock. By this stage our progress had slowed to the point at which curious dogs bounded up towards us but did not do us the honour of barking!

We entered the village via Schoolhouse Lane; this thoroughfare led us to the welcoming lights of The Goat’s Head – a timbered hostelry which proved to be very hospitable.

Dark by the time The Goat's Head hoves into view
Dark by the time The Goat’s Head hoves into view

Starters of battered goats’ cheese were followed by faggots and peas and fish pie. We were due to stay the night at Marsh Farm, about a mile out of the village, ironically on the B5013 road back to Uttoxeter! We were stiff and tired; it was dark; we called the local taxi out of Rugeley to take us up the road. It wasn’t long before we were in bed watching Holby City. On waking the next morn, neither of us could remember how the episode had ended!

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