Sixteen walkers and a dog assembled in the car park of The Barley Mow in Milford at 09:45 am for an earlier start than usual, necessary because we had 6½ miles, 8 stiles and a site visit to the Stafford Riverway Link to cover before returning for a pub lunch.
Leaving the car park we headed in the direction of Tixall, crossing first the river Sow on its fine arched bridge and then the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Tixall Bridge. Half a mile from our starting point we left the Tixall Road to negotiate the first stile on the Two Saints Way, a pilgrimage route and long-distance walk between Chester and Lichfield. The trail connects the shrines of St Chad at Lichfield and St Werburgh at Chester and is 92 miles long. The guidebook encourages you to finish the route in just four days – good luck with that!
Heading in a westerly direction we crossed lush pasture land, much of it saturated following the very wet winter. We watched a hare scamper into Aqueduct Covert and walked through Black Covert and alongside The Swimmings, everything was quiet apart from the noise of the railway on the opposite bank of the river.
As we reached the fenced enclosure of Stafford sewage treatment works, the stiles came thick and fast, some of them were in a very poor state of repair. The Two Saints Way has been diverted round and above the South Staffs Water premises and it is a strange sensation to be looking down on the modern facilities. We played a game of “spot the worker”, there were none to be seen, and this was before the Covid-19 outbreak.
We left the pilgrimage route, appropriately perhaps, at the remains of St. Thomas Priory on the outskirts of Stafford. The priory avoided dissolution in 1536 and several of the buildings have been sympathetically converted into housing. At this point a phone call was made to John Potter, the Work Party Organiser for Stafford Riverway Link, to say we were half an hour away. We arrived at the site on time after crossing the rivers Penk and Sow by means of the Two Waters Way footbridge, built in 2015 to provide modern day pilgrims with a safer route across the valley at the confluence of the rivers Penk and Sow. These rivers flood quite frequently and after a very wet month the meadows here looked more like a lake.
We are grateful for John and his team who explained the layout of the site and their work in uncovering the foundations of the old lockhouse and reconstructing the walls of the former basin, with the long term aim of re-opening the river navigation back into the centre of Stafford. After half an hour on site we turned south-eastwards to follow the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal back towards our starting point along a pleasant section of towpath and under a succession of original Brindley bridges built in 1772.
Hungry for food, and with an increasing chill in the air, the group had by now spread out along the towpath and some walkers missed the exit point at Walton Bridge, where the official route headed towards Berkswich before returning to the Barley Mow via the A513. The breakaway group found their own way back, and by good fortune both groups arrived back at the pub within five minutes of each other. We then retired to the newly refurbished pub for refreshment.
(Report by Clive Walker, photos by Clive Walker and Phil Sharpe)
Most of our volunteering work over the winter has been our offside vegetation removal on the Coventry Canal, but our first general volunteering of the year was back at the Brindley Bank Aqueduct area of the Trent and Mersey Canal in Rugeley.
Our volunteers had a good morning clearing the area of litter, overhanging and encroaching vegetation, leaves on the steps and strimming the site. Working together, we also dismantled a section of wooden fencing that was falling over and serves no useful purpose. We were supported in this by Canal and River Trust who provided all equipment and supervision - and one of their direct volunteers!
The day before the work party Derek and I had a walk around the site and thought there wasn’t much litter. How wrong could we be? Whilst there wasn’t much obvious litter along the paths, further back there was plenty, with the remains of an encampment across the canal including a tent, mattress and chair, a hoard of bottles, and loads of metal that had been ‘magnet fished’ and then left lying around. Our best haul though was an intact small safe, which CRT later delivered to the police.
We have a new CRT Volunteer Supervisor (Beth) who was both friendly, efficient and helpful. We haven’t had this CRT support for many months so hopefully we will be able to get our volunteering activities back on track as the year continues.
(Report and photos by Margaret Beardsmore, Volunteer Coordinator)
After weeks of rain we were blessed with a dry start to the new year for our traditional New Year’s Day walk. The car park was busy as 26 walkers, some who had come from as far as Derby and Malvern, donned their boots for a four-and-a-half-mile ramble to Fradley and back.
Leaving the quiet village of Alrewas we crossed the busy A513 to pick up Daisy Lane. After a few hundred yards we passed through a metal gate and entered a large field, which is set up permanently for the Alrewas Show that celebrates the local agricultural heritage for one day every July. Passing through a field of harvested sprouts, we crossed a brook and soon entered the outskirts of Fradley on a bumpy track. Ignoring a footpath to our left that traversed a field by means of a stile, we eventually turned left onto and carried on into the village.
Close to Fradley Old Hall we entered an area of common land, known as The Sale. The unusual name may be Saxon in origin and relate to a salh or sallow tree, or it may be a reference to the major pack horse route for carrying salt which passed between Alrewas and Fradley on route from the mines of Cheshire to London and East Anglia. The Sale is flat and prone to flooding, nonetheless a number of exploratory trenches in the ground indicate that this land has now been designated for housing.
This was the muddy section of the walk and we made our own ways round the watery deposits. Eventually we found ourselves back on tarmac and we continued in a northerly direction along Hay End Road to Keeper's Lock.
After a group photo and a brief detour to use the CRT facilities at Fradley Junction, we joined the towpath that would take us back to Alrewas. The towpath here is generously wide, which helped us pass a number of oncoming walkers with ease. A new marina is being built just below Common Lock, and it was pleasant to see a number of boats underway on the Trent & Mersey Canal. We admired the mural on the side of a house by bridge 48. The mural depicts a well-known quote by Ratty when "simply messing about in boats". We left the towpath just before Alrewas lock and returned to The Crown Inn, where we enjoyed hearty refreshments.
(Report by Clive Walker, photos by Clive Walker and Phil Sharpe)
For previous actvities see the 2019 Activities page