Trip Start Apr 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 31, 2010

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Friday, May 14, 2010

There's nothing like low expectations for increasing one's enjoyment of a place. Ever since planning the trip, we'd been braced for the unfortunate gap between Stratford and the Peak District, where we'd have to somehow thread the needle between Birmingham and Coventry.  It seemed like we'd scarcely be able to keep from tumbling into one squalid post-industrial landscape or another while we tried to find green space.  It would also be among the least hilly sections of the walk, which (while refreshing) also seemed likely to be boring.

In fact, we thoroughly enjoyed our five days' walking in the Midlands.  There was greenery all around us; Birmingham was just a smudge on the horizon with a few tiny towers.  We were only immersed in peri-urban squalor for about ten minutes when we jumped off the canal in Fazeley to pick up lunch at a local Tesco (sushi and profiteroles, a combination we warmly commend).  Kingsbury Water Park was much prettier than a post-industrial wetland had any right to be.  The weather stayed cold but dry -- an excellent combination for long-distance walks.  And we found all sorts of unexpected treasures, including:

1.  The village of Berkswell, which has a lovely old Norman church, a village shop kept alive by volunteers, and a very tasty local ewe's milk cheese.  Perfect place to stop for lunch on the village green.

2.  The Stillwaters Guesthouse, our last B&B for a while (from then on, we were back into good campsite country) -- an elegant old building in a former coal mining town, done up from dereliction by the father of the friendly Pentecostal lady who runs it now.  The broad, peaceful gardens out back are particularly fine.

3.  Elaborate, soaring Lichfield Cathedral, and the Erasmus Darwin herb garden next to it in a back courtyard surrounded by bulging, sagging Tudor buildings.  These weren't entirely unexpected treasures (we'd gone to Lichfield expressly to see them) but were definitely worth the visit.

4.  The Ridware Gallery in the tiny village of Hamstall Ridware: http://www.walker-art.co.uk.  We were shortcutting between Lichfield and Uttoxeter, not on any major footpath, and just happened to pass the gallery on one of the days it was open.  We lurched in to enjoy friendly artists, a cup of tea, and some amazing coastal landscapes (including some of the Land's End area -- nostalgia already).

5.  The funny experience of camping on the racecourse in Uttoxeter.  Races weren't til Saturday, so we could wander around unrestricted and even gallop a bit ourselves (see photo).

We also made some unexpected friends while passing a care home in Hoar Cross, where we were invited in for tea by a lovely couple, Ann and Michael.  Michael had a heart attack seven years ago that affected his brain, severely impairing his ability to communicate and make decisions.  Previously he'd been an avid walker, though, and he lit up and managed a few short comments when we were talking about our plans for the West Highland Way and Pennine Way.  After tea, Ann insisted on driving us the rest of the way into Uttoxeter, with stops along the way to see Abbotts Bromley and the nearby reservoir.  Ann and Michael's kindness and hospitality turned an otherwise undistinguished afternoon into a memory we'll keep; and thanks to them, instead of a long late afternoon's walk, we got to enjoy an early pint in Uttoxeter and a leisurely amble over to the racecourse. 

So all in all, it was a delightful if mostly flat few days.  On Friday, we followed the River Dove up the border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire, through increasingly hilly country.  We stopped just short of the Peak District, picked up by K and D from Sheffield, and drove off for a weekend there.
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