Day 1 – Biddulph Grange to Norton Green

Well, we set off today! I’ll hopefully keep this blogpost short, cos I’m writing it on my phone, in a hilarious hotel I’ll tell you about later. And also cos I’m totally knackered…

We set off a bit after 9.30am – Dad had said if we weren’t ready to leave at 9.30am, he wasn’t taking us. Mum stood around laughing at him and reminding him of all the times he’d made her late for things…

I’ve always been the kind of person who does things at the last minute (to any potential future employers reading, this is just a bit of dramatic licence. Ahem) In the car, I was fact-checking things on my phone in the backseat. While Ross, in the passenger seat, was getting Dad to tell him the chords to the Skye Boat Song, and learning to play it on the ukelele. In between holding the satnav, and repeating what it said to Dad, but in a louder voice.

We got to Biddulph Grange Country Park only ten mins before the event was due to start and met the wonderful Roger, from the local Ramblers, in the car park. He’d been in touch with me by email and said he’d help us by walking the first bit with us to show us the way.

There was no-one else about, apart from the man tending the empty cafe. We were starting to think the three of us would sit round Roger and perform just at him. But then another guy turned up, then a couple with their grandchildren, and the day was saved. Ish.

Dad sang his first song, and was brilliant, as always. I kind of grew up assuming that everyone’s Dad can write songs and entertain an audience that well. Then finally I realised that lots of people who make a living at it aren’t half as good at either as Dad is.

He totally upstaged me and Ross of course, as my stories weren’t half as polished. And also, not really designed for the kids. The shows had been put together with an adult audience in mind. If I’d thought it through, I’d have substituted one of the stories for something more appealing to 7-8 year olds. But it was the first event, I was a bit nervous and worrying about a million other things. Next time though, I’ll be ready. Well, readier. It’s all a learning experience.

Also, as we were doing it in the outside seating area of the cafe, which was also a shortcut from the carpark to the park proper, people kept walking through, with their dogs. Generally during a dramatic pause, or some such. I had to fight hard not to laugh at times. Do you ever get the feeling your life is actually a heartwarming British sitcom?

The second half activity – people splitting into small groups to story share – I realised wasn’t going to work in that space, and with only six people. So I just got a general discussion going with everyone. Which worked OK, but is a bit vulnerable to one or two voices dominating.

But as we’d started off thinking we’d perform to an empty field, it worked out pretty well.

Then we set off on our actual walk. The lovely Roger, who I cannot praise enough, walked us to Trent Head Well. It’s not that impressive looking. But I like that this isn’t the Cotswold Way – a carefully edited picturesque walk – its down to earth and messy and chosen for us by the geography. And it’s pretty cool to think that one of the largest rivers in Britain – and (I think) the one with the largest catchment – starts off here, and we’re about to follow it all the way to the sea.

We met up with Tim Harris, a geology lecturer from Staffs Uni, who’d offered to show us some interesting sights. Then, while we were standing on a roadside nearby, trying to call my Dad, a car pulled over and asked if I was Sophia. Turns out this was Andy and Joy, someone else I’d corresponded with by email. They’d seen on the website twitter feed that we were at Trent Head Well, and they’d come out in their car to meet us.

That was a bizarre moment. But very cool. We felt all of a sudden like the pied pipers of the Trent. If the pied piper was nice, and not a vengeful child-abductor…

Tim and Roger carried on with us to Wickenstones Farm, where we clambered onto huge, sticking out rocks of millstone grit. Rain that falls to one side of them makes its way into the Trent. Rain falling the other side, into the Mersey. Tim told us lots more fascinating stuff about this geographical and geological boundary. And also about the huge glacier that used to flow uphill through the valley. But you’ll have to wait to hear more of that another day…

It was also beautiful on top of those rocks. And you could see for miles – right into Wales & Cheshire. How many times are you out walking, and wonder what the things you can see in the distance are, or where the things you can see come from? It was great to have people come along, volunteering to tell you all that stuff, and answer your questions.

We walked with Roger as guide for the rest of the day, past Knypersley reservoir (arguably the widest part of the Trent, as it’s a big reservoir made by damming the river…), and then partly along the canal feeder channel which runs parallel to the Trent. It’s a lot less windy, and also has footpath access, which most of the Trent in that stretch doesn’t. I believe we were mostly following the route of the new section of the Trent Valley Way, which will be launched soon. So you’re getting a sneak preview…

We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had glorious sunshine all day. And it was a lovely days walking, with plenty of variation – open fields and grasslands, woods, places of interest, even a small waterfall!

We stopped at Norton Green, and got a bus into Stoke. Roger, bless ‘im, had to lend us a pound, due to our unprepared incompetence, and the shocking profiteering of FirstBus. £2 for a journey of less than 2 miles! It’s £1.40 flat rate for all single fares in Edinburgh…

And then we walked to our amazing hotel for the night – The Sneyd Arms Hotel in Tunstall. Very reasonably priced, and with amazing 1950s carpets. No wi-fi, but as Ross pointed out, they make up for it in decorated porcelain displays…

Best of all, we were told that the landlady – Maureen Flowers – used to be a championship lady darts player. If that wasn’t enough, she was also once married to a famous footballer I’d never heard of, AND to Eric Bristow. What a woman! She also runs what seems a very happy hotel and bar, and does a cracking evening carvery for only £6.50. What more could one ask for?

I do hope though that a few more people come forward to offer some 21st Century troubadours places to stay for the rest of the trip. However reasonable they are, we actually cannot afford to stay in many more hotels or B&Bs. My ‘we’ll swap you some storytelling for a bed for the night’ plan hasn’t worked as well as we’d optimistically imagined. Mainly I think cos I’m too British to ask people.

Ross suggested we busk, but as his set so far consists of stuff like ‘Make a noise evocative of a mass extinction event at the end of the Permian era. With a ukelele.’ I’m not sure we’d make that much…

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Categories: The Journey | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Day 1 – Biddulph Grange to Norton Green

  1. I’m glad you have a working camera this time and are taking photos 🙂 Any chance of making them clickable to a bigger version on the blog instead of the same size?

    • Hiya Phil, you’re techy, if you can work out how we’d do that, then we’ll happily do it! They are on Flickr as well. Although Ross says you should be able to click on a ‘view in full screen’ link at the bottom.

  2. dave b

    Well done Sophia, lovely read, great start!

  3. Woohoo! Every Journey begins with one small step!… looking forward to hearing more tales from your journey, but maybe less on the verruca as I read it at tea time 😉

  4. Dense

    Have just read your adventures, they made excellent reading especially as th Trent holds a fascination for me too. With mobility problems I can’t see myself following in your footsteps but thank for sharing your story

  5. Pingback: Day 10 – Galashiels to Melrose | Tales from the Tweed

  6. Pingback: Trent Head Well excursion notes | Worsethandetroit

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