Day 2 – Norton Green to Stoke-on-Trent

Weather: Mostly cloudy, brief drizzle late morning. Some sun later.
Miles: About 7 miles of route, another 6 walking round Stoke.

We didn’t get a great night’s sleep in the Sneyd Arms Hotel, to be honest. They’d got one of those plastic sheets over the mattress, to stop you weeing on it (which we weren’t planning to do actually), so we kept waking up all night, sweaty and squeaking.

Then some sort of machinery started up outside our window in the early hours. Or, as Ross said at the time with a pillow over his head, ‘Urgh, what’s that noise generator? Please make it stop!’ He’s very sensitive to noise, being a sound engineer. And I’m very sensitive to Ross waking up, tripping over things on his way to the toilet, and then kneeling on my arm as he gets back into bed…

I’m not sure I would recommend a stay there if you’re on an epic trek and need your sleep. However, I’m sure medieval troubadours had much worse sleeping conditions, and didn’t complain. So I should stop whinging.

Roger from Biddulph Ramblers came and picked us up from Tunstall and dropped us off in Norton Green to carry on walking where we’d left off. What a lovely man he is. I’m blown away by how kind some people have been. Dave, another guy from the Biddulph Grange event also got in touch and offered us a lift that morning, but Roger had already dropped us.

We walked mainly along the canal into Stoke on Trent. We kept trying to rejoin the Trent, but it’s pretty small and forgotten in Stoke (you’d think it being in the name would remind people, but apparently not). It disappears under streets, or is in a tiny channel between houses, or is overgrown with nettles and brambles. We’d manage to follow it for 50 yards or so, but then have to backtrack. There’s no footpaths along in for most of it too.

But the Caldon Canal was nice. I observed that Sunday morning towpath usage goes: From early, onwards – dog walkers. From 10am onwards – joggers. From 11am onwards – cyclists. I don’t know what the cyclists were doing earlier, on but they definitely looked the most chirpy group…

We had an adventure trying to find a cup of tea, which I recount in an audio clip Ross is just editting. Suffice it to say, I recommend The Shoulder of Mutton pub in Etruria. Then we walked round Stoke for what seemed like hours, trying to do some minor errands, get food, and find working wifi so we could update the blog. We mainly failed at this.

Stoke seemed to have a lot of shut shops and empty buildings. But some really lovely old architecture. I found the industrial museum being shut (due to cutbacks, we were told) pretty ironic, under the circumstances.

Then we rehearsed for a couple of hours, in a nature reserve, and went to meet Tim at Staffs Uni Science Centre. This is a shiny new building and he’d got it opened specially on a Sunday for our event. Unfortunately no-one much seemed to know about it, and the students are on holiday still, and it’s not really a time and place people expect a storytelling event about rivers, and, to cut to the brutal truth, no-one turned up.

This troubadouring is all very well, but I probably shouldn’t attempt a career in tour promotion. Although I guess we are learning a lot. It seems pretty obvious now that it would be much better to slot into an existing events programme – a society that has weekly talks, a pub that always has something folky on a Sunday night, whatever. But where do you start with trying to find those places for twenty different towns and villages? When you’ve not got any funding and so haven’t got that much time to do it in? What do you think would work best?

Anyway, Tim drove us to the pub and we all went for a lovely drink. We talked about The Revd Dr William Buckland, and his pet bear, about historical, craftsmanship, and Ikea furniture, about cigarette cards and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and of course, lots about geology and geography about rivers.

Tim confirmed something a friend of mine told me, that the UK is made from a very unusually diverse set of rocks. Which (it’s theorised) helped create the right setting for the industrial revolution – the diversity of the rocks meant that more different things-to-do-with-rocks got discovered and/or used here – coal firing things, clay being baked into pottery, smelting, all that kind of stuff. When just down the road, someone would be doing something different, and the two trades could pick up ideas from each other, and develop faster. It’s all about getting ideas mixing, see!

Then we went to see our host for the night, Bruce, who runs the MRI dept at Staffs Hospital. He, his son and son’s girlfriend were lovely hosts – did I mention how blown away I am by how kind people have been? They even saved us some dinner. And they definitely didn’t have incontinence sheets on the mattress.

We had a great rest of the evening swapping stories. Bruce is into Morris Dancing and had been up to Sowerby Bridge that weekend for a crazy-sounding event. He, of course, came up with a big list of folky pubs in Stoke where he thought we should have put the event on. Bruce, you were lovely, but that list was a bit late!;-)

Definitely the best thing about this so far is all the fab people we’re meeting. Anyway, I must sleep now – although we’re already behind on posting, and it’s only day three!

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