Another glorious day of blazing sunshine. The son of lovely Bruce, who we stayed with Sun night, kindly gave us a lift back to Staffs Uni, where we’d finished walking the day before. And we hopefully set off.
A bit too hopefully, it turned out. It was hard to find and follow the Trent and we were wandering round housing estates, and bits of industrial wasteland swearing at the map. I wished we’d taken the advice of Tom Fort and got a Stoke citymap, but we forgot.
In the end, we found three old guys drinking special brew by the canal, and they kindly showed us the way. We were able to follow the river for quite a bit, along a lovely riverside path that looked rarely used. The brambles were heavy with ripe blackberries, which you don’t get on well-used paths. We ate as many as we could, having a great need for vitamins. We’ve been eating a lot of fried stodge…
We got as far as Trentham Gardens, which the Trent flows through for a mile or so. We were met with six foot high walls and lots of ‘NO PUBLIC ACCESS’ signs. We could see through a fence at one point and the beautiful formal gardens and lakes of Trentham Gardens beyond looked like the promised land. A promised land denied to dishevelled sinners like us…
We had to accept there was no way of getting in without going through the main gates and the ticket office (£8!). But looking at our bank balances, and how over-budget we are already, we couldn’t face paying £16. After some discussion, we decided to chance it and ask if they’d let us in free. We were pretty resigned to them saying no, and us having to walk round.
Trentham Gardens had this bizarre approach to the ticket bit, which was a Disney-like street of outlet stores housed in squeaky-clean erzatz Swiss chalets. Walking along in muddy boots and covered in brambles, we felt like we’d come from another world…
At the ticket office, we could see a woman who looked like she was in charge. We decided I’d do the talking, and Ross would do his bashful twinkly-eyes thing. It always works on me. But looking around at this temple to making money off sight-seers, we weren’t very hopeful.
Hallelujah! Verity, the Visitor Services Manager was absolutely lovely. She gave us complimentary tickets, and even took one of our posters and said she would call the News Editor from Moorlands radio and tell them about our epic trek.
Despite the £8 entry fee, I’d recommend a visit to Trentham Gardens. It was absolutely beautiful. They even had a miniature railway (the occupants, and the driver, all waved at us every time they passed). All the kids looked like they were having the best day out.
We regretfully left this halcyon land of milk and honey, and set off down the muddy footpath again. We soon realised we weren’t going to make it to Stone in time for the event there, on foot, and found a bus stop. Fortunately Dad (who was coming to do a star turn in the event) had got to Stone early, and he came and picked us up.
Dad was in a bad mood, cos his satnav had taken him the wrong way to Aston Marina. I can’t quite see how that was my fault, as I wasn’t even in the car at the time, but it seemed like it was. But things were about to get worse.
When we arrived at Aston Marina (which was a lot bigger and posher than I’d expected) no-one seemed to be expecting us. This certainly punctured any ideas we had of grateful populaces along the route waiting with baited breath for our arrival and to hear our tales of the Trent. We pointed vainly at our poster up on there wall and said, ‘That’s us!’, to little effect.
Eventually they worked out who we were, and it was agreed that we’d do the event on their decking area, to a bunch of surprised people eating a leisurely lunch in the sunshine. Obviously this was all my fault too, according to Dad. And specifically, the fault of the poster, which Dad thinks doesn’t have enough information on it.
Quite how a more informative poster would have made any difference, I wasn’t able to establish. Given that I’d exchanged a series of information-filled emails and phone calls with the venue ahead of time. But Dad had his opinion, and there it was. It wasn’t, if I’m honest, the most relaxing preparation for doing a show. Especially given that we clearly needed to do a show of a radically different format to what we’d rehearsed, to a decking area of involuntary audience.
So, I made it all up as we went along. Fortunately since Saturday I’d been rehearsing a story suitable for kids, and there were some kids in the audience. So I did that one. And told the story of Burton beer, which got a couple of tables interested, who hadn’t been before. Dad, of course, was brilliant, and upstaged us again. But that’s good, cos it got people tapping their feet. I’m very proud of him, even if he’s grumpy.
We chatted to some of the audience afterwards, and they seemed to have enjoyed it. We told them to look up our website. I really wish we’d thought to get little flyers done – we can hardly hand each person an A3 poster…
Then Dad dropped us back where he’d picked us up from, to carry on our walk. We stopped for a cup of tea and looked up B+Bs in Stone. Thank god for iPhones! Of course it would have been much easier to sort that out ahead of time. We had this (now clearly unreasonable) idea that people would come forward offering to put us up. It’s happened in some places, but not enough…
The only place with rooms free, and where we could afford to stay, in Stone that night was the Day’s Inn at the M6 services. How glamorous! So as night fell we were doing a forced march up a farm track, miles south of Stone, trying to reach there before dark.
Turned out there was no back entrance to the Services. People only go there by car, from the motorway. We marched (illicitly) across a field full of suspicious cows and clambered over a fence topped with barbed wire. I went first, for some stupid reason, and jumped off the top cos it seemed easier than negotiating the barbed wire any further.
I thought I was just jumping into a load of brambles and nettles. In fact it was a load of brambles and nettles GROWING OUT OF A DITCH. I went down about 2 foot more than I was expecting and fell onto my back, clutching vainly at nettles. That was fun. Not only was I stung and scratched, but for a minute I thought I’d twisted my ankle. I was seriously cursing Day’s Inn and motorway services in general. When in fact none of this was THEIR fault.
Scratched, tired and muddy, we limped into the services, to general amazement. The receptionist said we were the weirdest people they’d ever had staying there. Given that I’ve always assumed motorway services hotels are the kind of place serial killers stay, I was a bit offended really.
There’s no alcohol allowed at the services, so we couldn’t even console ourselves with a pint. After a cheerless dinner of fish and chips in the services cafe, we were limping back to our bed when we spotted something that saved the day. Massage chairs! Never have I been so happy to spend a pound. 3 minutes of automated back pummelling felt like the highest bliss we could imagine.
And thus ends the tale of our third day. We’ve got 18 days of this to go. What on earth made me come up with this stupid idea in the first place?