Staffordshire might be my home county, but that doesn't mean I have to rave about its walking potential; today's walk was pleasant and inoffensive, but ultimately rather boring.
This is certainly no criticism of the Staffordshire countryside, because the farms I walked through today were not unattractive. It's just that after a month of walking through fields and rolling English farmland, it takes something special to prevent the day from slipping by unnoticed. I enjoyed the plodding, I was delighted to be in Staffordshire, and practically nothing stuck in my mind.
It could have been a lot worse.
The Staffordshire Way
All except for the first mile of today's walk was along the Staffordshire Way, a long-distance path that stretches from one end of the county to the other, taking in the most scenic parts and avoiding the major conurbations. If I had stuck to McCloy's suggested route then I would have joined the Way at Kinver Edge a couple of days ago, but instead today was my first taste of the county's major route. I can only assume that Kinver Edge is a lovely place, with its sandstone escarpment and views of Shropshire and the West Midlands, and that today's walk is a temporary lull before I reach the attractions of Cannock Chase tomorrow (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, no less). I hope so, anyway, because if it's all like today, I won't be spending much longer on the Staffs Way.
My walk today took me past the obviously expensive but slightly over-manicured mock Tudor houses of outer Pattingham, past a well-hidden country estate called Wrottesley Hall and into the nearby golf course, through the pleasant but instantly forgettable town of Codsall, over the M54, past the distant but grand building of Chillington Hall, and into Brewood. Brewood, pronounced 'Brood' by the locals, was today's first highlight, and it's a pretty spot, with a lovely church and the sort of Police Station that you'd only find in a small village; it looked for all the world like a corner shop, with blue 'Police' signs hanging outside instead of adverts for Coca-Cola, and that set the tone for the village square, where small shops rubbed shoulders with pretty pubs as the sun broke through the clouds and started warming things up.
From Brewood I joined the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal, which was busily interesting with a large collection of narrow boats, and I settled in for a pleasant stroll along the banks, pausing only to admire the section where the canal crosses over Watling Street. Here a Thomas Telford aqueduct from 1832 carries the canal over what is now a hurtling A-road, and I enjoyed the combination of the ruler-straight Roman road and this simple but well-executed piece of 19th-century engineering; it made a good spot for lunch, despite the thundering noise of traffic from below.
Soon after turning off the canal I ducked through a farm, where a gargantuan farm dog surprised the hell out of me by pattering up and saying hello without so much as a grumble. I even patted his head and in a state of shocked awe stumbled off towards the pretty village of Lapley, where a convenient pub served up a welcome pint of Marston's Bitter that helped me come to terms with my first positive farm dog experience of the whole walk.
To finish off the day, the Staffordshire Way wandered around the outside of yet more farmers' fields, through a nature reserve called Bickford Meadows and along the road towards the distinctive viaduct of Penkridge; and so ended one of those days that every long walk has, a filler. Filler days are instantly forgettable, but they do have a purpose. Not only do they get you further along the road – today, for example, I completed the first third of my journey from Land's End to John o'Groats – but they provide you with little pools of calm to look back on in the future. When the rain is lashing down in the mountains or you're up to your knees in bog, these easy little filler days seem like gifts from above. If this walk was a game of cricket then today would be the tea break, and where would cricket be without tea?