Sunday, 5 August 2012


The Two Saints' Way linking Chester and Lichfield Cathedrals is Britain's newest pilgrimage route, and one that runs through my part of the world. Named for St Werberga of Chester and St Chad of Lichfield, the first pilgrim party walked it in Holy Week 2012. Its inaugurator, committed Christian and long-distance walker David Pott, lives near me and in December 2010, I interviewed him about the Way for the magazine I write for, the Stone Gazette.

Writing the article sparked a keen desire to walk the Way myself. I'm a fairly fit walker and while I'm not a Christian, I am fascinated by the lives of these 7th century Saxon saints and their interconnecting stories. Werberga was the Christian sister of  the pagan Mercian princes Wulfad and Rufin who secretly converted to Christianity after encountering Chad when they were out hunting. (Their father, the pagan King Wulfhere of Mercia and his Christian wife Queen Ermenilda, had agreed to raise their daughters as Christians but their sons as pagans.) When Wulfhere learned of his sons' conversion, in a fit of rage, he had them slain at or near Stone, where their grave, marked by a cairn of stones, gave rise to its own pilgrimage.

David Pott leading the first pilgrim party round
Castle Ring on Cannock Chase, April 2012
I was also very well-placed to do this walk, as David Pott kindly advised me on distances and accommodation and talked me through the finer points of the route.  On Sunday April 1st,  having covered the first pilgrim party's visit to Stone for my magazine, Simon and I joined them on the last six-mile section from the edge of Cannock Chase to Lichfield Cathedral, where we witnessed the moving experience of seeing those who had walked the whole 88 miles having their feet washed in the pedilavium by a Cathedral Cannon.

The route runs on existing rights of way and shortly before setting out, I recconnoitred some of the cross-country sections both on my own and with my husband, Simon.  But now, an admission - I did not always keep to the route exactly. Constraints of time plus the need to find suitably located overnight stops meant that I cut out the detours to many places of interest plus the Salt - Stafford section.
My initial idea was to walk it completely alone, but having so much enjoyed the company of friends and family who had joined me for the 55 miles of the Leeds-Liverpool canal I did last May, I decided to maximise the social experience and find as many walking companions as possible.  To all of you who walked with me - and to all you met up with me or offered me hospitality en route, and especially to Simon, who not only provided transport but has ended up walking most of the Way himself, I cannot thank you all enough for making my pilgrimage walk a truly moving experience.  Now read on...

Saturday 14th July, Chester, 1 mile

Because Chester Cathedral would not be open early enough for me to visit it and reach Nantwich in reasonable time on the same day, Simon and I visited the Cathedral on the previous afternoon. Walking into the City, we were soon overtaken by a trio of pinstriped bouncers and bevvies of permatanned go-getters among the crowds streaming towards the Roodee for the Chester Races.

Sadly we couldn't visit St Werberga's shrine because a wedding service was underway.  However, when I asked an officious usher to visit the shrine on my behalf afterwards and explained why - his attitude softened and he gave me a hug!

But the best things about Chester Cathedral are  its cloister and garden and on this sunny afternoon, we had them almost to ourselves. 

Leaving the Cathedral, we walked along the city wall which runs round one side, then dropped down to the Shropshire Canal  which runs directly behind.  Then we walked the couple of miles to Hoole Lane bridge, the nearest point to the home of my cousin Rodney and his wife Sue, who had not only offered us a bed for the night, but invited us to their family get-together and hog-roast.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Sunday July 15th, Chester to Acton, 19 miles

We had sunshine all day from when Simon and I pulled our boots on in Rodney and Sue's charming front garden and headed off at 9.15 for  Hoole Lane bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal. Dog walkers, joggers and cyclists  gave us friendly greetings on the towpath as we headed out of the city towards Christleton.  After Waverton, the towpath got less crowded but harder going, being grassy and partially overgrown. About 7 miles along, just before Tattenhall marina, we picnicked on the grassy slope of a bridge, then fondly parted company - Simon  to walk back to Chester, to pick up the car and return home.

After an hour of thirsty tramping, I was glad to stop at the Shady Oak canalside pub for a lemon and lime in their  garden with a view up to Beeston Castle. The castle is one of the 2SW's points of interest, but I had no time to make the detour - though the castle, perched on a cliff top and reached by a dramatically curving footbridge, is definitely worth a visit.

On I went through Tiverton with its iron, then stone locks, Tilstone and Bunbury, the finishing point of our one and only family canal cruising holiday some years ago.  We found canal cruising  anything but restful and I much prefer to be beside canals than on them!

At Wardle, it was brought home to me how much the canal is a different world even when, as here, it runs through an industrial area right beside a main road, the A51. Just yards away from factories and a filling station, I came upon  a narrowboat bedecked with peg rugs fon sale, then a mother cradling a baby with its Moses basket beside her.  Simon and I were texting each other our progress and I texted him again on reaching the junction with the Llangollen Canal at Hurleston at about 4.30, where I was cheered to find my second 2SW marker!

Shortly before 6pm, I spotted the church tower at Acton, the point where I had to take a field path from the canal to reach my night's lodgings at Henhull Hall Farm.  Then to my surprise, who should appear on the towpath before me - but Simon!  He had made good time to Chester, was driving back in the same direction as me but didn't want to go home yet as the evening was so fine.

I was delighted to see him, and willingly let him lead me to the Star pub near Acton Church,  for a most welcome cuppa.  Then I phoned my friend Pauline in Nantwich, who was kindly offering me dinner that night, to tell her that she needn't fetch me from Henhull Hall Farm, as Simon would be able to drop me off.  Pauline being the extremely generous person she is, she invited Simon to dinner too!

Joyce, my landlady at Henhull Hall Farm,
has display of artefacts discovered by
metal detectorists on her farmland, the site
 of the Civil War Battle of Nantwich in 1643
Simon then drove me round to Henhull Hall Farm, a large and beautifully appointed Cheshire Dairy Farm where my hostess Joyce welcomed us and ushered us into my most comfortable quarters (including a private sitting room with a fine view across the fields to Nantwich parish church).

After I'd had a shower and brush-up, Simon drove us to Pauline's where we shared a delicious meal of gammon in cheese sauce, new potatoes and salad with her friend Ray, daughter Gwen and granddaughter Chloe (3).  Like me, Pauline teaches German for the Open University, but unlike me, has brought her offspring up bi-lingually. Little Chloe, who sat beside me at table is becoming bi-lingual too, and I read her a German story.

After a wonderfully animated evening, Simon returned me to Henhull Hall Farm, where we parted company for real and I enjoyed an excellent night's sleep in a comfy bed.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Monday July 16th, Acton - Barthomley, 12 miles

Over the hearty breakfast Joyce served me, I asked her opinion on the dairy farmers' blockades of the milk processors who had announced yet another cut in the milk price from August 1st. She said that although their farm was taking an income hit, she hoped the dairy farmers wouldn't carry out their threat to pour away their milk, especially during the forthcoming Olympics.  Some of Henhull Hall Farm's milk went to Müller Dairies, and there was a Müller yoghourt in the picnic she made up for me.

With Antje (left) and Irmgard
 At 9.30, I headed off in drizzle down Welshmans Lane to Nantwich, where I had arranged to meet yet more German connections, Irmgard and Antje at the Bookshop Cafe.  I first met Irmgard many years ago through the Stoke - Erlangen Town Twinning Association but Antje only in 2011, when all three of us happened to book the same Anglo-German Walking Holiday in the Harz Mountains. Fancy going all that way to discover that we're almost neighbours! Antje was glad to get out of her house that day to escape the deep drilling in her drive prior to the installation of a ground source heating system.

The three of us were having such a good laugh that I only belatedly noticed it was now tipping down outside. In the Cafe's tiny loo, I donned my gaiters and black poncho, which when pulled over my rucksack gives me an enormous hump.  The little children in the bookshop gave me apprehensive looks, so I quickly got out of town, following the River Weaver Walk to the A530 then turning left into Coole Lane.

From this point, the 2SW goes over fields to Wynbunbury. Careful navigation is required, but Simon and I had reccied this stretch beforehand.  Even with waymarks in place, I found this essential, as before Bathurst farm, one waymark does not point in the direction of the route, perhaps because the right of way goes round three sides of a field instead of down to the left to a bridge over a stream, then another over the Weaver.

Through reccying with Simon I had convinced myself  that cows were essentially placid creatures (I was in Cheshire dairy country here), who would leave you alone, providing you gave them  a wide berth. Or that's what I thought until a herd of them followed me across a field near Wynbunbury! My black hump must have made them curious, unlike three horses who just skittered away.

But I was almost defeated by the last stretch of the path to Wynbunbury. It was pretty overgrown with ferns when we'd passed through two weeks earlier, but now the ferns were over head height with brambles as well! I didn't have a pole or stick to beat them down with and could only look down at my feet to check that they were still on a path at all.  I would have turned back discouraged if I hadn't known there was a right of way here - just yards from the village street.  But I kept my spirits up with the thought of lunch with Keith at the Swan, in whose pub garden beside the "leaning tower" of Wynbunbury, I'd enjoyed a Ploughman's a fortnight before.

Keith, who lives in nearby Willaston, is yet another of my German connections, being a member of Newcastle-under-Lyme's Anglo-German Circle, a source of Crewe jokes and an all-round good sport.  We shared an excellent fish platter, and then, I must confess, I asked him to give me a lift.   The fields were so wet that I had decided to continue to Barthomley on country roads instead.  Keith kindly drove me the couple of miles to Hough to save me a detour and from there I proceeded to Weston and Engelsea Brook (where the Museum of Primitive Methodism was closed for Monday, else I would have called in.  I have now been there and can recommend the short detour if only to see the leather boot worn by the movement's co-founder, the itinerant preacher Hugh Bourne. Its upper was cut away and stitched on more loosely as his feet became swollen after tramping up to 40 miles a day! ) Visitors are assured of a warm welcome and a free cup of tea!  More on

Towards 5 pm, my feet utterly sodden but my core and pack dry I reached Barthomley, where I was grateful to warm myself in front of a roaring fire at the White Lion. Here, I overheard another Crewe joke: Back in the 1980s, while shopping in Crewe town centre a woman was accosted by a CND campaigner who asked what she thought about Cruise missiles.  Baffled, the woman replied that she didn't realise that Crewe had any!

Domvilles Farm (instead of my my hostess,
who  was too young to photograph!) 
Before setting off down the road to my next overnight stop at Domvilles Farm, I phoned, as agreed, my landlady.  It was only then I realised that she wasn't there herself, but was directing operations from on holiday in Wales.  Her granddaughter, Olivia, would look after me instead.  

When I arrived at Domvilles, I was greeted by a very young girl who was indeed Olivia.  I remarked that she looked rather young to be a landlady, and she told me her age  - 14! But despite her tender years, Olivia looked after me extremely well, leading me to a room with a fourposter bed and - delight of delights - a bath.  She provided me with n oil heater which dried my socks in no time and cooked me, by prior request, some scrambled eggs and beans on toast (the Barthomley pub served no food at night).  So I snuggled down for an evening of TV, and feeling peckish in the middle of the night, scoffed the scone and cake from Joyce's picnic.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Tuesday, July 17th, Barthomley - Stoke Minster, 14 miles

This was the day I was least looking forward to: the 2SW guide warns of 'urban deprivation' near the Trent and Mersey north of Stoke and I was apprehensive about encountering dubious characters along the canal. But after a cooked breakfast served by Olivia and her even younger sister Lily in their school uniforms, I set out at 8.45 and made my way via quiet lanes up and through the village of Audley (which may look nondescript, but boasts its own theatre) to reach Apedale Country Park. Skirting the foot of its hill, I was back on the 2SW, and pleased to spot the red waymarkers which David and a friend had put up only the week before.

I reached the Newcstle's uninviting suburb of Chesterton too early for either of its pubs to be open. From a tombstone in Holy Trinity Churchyard, I had just texted Simon bemoaning the lack of refreshments, when I discovered the Mighty Bite Sandwich Bar and Cafe just down across the green! Over a cup of builders' tea I informed the surprised proprietress that her establishment was now on a pilgrimage route. She replied that any extra business would be welcome.

Suitably refreshed, I closely followed the 2SW up and over the green space between Chesterton and the A34, which I crossed at the Bradwell Lane lights.  Then through the Bradwell estate, whose roads are named after Arnold Bennett characters, to the crematorium, from where a flight of steps leads steeply down through woodland to an underpass under the A500.  I was whistling the "The Lord's my Shepherd" to keep my spirits up as I entered this "valley of the shadow of death", but encountered nobody either in the underpass or crossing Chemical Lane, the railway footbridge and then patchy woodland to reach the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Following the guide's advice, I left the route at this point to walk a little way northwards up the canal to Westport Lake, which now boasts an attractive new Visitors' Centre.  But before I had tea there, I finished Joyce's picnic (beef sandwiches, what else?) on a lakeside bench, admiring the woodland which obscures the sight, if not the sound of the A500. 

Middleport Pottery backs onto the canal.
 © Copyright Chris Allen
It was just after 1pm, and with Simon not due to collect me from Stoke Minster until 5.30pm, I had time on my hands.  I decided to take a detour at Middleport to the Victorian Burleigh Pottery, rescued from oblivion by the Dorlings in 1999 but recently taken over by Denby Pottery with hopefully an even longer lease of life.  In its tearoom, a regular  called Angie embroidered my account of my wanderings with tales of the 'Kidsgrove Boggart', whose chains could be heard rattling in the nearby woodland and the holy well in Kidsgrove's Bathpool Park.

Still with plenty of time to spare, and as the afternoon had brightened up, I resolved to follow the Way religiously along the detour it takes round the Trent and Mersey's filled-in Burslem arm to the former gardens of Festival Park.  But though I left the canal at Oliver's Mill and turned right along a road lined with scrap as per instructions,  I soon lost my bearings in scrubby woodland. Although I did not encounter another soul, and tempted as I was by butterflies flitting among the flowers on vacant lots, after about 15 minutes of wandering, I judged it prudent to retrace my steps.

In fact, the canalside was much more pleasant than I had anticipated. The firm towpath was being well-used by dogwalkers and cyclists and only one patch of dereliction, where a piece of wall has fallen into the canal, disfigured its green banks.  But when I dived into adjoining woodland for a comfort break I found I was relieving myself on Newport Pottery's old shraffheap!

I carried on in warm sunshine to Etruria, where I stopped for a lemon and lime at the China Garden pub at Stoke Marina. With still time to spare, I decided to go back and do the Festival Park section in reverse.  The route crosses the landscaped slagheaps separating the retail park from the office developments and the Moat House Hotel. From this landmark, I did indeed discover the brick bust of Josiah Wedgwood, then headed  into the woodland up the slate bed of a former waterfall. The guide helped me rediscover other features I had completely forgotten since visiting the Festival in 1986 - stone circles, sculptures and a footbridge crossing a small ravine.  We will revist them on one of our winter walks.

At Stoke Minster's Saxon Preaching Cross

What with dawdling and rediscovering I had to put a step on it to meet Simon  in time - and Stoke Minster now seemed further away than I'd bargained for.  Due to exhaustion or dehydration, I began to feel groggy while passing Hanley cemetery and had to take care not to step too near to the canal..

But beside Stoke Town Hall, my spirits lifted on spotting a red cross on the pub opposite Stoke Minster - The Glebe is now a Joules pub!  A Joules pale ale would revive me, I resolved, and when Simon met me in the churchyard, I persuaded him to join me for some refreshment there.  The kitchen was not yet open for hot meals, but the kindly barwomen brought us a splendid cheeseboard, pate, biscuits  and a huge home-made pork pie.  You can can have a good night out in Stoke after all!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Wednesday, July 18th, Stoke to Swynnerton - 11 miles

Today I had a walking companion, our friend and neighbour Margaret.  Simon dropped us back at Stoke Minster on his way in to work, and in bright and breezy conditions, we rejoined the Trent and Mersey canal. We stopped to read the information boards about Stoke City FC (whose Britannia Stadium we were passing) and the former Hem Heath colliery, now an expanse of wasteland. At the first sign of houses, we left the canal and dog-legged through a Trentham estate to reach a pleasant (and hitherto unknown) path along the wooded Longton Brook, which brought us to the A34 at Trentham Gardens.

Naturally, we stopped off for elevenses, and in the Garden Centre restaurant we had a chance encounter with Morag, Carol and Elizabeth of the Arnold Bennett society Simon and I also belong to. As promoters of Potteries' culture and history they were keen to hear about our walking venture, which led Elizabeth to the revelation that she had given the names Chad and Werbergh to two of her children!  

Margaret at the Saxon Cross in
Trentham Churchyard

Margaret and I continued to Trentham Church, which happened to be open.  We had a word with the new vicar, who was aware of the 2SW and admired the ornate marble statues in the Sutherland chapel.

Then, following David Pott's recommended slight detour, we carried along the track on the western fringe of the woodland towards the roar of the M6. Here we turned left and went steeply uphill (possibly up the steepest gradient on the 2SW) to emerge on the eastern ridge of Trentham Park. Here, on the "Seven Sisters", there is a proposal to site a huge statue of a Saxon Warrior dominating the skyline above the M6, but there was no sign of any foundation-laying.

Passing the open gate in the Trentham Estate fence, we continued  in oak woodland high above Trentham Lake.  The occasional sharp shower alternated with dappled sunshine, which fortunately persisted during our steep descent into and climb out of the valley near Trentham Monkey Forest. We emerged at the Monument, where we picnicked with a fine view down to the lake and the gardens.

We were on home territory as we climbed down Monument Hill and cut through Tittensor via Moment Lane and Copeland Drive to reach the chain of ponds running parallel to Winghouse Lane. A short uphill stretch along this road brought us to our turnoff south-east, first over Clumber Hill, then across Tittensor Chase to the A51 at Bury Bank. From there, it was just over a mile over tracks and lanes back to home to Swynnerton.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Thursday, July 19th, Swynnerton to Great Haywood, 13 miles

What freedom it is to set out from home to reach a distant destination entirely under your own steam!  But first, I had an appointment with 2SW founder David Pott. I'd arranged to meet him at the Darlaston Inn at Meaford, or rather its Wacky Warehouse playbarn, the pub not being open at that early hour. The Duty Manageress was amazed to learn that her establishment was now on a pilgrimage route, but keen to find out more about her historic hostelry. David commiserated with me about the rainy conditions, but I assured him they weren't dampening my spirits.

Then hastily on to Stone, where I found my walking companion for the day, Dorothy from Stone Ramblers, sheltering near  Star Lock.  First we called in at St Michael's and St Wulfad's, where tea and coffee were on offer following Morning Communion.  We said hello to Rector Ian Cardinal, then paid a visit to the Stone Priory Seal (both featured in episode 5 of  the ITV series "Britain's Secret Treasures" the following day). In the churchyard, we admired the colourful, if windblown wildflower beds awaiting their day of judgement for Stone in Bloom.

The weather continued showery, so when we reached the delightful village of Burston, we ate our sandwiches in St Rufin's chapel, where Dorothy discovered that her July 24th birthday was also St Rufin's day!  Then back to the canal and on through Sandon, Weston and Hixon, where the towpath is enhanced with information boards and benches. I was especially glad of these, the sight of a kingfisher and Dorothy's company, to relieve this rural but rather unrelieved trudge. (The 2SW leaves the canal near Salt to go up to Hopton, Stafford and Milford for Cannock Chase but because of accommodation constraints, my destination was Great Haywood instead.)

We arrived there at 4 pm and over tea in the beer garden of the Clifford Arms, I phoned to confirm my room at High Meadows Guest House, a handsome villa in the Arts and Crafts style most sympathetically furnished by owner Julie Carrington, who had set out an airer for our sodden clothes!

Dorothy came up with me to my room, where we had a shower, a change and a rest before the ever-supportive Simon arrived (by car) from Swynnerton to take us for a meal at the Wolesley Arms, about 10 minutes away.  After a convivial evening, Simon drove Dorothy home to Stone, leaving me to my William Morris room. But despite its comfortable bed, I was far too excited about next day's challenges to sleep much.