Peckforton, 13th April 2003Sandstone Strolls
The spring sunshine brought out the crowds as nineteen of us gathered near the Peckforton Hills. Some people managed to find the starting point without any difficulty, but even the walk leader took a wrong turn, despite having written the directions himself !
We walked over the sandstone summit of Raw Head, where we tried but failed to fit everyone on to a photograph ( must get a wider angle lens !). More views were enjoyed from a sunny stop on top of Bickerton Hill before we made our way to the Copper Mine for lunch.
Some folks endured a chilly breeze in the beer garden, while others succumbed to the temptation of the Sunday lunch menu. The food was rather good, the service was somewhat "relaxed" to say the least. On finally emerging from the pub, the walk leader was greeted by a round of applause from the waiting throng (I didn't know I was so popular - R.).
Margaritas, 9th MayWe don't just walk and eat you know! We err...
It was with some trepidation that I set out on Friday night headed for Margaritas Mexican Restaurant in Stafford. My reasons for feeling anxious were twofold. Firstly, the group had dined out twice at one of my personal favourites, Casa Loco Mexican Restaurant in Stone, and had both times given it the thumbs up. I was therefore a little worried that Margaritas would fail to live up everyone's expectations. Secondly, the last Mexican I experienced had left me feeling disappointed and craving something homegrown instead.
On arriving at the restaurant with the rest of the group, I was somewhat surprised by the décor. Bright lighting, wall paintings and a model train that ran round a track, suspended from the ceiling. Roland and Phil became somewhat exited by this little train, not because of any great interest in locomotives but by the likely consequences of a potential derailment. They reasoned that such an incident could have a disastrous effect upon the garments of several young women who were dining directly below a part of its course. Their analysis was so eloquent and so technical in its nature that I could not possibly do it justice here. You will simply have to ask them to explain further.
After what turned out to be a truly excellent meal we paid up and headed for some of the local bars. Unfortunately, confusion and indecision now decided they were going to take charge of the proceedings. The first place we tried was quickly declared "too posh for the likes of us" (wouldn't that rule out everywhere?). In some vain attempt to balance our Karma, the next place we went into turned out to be a total dive. Finally, we settled on the Firkin, a favourite haunt of local students. The place had a reasonable atmosphere but as I stood there sipping my drink, I started to feel old and I'm only 26, so God knows how everyone else felt.Neil "If I'm not walking, I'm stuffing my face" Scott
BRECON WEEKEND, 23-25 May 2003
For some, the weekend began in a traffic jam on the M5, however, for the remaining two, it involved a pleasant trip through Church Stretton, Leominster and Hereford.
The group was in two parties, the Group Secretary and the Publicity Officer were at a B & B whilst the remainder were domiciled at the local Youth Hostel (it was owing to the YH's very popularity that the aforesaid committee members were obliged to seek accommodation elsewhere). The two parties met at the Three Horseshoes at 10:00 p.m. amid a heavy rainstorm. As we all sat nursing our drinks, we meditated on the potential soaking awaiting us the next day whilst up Pen-Y-Fan, the thought slightly tempered by the excellent value meal that had just been consumed.
Fan-Y-Big (heh heh)
After a dodgy rendezvous on the A470, the Group Sec met up with the remainder of the team, sans the Pubs Officer who had decided a restful day at a book festival in Hay on Wye had more appeal.
Some Lombard rally style driving took us to Llwynbedw (try pronouncing that) for 10:00 am. Whereupon opening the shiny blue Cavalier's boot, the Chairman discovered that his boots had been left back at the hostel. This gave the walks co-ordinator another chance to prove his masterful skills at the wheel on roads as wide as our bathroom.
After this false start, we decided to give the thick black clouds on top of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du chance dissipate by doing the boring bits through the fields to Cwmcynwyn first. However, our first ascent up Cefn Cyff proved to be savagely blasted by squally showers with the threat of more to come as we gazed at the ever-blackening clouds still on Pen-Y-Fan. These still malingered there whilst we were eating sandwiches and grit on the interestingly named Fan-Y-Big (much to Jane's amusement). However they remained at bay as further rain held off and indeed the day actually improved.
So, as we made our way up to Cribyn, the excellent views of the Black Mountains and the rest of the Brecon national park remained with us through both ascents of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du.
The day was rounded off later in the Bull's Head, offering an excellent glass of Tanglefoot. In fact, several Tanglefeet later, we realised that we'd better eat and a search of the local restaurants finally took us to one offering good traditional pub fare , a sumptuous repast we all agreed.
Amid hangovers, the crew assembled outside the 250 year old Flag and Castle GH to begin the climb of the 2500 years older Pen-y-Grug hill fort. Here were afforded fine views of the hills we'd climbed yesterday (complete with black clouds). However, as we made our way past the driving range beyond, the amount of signs indicating the path direction dwindled to nothing, with often only a gate to indicate a right of way. Luckily the map reading skills of the Group Secretary saved the day , especially in the Ardennes-like Glan Honddu. Shortly after this, we lunched in a church and enjoyed the first truly warm weather that we'd experienced in Brecon, thus far.
The ecclesiastical theme continued as we finished the day with tea at the Brecon Cathedral tearooms. (In spite of the protestations of certain members of the party who complained that they were once again going up hill).
However, all in all, the Brecon national park and its namesake town are well worth a visit.
Thanks to everyone who came.
Stow on the Wold, August 22nd-24th 2003Cotswold Capers
A rainy dimal start on Friday cast a shadow of doubt over the next two days. Visions of sunbathing on village greens and dining alfresco on Cotswold cream teas were diminishing rather too quickly. Thankfully my negative view of British weather was soon cast aside as the cloud lifted to reveal clear blue skies and temperatures rose to a more acceptable level.
Wooden benches dotted around the grassed market place at Stow-on-the- Wold played host to our early arrivals who awaited the YH's 5 o'clock opening. Once settled in, unpacked, showered, YH sheet sleeping bages negotiated (a challenge for newcomers) we set off on the search for much needed refreshment in one of Stow's many pubs. We weren't disappointed, sumptuous food, drink and godd conversation flowed easily at the Fox Inn and an enjoyable night was had by all.
9.15 Saturday morning, kitted and booted up we set off for Lower Swell, out starting point for the 11 mile trek to the picturesque touris village of Bourton-on-the-Water. Mainly fields and a couple of tracks and lanes took us southward on an array of waymarked routes: macMillan Way, Gloucestershire Way, Windrush Way, to name a few. We rolled in to our lunchtime/sightseeing stop at just after midday and enjoyed a leisurely 2 hour break. Bourton had plenty to offer us (and the thousands of day trippers too) - a perfumery, motor museum, Birdland, a model village and an abundance of gift shops and tempting tea rooms.It wasn't an easy place to leave but we still had 4 miles to cover and time was ticking by.
A few hours later after coffee and showers we were togged up (not quite to the nines) and reasdy for a well-earned pint and some decent grub. Alas disappointment awaited us as our pre-booked evening meal hostelry had run out of all food apart from steaks. Luckily there was a very tasty curry house which was more than pleased to feed us and so we rounded off the night chatting over bhunas and rice.
Sunday morning dawned overcast and gloomy, a bit of a downer really as our 9 miler started at Dovers Hill, the start of the Cotswold Way just above the charming little town of Chipping Campden. On a clear day excellent views can be seen all round but for the moment we had to use a little imagination. Our route took us down One Mile Lane to Broadway Tower and Country Park, again great views in good visibility, though slowly the weather was improving. As we descended across the fields towards Broadway the cloud beagan to lift and the sun started to break through, not a minute too late as this was our lunch stop destination. Here we went our separate ways to explore and gather refreshments.
Beautiful Broadway, as described in the guidebook, is made up of one long street flanked with well kept grass verges and chocolate-box cottages, There are many cute gift shops, pubs and extremely naughty but nice tea- rooms and cafes. After a relaxing hour and a half we continued on our way, passing through some lovely scenery and past enviable properties, meeting hardly a soul other than the local sheep and cows. Our walk ended where it had started, up on Dovers Hill, but this we had the views to admire. As we all felt we'd earned it, off to Chipping Campden we headed for typical Cotswold cream teas, and a chance to say our farewells and thanks for a great weekend.
ZEST – 5th SEPTEMBER 2003
As a cracking summer draws to a close, the Staffs Walkers (20s & 30s) continue to enjoy the culinary delights of Hanley. Not the first place that springs to mind when searching for such a unique restaurant as Zest. However, an El-Dorado discovery awaited us, the connoisseurs of fine foods.
Nine of us assembled in Churasco’s salubrious environs for a pre- dinner drink, before striking out for Zest at 20:30 hours.
A Mediterranean style of restaurant awaited us, nicely bijou with a clean un-fussy ambience. The menu was excellent, and amid the various starters and main courses to tempt us, most plumped for the stuffed vine leaves followed by steak in whisky and mustard sauce (with chips).
There was also a fine selection of Staffordshire ales haling from Adrian’s brewery at Leek, with his “Double Sunset” taking honours as best beer of the night.
The wine flowed and the conversation bubbled until 12:30, when the publicity officer remembered that the Group Secretary turned into a pumpkin after 12:00 and was fast achieving this transformation with all the food and beer nestling in his stomach.
ABBOTT’S BROMLEY HORN DANCE – 8th SEPTEMBER
Watching a dozen men in Lincoln green tights whilst carrying antlers of deer on their shoulders might not provide immediate appeal when taking a precious day off from work on a Monday. However, it proved itself entertaining and an historical insight into the goings-on of our Iron Age forbears.
Confusion surrounded the start of our event. Of the five walkers who arrived at the Blithfield reservoir car park, only three were actually expecting to go on a walk. The other two had only read the “bring beer money” advice on the event description and were not equipped for a day’s walk. Therefore, it was great regret that we headed straight for the pub.
It would have helped if we actually knew when the dance was enacted, however, due to confusion by the Group Secretary who believed that the Chairman had said it was at 12:00 midday, when we arrived at Abbott’s Bromley, we found that the dance had started first at 7:00 am and was then repeated at various locations in and around the pretty village. At 12:00, it was being performed at the very spot that we had parked the cars an hour earlier.
We were then forced to the first pub for a drink and a clandestine packed lunch on the picnic tables outside, and then browse the new- age stalls standing cheek by jowl with WI cake displays. In fact, there was little concession to commercialism, we were pleased to note and the majority of the stalls were raising money for various charities.
The free guide that the Publicity Officer’s mum kindly furnished us with said that the next dance in the village (they had by now moved on to a field off the Uttoxeter road) would be at the Baggot Arms at 15:30. So we made our way there, an hour before, just to make sure of our places. The dance took place in the road though, so we still had to fight for a place among the crowd that had appeared from no- where.
So we watched the Fool, Maid Marian, The Hobby Horse, The Boy With The Bow and Arrow, The Other Boy With The Triangle, The Accordion Player and Six Blokes With Antlers performing the ancient dance to make sure that next year’s crops don’t fail (or some such reason). They danced very well.
ABNEY MOOR – 14th SEPTEMBER
This walk has been done before, y’know. However, as the Group Secretary’s last attempt, during January, to demonstrate the wondrous views of the Hope Valley were stymied on account of the “seasonal” weather, he was determined to persist with his attempts – even if it meant going there every weekend until the weather was clear.
Luckily, the weather was clear. In fact it was one of those lovely September days that usually only show their faces after a pelting- down summer. The only boil on the face of this gathering was the car parking in Eyam. Since time immemorial, walkers have eschewed the safety of the Eyam car park opposite the exhibition centre in favour of the rugged, masculine and free harbour of the road leading to the youth hostel. This has been stopped. So the six people assembled for the walk were forced to pay not one, nor two nor three but £3.50 for the privilege of parking in this lovely village (perhaps they needed some money to replace the none-existent bay markings, or maybe the ocean of yellow paint they’d used to put no-parking lines on the roads surrounding).
It was a small gripe really. Hopefully, the money gets spent on the upkeep of our little Peak Park Treasure. The Walks Co-ordinator chose not to be charitable by parking for free (in the next county).
Our route was to take us past Sir William Hill and onto the Hope valley, into Bradwell for a pint at The Shoulder Of Mutton and then up a punishing climb past Robin Hood’s Cross (which I couldn’t actually find) and onto Abney Moor itself, before dropping down to Foolow and through the fields back to Eyam.
The first two or three miles of the route coincided with the Chatsworth Challenge (one of whose competitors was our very own Tina who finished a respectable 120th out of a field of 300-odd). In fact, Tina must have been the youngest there. Most of the people who effortlessly chugged past us with a minimum of panting were older than even the Group Secretary by a good 10 years (ie – they were in their fifties). I told myself that we prefer to take things nice and easy and take in the country views. Hah!
The route took in some excellent views, especially of Mam Torr whose “Shivering” south-eastern slopes presented a vista that our “most experienced” walk leader had never seen before – (I can’t believe you’ve not walked in the Hope Valley before, Paul).
The day was rounded off with a pleasant cuppa and some millionaire cake at the local café, whilst some of us selected hand-made candles to take home (must be expecting power cuts).