Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Stafford Borough Walking Festival

Last week Stafford Borough Council held a walking festival, Sunday 5/5/13 to Saturday 11/5/13.  If this was to encourage people to walk it was preaching to the converted in my case as I am a keen walker anyway, but I took it as an opportunity to add variety to my walks and discover new information and places.  There was a good deal of choice of walks.


I didn't do a festival walk on Sunday as I was keen to go on a 9 mile walk in the Youlgreave area of Derbyshire with Stone Ramblers instead.  Very good it was too.


I visited Sugnall Hall for the Bluebells and Blossom walk on a very warm and sunny bank holiday!  This was of interest as I did not know about the place previously.  There was a certain lack of organisation with this event, discrepancies in the tour times, no map provided and very little available for lunch compared with the published menu.  That was somewhat of a missed opportunity for them I thought, on a bank holiday especially.  I would have had my main meal there if the roasted pepper panini or quiche had been available. As it was the pineapple and grapefruit green tea and slice of coffee cake was very nice but not a very balanced diet.  The map situation was rectified after the event as the owner emailed one to me.

The tour itself was however very good and interesting, the bluebells were coming out in the woods although had not reached their prime due to the cold weather this spring.  I was also encouraged to appreciate the beauty of a little yellow flower called celandine, even though it is marauding rampantly all over my own garden.   We passed the kitchen block of the old hall, although the rest no longer exists.  The original Jacobean building had been demolished and a Georgian one built in its place.  That in turn had been demolished to build, as it turned out, nothing, because the money had run out!  The walled kitchen garden was very interesting, we were shown the items being grown, which included a large variety of young apple and pear trees.  The walls of the garden are impressive, built of ~250,000 bricks and hundreds of years old but still standing and sturdy.  The tour was not far, maybe a mile, but the permissive paths and public footpaths allowed more exploration.

We were given pedometers at this event, but I am less than convinced of their usefulness.  The friend I was with managed to do ~9,000 steps, while I did only ~6,000, but we walked the same distance!  I had clipped mine to my pocket rather than at the waist as instructed but I don't think this explains the discrepancy.  I obtained another one in a goody bag later in the week but it was faulty and I've only just got around to fixing it.  So wearing both for comparison just round the house for a while, one reads 371 while the other reads 746!  The pedometer contains a lever and fine wire acting as a spring.  The motion of a step moves the lever down so it briefly makes electrical contact with the circuit board, recording a count displayed on the LCD, before being returned back to open circuit by the spring wire.  The pedometers look identical and the wires are equally set, but it seems one does not make as good contact as the other.


I went on the Mid-Staffs Ramblers Walk, which was a very leisurely 4 mile walk around Sandon. I am a member of the Ramblers Association but had only walked with the Stone group before this.  I had done this walk and variations of it before but it was enjoyable and Gayton brook is a lovely little stream to visit.  The walk also included stops to tell us information about the estate, including such facts as the folly taken from Trentham Hall.  Particularly interesting was finding out why the church is so far from the village on the A51.  Reinterpreting this in my own words I gather that historically the main village was near the church but the toff at the time didn't like the plebs in such close proximity so had it flattened.

Sandon is conveniently close to the Hollybush Inn at Salt, now they know how to do a good lunch!  So I met another friend there for lunch after the walk.


I had thought I couldn't refuse a walk with cake in the title, so tried to book the Culture and Cake walk by credit/debit card over the telephone, but was told I would have to put a cheque in the post.  In the 21st century, really?  I thought that was too silly so I didn't bother.  I also wimped out of volunteering at Trentham North Park which I regularly do on Wednesdays as it was raining heavily.  So I didn't walk at all on Wednesday, I opted to go swimming instead.


Following a non-festival ~5 mile Stone Ramblers walk in Derbyshire, over Hollins hill and around Chrome hill (because it was too windy to go over the top), there was still time for the Stone Heritage Walk: Culture and Canals.  

This was a very good walk around Stone with a wealth of interesting history, well attended despite the weather; rain, sun and rainbow.  It was good to be shown where the old roads ran as well as the canal and railway.  There was some interesting architecture including 2.5 storey Georgian style buildings, with the short top floor apparently for the servants.  A member of the group joked that they had a small staff.  We also saw the old mill, the home of Richard 'Stoney' Smith who invented Hovis.  The structure adjoining the left of the building was an aqueduct supplying water to the mill.


I attended the Nature Walk at Ferndown.  Despite being in the South of Clayton, which is close to Trentham where I live, I had not been there before.  This event was not well attended, perhaps understandable given that it was during a working day and perhaps also because of the location at the extreme North of Stafford Borough.  It was nevertheless very interesting.  

There is a lot of local community involvement with the nature reserve and little anti-social behaviour.  The nature reserve includes a variety of wild flowers and a recently planted apple orchard.  I was particularly interested to see and learn about sedge.  Rather than having the male and female flowers mixed as in grasses, each sedge has a stem of yellow pollen laden male flowers and two stems of purplish female flowers.


I was very keen indeed to attend the Dawn Chorus Walk at Stafford castle, as I am a member of the British Trust for Ornithology and do volunteer bird surveys but identifying bird song is my weak point and I am trying to improve on it.  There was a glitch at the start of this event because security were meant to open the gates at 4.30am but hadn't arrived by 4.45am when I got there.  The other criticism I would have was the group, at ~17, was rather too big.  But having smaller groups would mean the organisers having to be up early on more mornings or finding other comparable leaders, which could be difficult as the walk leader was incredibly experienced and good at identifying bird song.  He said he had started learning from childhood.  So I'm probably well past it trying to learn at the age of 54, but I will persevere.

As well as the main track up to Stafford castle, there was a winding woodland path that I don't recall being there before.  This was the path we took to best encounter the birds.  Birds we heard included blue tits, great tits, chiffchaffscrows and woodpigeons that I am confident about and wrens, robins and chaffinches which I can sometimes identify but am sometimes unsure about.  The loveliest song we heard, in my opinion, was the blackcap but I do find it tricky to distinguish from a blackbird by song, the blackcap song is perhaps more flowing and slightly higher in pitch.  It was an enjoyable walk.

I congratulate Stafford Borough Council for a great week of walks.

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