Walk from Chester to Worcester via Shropshire Union Canal, stafford and Worcester Canal and River Severn
I made it - 245,381 steps later and 16,359 calories burnt - according to my fitbit. Left Chester last wednesday on the Shropshire Union Canal heading east to the junction with the Stafford and Worcester Canal at Atherley 58 miles away, then turned south for 27 miles to Stourport-on-Severn where the canal joins the River Severn which I followed for 15 miles into Worcester.
I didn't fall in or get abducted but did manage to lose a canal on Day 2. I cut off a corner coming out of Nantwich to reach the canal quicker. I soon lost the way marks, got galloped at by skittish horses and trudged endlessly round farmers' fields. It's amazing how a canal can just disappear in the landscape. Two hours later, I was desperate and about to call at a house when, suddenly, there it was below my feet. Not a clever thing to do as it was the longest day of the walk at 25 miles and I had just added three miles and one hour to my day. I just made my booking at the boat Inn 12 hours later and fell on a huge home-made steak and kidney pie and a large whisky!
The Shropshire Union Canal was the most ambitious canal that Thomas Telford built - and his last. he didn't bother with contours but drove it straight through the landscape to speed up cargo deliveries. I was walking in deep gloomy cuttings straight out of a gothic novel, half a mile long, with rock cliffs on either side that dripped water onto the tow path awash with mud and water. I hugged the stone edging of the canal and hoped I wouldn't slip. Otherwise, it was high embankments with spectacular view out over the countryside but exposed to the wind and rain.
I saw lots of wild life but no water voles or otters sadly. Apparently they are around. But I had swallows and swifts to entertain me dipping and diving over the water, herons watching from the bank and lots of coots, moorhens, ducks, geese and swans, with their little ones. The record brood was 13 ducklings. I also saw kingfishers which was thrilling. I saw a poor dead faun in one of the locks. What a horrible death, poor little thing. On Day 1, Sarah and I met a family of swans on a very narrow part of the tow path. We inched our way past very cautiously but they were preening and petting and not interested in us. Another pair of geese with their brood were all hiss and no action!
It always amazes me how tranquil and peaceful the canals are. Often I was on my own for miles except for the odd duck. Narrow boats were few and far between. Fisherfolk were scarce - apparently they all go to these man-made lakes now, stocked with hungry fish - but I did have a nice conversation with one about chubb and gudgeon! Bicyclists were also scarce, thank God. I only saw two other serious walkers with huge knapsacks and bedding rolls and one was going so fast I didn't have time to ask him where he was going and the other one didn't deign to answer.
My innovation this time was my dictaphone. Looking for a diversion, I would bring out my 'pocket friend' and have a one-sided conversation about what was going on around me. It's such a brilliant way to record the walk as, when knackered and beyond capable thought at the end of the day, details are hard to remember.
Sarah Don, my cousin, walked with me for the first day. Then the three days on my own which I had been rather dreading were fine. The weather was good, not too cold and not too hot. Only the start of day 3 was nasty when it rained for two hours. The countryside was beautiful, with banks of cow parsley, buttercups, clover, campion and speedwell, hawthorns heavy with blossom and lush green farmland with the occasional farmhouse and village. I passed through a village called Audlem, charming and ancient, where huge modern farm machines, bristling with every sort of new-fangled equipment, were squeezing through the narrow lanes.
I was struggling a bit on day 4 when a young man on a bike stopped and asked me where I was walking to. This is rare occurrence. He was one of two people who asked me where I was walking to! It turned out that he was a long distance walker too, just returned from Weston-Super-Mare. His blisters were so bad, hence the bike. So we had lots to talk about - he had learnt to oil paint in prison and wanted to paint pictures on narrow boats and I told him about compeed for blisters and surgical spirit for hardening feet. He had blue eyes and a winning smile and the bridges just whizzed by. We parted at Stourport, he to the pub and me to my B&B and a magic crystal bath which turned out to be the laundry bucket for my feet - showers only!
On Sunday, I was joined by PK, Ruth Nares, a school friend, and William Walker, our tai chi teacher. We had a very jolly day walking along the river Severn and the Severn Way through flower-filled meadows and woods smelling of garlic. We sat on the banks and dangled our feet over a very dark and wide swiftly flowing river. So dynamic compared to the peaceful canals.
We eventually make Worcester Cathedral just in time to eat an enormous tea in the cathedral cafe before attending Sung Evensong with a visiting Dutch choir who sang Schubert's Where Thou Reignest. It was beautiful and uplifting. We saw the tomb of King John who frequently visited Worcester to worship at St Wulfstan's shrine and, in his will, he stated that he wanted to be buried in Worcester Cathedral. St Wulfstan had been Bishop of Worcester in 11th century, a great champion of the poor and a miracle worker, who was canonised during King John's reign. Worcester was also a good base for hunting, and parleying with the bothersome Welshies! Prince Arthur's (Henry VIII's brother) chantry and tome are also at Worcester Cathedral.
It was a great walk, the best yet. The body bore up well with only a few aches and pains. Nothing that a dose of ibuprofen, a magic crystal bath and a rub of emu oil couldn't solve! Except of course for the nagging blister on the little toe. PK and I flew home to Essex in the evening sun taking one hour, the equivalent of three miles of walking!
Just a last word to say thank you to all my donors. I really am grateful as raising money gives the walk a purpose - not just an indulgence! And the thought of your donations keep those feet walking! So I really appreciate your generosity and support. Many many thanks.
My justgiving page is still open if anyone else would like to donate. Go to www.justgiving.co.uk and type Kate Ainslie Willliams in the search box. I, and Zane, will be very grateful.
Until the next walk,......... Kate xx
Not easy walking!
PK, Ruth and William in front of Telford's bridge over the Severn.