Welcome to the grind of LEJoG Day 34

Day 34 pre-amble

“Everything’s bottoms, isn’t it?”

(Basil Fawlty to Mr Hamilton, Fawlty Towers: ‘Waldorf Salad’, series 2 episode 3, first screened 5 March 1979)

At this point in the story of 50FootHead, I am yet to “go live” and have no idea whether anyone else will ever read this. But let’s say they do. At this point a reader might say:

Ben Ben Ben… are you obsessed with bottoms? Two days in a row with arse references, followed by another bum. And there was another one back on day 8, albeit in French. Do you need to see a psychiatrist?

The answer on both counts is no. I’m not obsessed, and I don’t need to be seated with a psychiatrist. It’s just the way things (trousers, maybe) have fallen. With 31 days already behind me in the rear view mirror, the foot to head analogy had seen very little action. But I always promised it would come back. What better place than Gas Street, by the canal side? Seems elementary. If you’re offended you could always turn the other cheek. Don’t be a g-rump about it.

Ahem. Perhaps I’m just making up for lost time. In this case though, it just so happens that my abiding memory of Day 34 is my favourite episode so far of the Chart Music podcast. In particular, the post-credits extra, undoubtedly my favourite single moment in all 40 podcasts to date. (Belated 2020 edit, make that all 48) The long-awaited first CM appearance of Prince (with a duff record, unfortunately) inspired Al Needham to new heights, with a parody of this track from Purple Rain. Infamous for its sexual directness (lyrics here) and probably responsible for the creation of this, ‘Darling Nikki’ becomes ‘Darlin’ Bummerdog’, as the Purple One’s self-pleasuring f(r)iend becomes a self-pleasuring fiend of the canine variety.

Really, to have the slightest idea what I’m on about, or to understand how funny it was, you need to listen to Chart Music podcasts #23 and #25 and the original version of ‘Darling Nikki’. It helps if you’re intimately familiar with ‘Darling Nikki’ after listening to it hundreds of times in the last 25 years. And, ideally, you need to have been a child of the 70s, when stray male dogs wandered residential neighbourhoods on the lookout for children to, er, pleasure themselves against. I certainly remember our local equivalent, who was also quite fond of shagging goalposts.

LEJoG Day 34 (Sunday 2 September 2018)

Sutton Park to Rugeley (17½ miles)

Cumulative: 482½ miles

Facts: Time on walk: 4 hours 55 minutes. Average speed: 3.56 mph. Weather: Cool and overcast morning, becoming warmer and brighter later.

Practicalities: Checked out of the Ibis New Street, walked to the station and bought ticket to Sutton Coldfield. Walked to Town Gate, then to the Memorial via the most direct route, passing Keeper’s Pool.

The walk

Start: Memorial, Sutton Park, 10:00am. End: Rugeley Trent Valley station, 3:30pm.

All of today’s walk was plotted on OS maps beforehand: OS Explorer 220 (Birmingham) and 244 (Cannock Chase and Chasewater). I mention this upfront because I’ve realised that I still have the OS maps covering Kidderminster (Day 31) to the start of the Pennine Way (end of Day 39). All of those from the end of the SWCP to Day 30 have been lost/left behind or got too wet to use. I am going to link to satellite maps and rely on my descriptions for now. However if any readers would like images of the route highlighted on the actual OS maps please let me know in the comments. Cheers.

The first section of today’s walk was very familiar from marathon training. A mile-long stretch to Streetly Gate, at the north end of Sutton Park. This was busier with motorised traffic than I remember from the winter of 2002. At the gate, turned right and followed the B4138 as far as the roundabout – plenty of pavement on both sides. At the roundabout, headed a few degrees east of north along ‘Roman Road’, which is actually an access road for a wealthy private residential estate in Little Aston. This lives up to its name for half a mile before bending left, passing St. Peter’s Church and meeting the A454.

On leaving Sutton Park I was now in Staffordshire. A quick word to follow up the previous day’s teaser. This is, broadly speaking and based on the blogs I’ve read, the most frustrating county for LEJoGgers to walk through. Here’s a couple of examples from Dave and Mark Moxon. To be honest I had no such problems today, as I was mainly on roads that were either straight and with a pavement or (if one or both of those aspects was missing) virtually traffic-free. And where I wasn’t on roads, I was in well-known parks with very clear footpaths. But I have to admit, I ended Day 34 dreading the next two. I knew I’d be fine once I reached Dovedale, but linking it up with Rugeley did not sound fun at all.

Crossed the A454 and headed along Forge Lane, which forms the western border of Aston Wood Golf Club and is almost as straight as ‘Roman Road’. Here I passed the start of a road race organised by Royal Sutton Coldfield Athletics Club: the ‘Little Aston 5’ and family fun run. Once I was around the left hand bend, it was clear the road race had started, and I stopped completely on a convenient patch of grass as they all passed. Eventually continued to the end of Forge Lane, then turned right (north) into Wood Lane, left at the next junction into New Barns Lane and left again at the end into Footherley Lane, which led via Mill Lane into the village of Stonnall.

In Stonnall (the 6 mile mark) I crossed over into Main Street and turned right up Cartersfield Lane, heading NW to the A461. I have been sticking to roads since Little Aston so I should say a word or two about the traffic. The route into Stonnall was on narrow roads with minimal verges, but it was almost traffic-free (apart from the runners, most of whom I passed going the other way further along). Cartersfield Lane was busier, but much wider. Anyway, I crossed the A461 and headed north along Barracks Lane. This is an even wider road, with good verges. Once over the hill though it becomes narrower and you may have to stop for traffic, certainly if cars are coming both ways.

There is a small roundabout over the B4155 and then at exactly 8 miles you meet the A5, far and away the busiest road crossed on the level today. You cross at a roundabout, which isn’t ideal but is manageable with patience. Go straight on; the road climbs slightly and you reach England’s penultimate motorway crossing, the M6 Toll. You’ve seen all the others, so here it is: contain your excitement…

M6 Toll crossing, LEJoG Day 34

Thrilling stuff

Continue along Hanney Hay Road, straight over the roundabout and along Highfields Road to Chasetown. This is where I stopped for lunch after 2 hours 40 minutes and almost exactly 9 miles, all of it on roads after leaving Sutton Park.

By now the weather was really warming up. Turned right into Chasetown High Street and started on 2½ miles of perfectly straight road, heading due north. After the High Street, crossed the A5190 into Burntwood and then proceeded along Rugeley Road. This becomes Hayfield Hill, long though not especially steep, taking you past the northern outskirts of the built-up area and to the village of Cannock Wood.

At the crossroads head straight on into Bradwell Lane, then left at Park Gate Road. At the end of this road is, lo and behold, the park gate. You are at the southern edge of Cannock Chase, with the Castle Ring Iron Age hill fort directly ahead. I’m afraid that, due to not wanting to wait too long for a train in Rugeley, I didn’t make much of an effort to find the fort itself. So you’ll have to make do with a photo of the entrance:

Chase Castle Ring entrance, LEJoG Day 34

Finally off road, 11 miles after leaving Sutton Park! Skirted the left edge of the fort before picking up the main path heading a few degrees west of north on the satellite map (see link in first paragraph under ‘The walk’). This section is reminiscent of the wooded approach to the Malverns, but without the glorious reward. It seems remarkable that I was on footpaths for less than 1½ miles in Cannock Chase. I’m sure it’s a fabulous place to explore, but my route didn’t allow me to make the most of it.

Because, soon enough I met a five-way road junction and was heading NW along Stile Cop Road. There were more scenic routes around, I’m sure, including one or two I could have tried to follow into Rugeley. But at this stage pragmatism was winning over idealism. I’d checked the train times, and needed to be at the station by 3:40pm otherwise I’d have to wait for an hour. I had about 45 minutes in which to cover the last 3 miles, which was a faster pace than I wanted after already walking for over 4 hours.

So I stuck to the roads all the way into Rugeley. At the end of Stile Cop Road I joined the main A460 from Cannock, which mercifully had a pavement. Inexplicably entered a cemetery looking for a footpath route even though it would have been indirect; soon turned tail and went back to the road. Just as I reached Rugeley Town station, the ‘Darlin’ Bummerdog’ song came on. Hope not many people saw me laughing in the street. Actually, didn’t care if they did – listened to it for a second time straight away. The remaining journey to Trent Valley station took me along the B5013 and over the River Trent, the traditional boundary between southern and northern England. I think I will spend fewer days in England north of the Trent than south, though that’s mainly due to the extra mileage on the South West Coast Path.

Rugeley Potteries

Power station, just downriver (east) of Rugeley Trent Valley Station

Stopped at the station as it would obviously be the most convenient place to re-start next week.

After the walk

Bought my ticket – ended up waiting a little too long for comfort behind someone struggling with the machine. Crossed the footbridge and caught my train with less than 2 minutes to spare.

Postscript: My Listening Pleasure

This you know: Chart Music #30 (link in the mini pre-amble). It was a true landmark episode of TOTP for my generation: the Stone Roses performing ‘Fool’s Gold’ and the Happy Mondays ‘Hallelujah’ in November 1989. I say my generation: I was a Madonna and Pet Shop Boys fan at the time and didn’t get into any of this music until 1994/95. It’s odd that I felt like a latecomer then, yet now I can go to clubs and still find people aged anywhere from 18 to 50 singing and dancing to these old Manchester bands, while I feel like they’ve had their time and belong in the 80s and 90s. Aside: this inability to let go is also my main problem with BBC Radio 6 Music.

Apart from Parkes, Price and Needham’s brilliant dissection of a cultural moment, there are many other highlights in this episode. These include the first ever Chart Music Top 10, the Jakki Brambles/Jenny Powell subtext and, inevitably, Prince. Simon Price delivers a passionate, heartfelt eulogy to the genius, while Taylor Parkes – not as big a fan – sums up Mr Nelson’s obscene talent and playfulness with three minutes on how Prince mined and reinvented this and this to create ‘Kiss’. You need to hear it, really, before you’re even tempted to use the term “rip-off”.

But of course, Mr Needham and his horny hound were Best In Show.

Picture (actually taken 2 days earlier, on 31 August 2018, at the end of the previous stage) shows the Memorial at Sutton Park. None of the photos from 2 September deserved the header.

Next: Day 35 (8 September 2018)… in which I pick up a bit of speed. If you’ll pardon the pun.

“What pun?”

“Oh, wasn’t there one? I’m sorry.”

As you were.

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