Hike Northbound through Britain with Daryl May
Click for Southbound hike
DN25 Church at Lower Stretton
Days N25 - N33                                                                     North of England
Day N25 - Northwich to Newton le Willows
Day N24       Accommodation, when all else fails       Day N26
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Southbound Home
Saturday, April 14, 2007

Time of departure: 9.00 am
Time of arrival: 4.30 pm
Place departed: Northwich, Cheshire
Place arrived: Newton le Willows (north of Warrington), Cheshire

Miles: 18.3
Cum miles: 411.2
Percent complete: 44.3

Bed sign Nameless Hotel, Newton le Willows  *
Cost for bed and breakfast: 38 ($76)
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Near Stretton approaching Warrington is a Roman Road guarded by this modern Roman, and a parish church whose clock hour numerals are replaced by F-O-R-G-E-T-N-O-T-G-O-D
DN25 Roman soldier
Was I fitter now than when I left home? The answer had to be "yes". My knees seldom ached now. I was able to walk 15 miles with a 20-lb pack without particular hardship as long as the route wasn't too hilly. I'd lost enough weight that I had to use string as a belt because my regular belt, as tight as I could make it, left my pants uncomfortably loose. I was in a reasonable frame of mind, though challenged to the max, which beat moping around the house back home.  My diet wasn't too good, and I really needed to increase my water uptake, but on the other hand my diet could have been worse, and I found it easy not to snack on junk.

Feeling guilty about a lack of fruit, though, and an excess of fried sausage, bacon, and egg breakfasts, I chose the continental breakfast at the Premier Inn.  As usual, it was priced about twice what I'd expect to pay in the States.  On the other hand, my exertions made a double breakfast a logical strategy.  So I had two low-fat yogurts, one of rhubarb and one of toffee, and two bowls of fresh fruit salad.  I went on to have two servings of brown toast (four slices), some with Marmite, some with honey, some with jam. Of course this needed two servings of orange juice (four small glasses) to wash it down.  For once, I selected coffee instead of tea - but here my "two-fer" tactics failed. As my Dad used to say of bad beer, and I can say of the hotel coffee, "I think they should pour it back into the horse". Still, Anglo-American relations were restored to an even keel by paying double for breakfast but eating twice as much.

From Northwich, I expected two days of "urban slog" through the greater Liverpool-Manchester conurbation.  My route plans purposely had me avoid the hilly Peak District and the arduous Pennine Way in the center of the country as well as a longer but flatter east-coast route. To avoid those regions, I faced the Liverpool-Manchester area.  I had once planned to go through the delightful town of Chester to Birkenhead, and then take the ferry across the Mersey to Liverpool and head north from this western seaport. For various reasons, I chose instead a straighter south-north line by threading myself between Liverpool and Manchester. That plan looked even better this morning when I realized that the Grand National (one of Britain's most famous horse races) would claim every hotel bed in Liverpool tonight.  I would surely be better off 20 miles to the east.

Setting off from Northwich to start this "urban slog", I chose a minor road to Warrington, known as the Old Warrington Road. This type of road is often good for an absence of traffic, but hard on the senses: dumps, quarries, sewage farms and blighted industry often lie beside them. Today was a marvelous exception.  Once I had passed a recycling center, I immediately reached parkland - first the Anderton Nature Reserve, and later the Marbury Country Park.  The first five miles passed in this way, and the next five were a mixture of pleasant country lanes and then a quite peaceful descent into Warrington past the Warrington Golf Club. The town itself was by no means blighted, and was full of Saturday shoppers in occasionally trendy bistros and pubs.

I had planned to look for accommodation on the north side of Warrington, because my 15-mile distance target would not be attained until then. However, the north end of town turned out to be "modern commercial" with hardware stores and car dealers. Eventually, when I found a hotel, it was full. Then I found another, which was also full. The same occurred at two more, with the receptionists having quite a nice time lording it over a lone hiker with their emphatic prediction that the Grand National had filled every bed in the region. They were quite sure, and not-at-all displeased, to forecast that I would have to spend the night without a bed - and doubtless in a ditch, just as I deserved. There was a complete absence of guest houses and B&Bs.

Now Britain has come a long way in recent years, notably in customer service.  Hotels are easily booked on the web or by 800 number, and service is generally friendly and standards reliable.

But Britain-of-yore is still alive-and-well in patches, and I conceived a plan to take advantage. Setting off north from Warrington without accommodation booked, I approached the town of Newton le Willows. On the edge of town, I accosted a man in the street.

"Has Newton got any accommodation?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied, reeling off the names of three or four places.

"Ooh,” I said, “and which of those would you say to avoid?"

"Avoid?” he repeated, arching his eyebrows. “Well, I’d say the Nameless Hotel," he went on.  "Not the best place by a long shot."  [I have expunged the real name.]

So I sought out the Nameless Hotel as soon as I got into Newton.

At the Nameless, the front door was grimy and the reception desk was not staffed.  It was still not staffed after I pressed the bell three times over five minutes.  Eventually, I located the receptionist in the backyard with her sister and nieces.  She checked me into Room number 1, but hadn't got the key. After three tries in which I heaved my pack and self up-and-down the stairs with different keys, I still didn't have a working key. (Without a key, I couldn’t go out to restaurants without carrying my pack.) Between each key-attempt, I went to the backyard to invite this dedicated professional to her reception desk to search for another key. The hotel key system being awry, she then put me in Room 5, which had a key but no towels. Getting the towels from her took another expedition to the backyard. Then I cleaned the sink of the previous occupant's soap and hairs, and reviewed the sheets and pillowcases. Fortunately they seemed clean, though torn.

"You're very lucky we have space," said the receptionist. "It's the Grand National today, you know."

Under my breath, I said: "I know exactly the sort of place that has space when everywhere else is full."

Out loud, I said, "I reckon you owe me a pint of Beck's?"

"No worries," she replied, pulling at the lever. But the barrel was as empty as the hotel.

Fortunately the Dragon and Phoenix restaurant did a nice Chinese meal - beef with tomato and onion, and rice. They seem to be the only stand-alone restaurant in Newton, and were doing a roaring trade. The hotel had offered dinner, but I know a bad bet when I see one. Breakfast next day confirmed my judgment.
Day N24                                2007 and 2008 Daryl May                                 Day N26