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North of England
English West Country
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Time of departure: 9.00 am
Time of arrival: 2.30 pm
Place departed: Nantwich, Cheshire
Place arrived: Prees Heath (south of Whitchurch), Shropshire
Cum miles: 613.7
Percent complete: 63.2
Raven Hotel, Prees Heath **
Cost for bed and breakfast: £30 ($60)
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What others say
It snowed overnight, and the Nantwich citizenry carried cameras this bright, sunny morning. Pretty it was, too, with snow-covered roofs, trees and ground. It was cool and calm, and great hiking weather for all of my 13 miles today. After a Sunday afternoon nap at my destination, the Raven Hotel, it was snowing outside again. We shall see what conditions are like in the morning, but the roads were clear as I went to bed.
Looking at maps last night, I saw that Nantwich had not actually committed me to a route through the Midlands and down the Severn Valley. I found I hadn't got detailed maps for some of that region, but that I could easily swing southwest to Whitchurch and head south through the border region (England-Wales, that is) close to my originally-planned route and for which I do have maps.
So, today, it was over to Whitchurch, there to head south to Shrewsbury tomorrow, except that I cut the corner by going via Ash Magnum and not Whitchurch itself. Since Shrewsbury is quite a few miles south of Whitchurch, my overnight location south of Whitchurch will give me a fair "shrot at Shrewsbury" if the weather is kind.
Ash Magnum is one of those villages seemingly remote enough from a town to be in its own world. I stopped for a shandy at the White Lion, but first wondered whether it was open because only one car was outside - looking as if it been there for a generation or two. But, when I got in, a dozen locals lined the bar on stools facing the moustached, white-haired barman. At first sight, all was normal enough. But, for some reason, it was a scene frozen in time, as if they'd been there for generations, growing old together and perhaps living on beyond death as if an English village pub did that to people. Indeed, I was sure that the pub hadn't changed much because it had the dinginess of the 1950s. If it had been a filling station, the pumps would have revealed that vintage by fuel passing through sight glasses, and rusting signs saying that Dunlop grips best. Being an old pub, the chairs were of wood, the floor was of stone, the lighting was bad, and the drinks coasters were of a bygone age.
I arrived in the pub with a backpack, and it caused a stir. A man awoke from his nap with a jerk that almost made him lose his balance on his bar stool, but nodded off again still safely perched. Another man with an eyepatch had to turn his head an extra thirty degrees for his good eye to bear in the direction of the newcomer, and another ten degrees to see around his long 1970's hair. The one lady of the group stopped telling off her aging father, and ordered another bitter for herself while her father grasped his empty glass. A fourth patron told the barman that "It's time to get the door fixed, George", as if no one had passed through it for a generation. Indeed, I had had trouble entering the pub because the door scraped on the portal.
"Where are you from?" asked someone. For a moment I wondered if they'd know any village beyond Ash Parva down the lane. But of course they did. They not only knew Nantwich, they knew John o' Groats and Land's End. Heck, they probably knew Tampa. And Ybor in Tampa at that.
Moreover, they had a sharp wit, these guys, or at least those who were awake. Asked when I'd arrive at Land's End, I said "early May".
"2009, you mean," said the man with the eyepatch, to general laughter.
"And when did you leave John o' Groats?" asked someone else.
I knew what was coming, but answered anyway: "Middle of February".
"2006, you mean," said the eyepatch, and the pub erupted.
Having thus provided the White Lion's entertainment for the year, I scraped open the entrance door and walked the next two miles to my night's bed.
The Raven Hotel was a lucky find. The hotel reported on the map was boarded up, but the Raven unreported on the map had beds. True, it was Sunday lunchtime, and the large lounge was well-populated by a group of young men on a prolonged stag party that threatened an end to law and order. There was a vegetable stand outside, and they had arrived in the bar with their purchases of leaks, carrots, turnips, cucumbers and the like, the better to wish their friend a happy marriage, if you get my meaning. But I'm not sure that the groom was among them. In fact, my guess is that he got married the day before, and these guys were partying on without realizing it.
It was hard getting my room, or any other service with this crowd at the bar. But in the end I enjoyed my Beef Madras the more for having waited, and retired to a large but grungy bedroom for a nap made possible by my short hike.
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