Walking from John O'Groats to Land's End in the winter of 07/08.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Penkridge to Ironbridge

It was a day of big skies and endless flat countryside, observed from many miles of roadside verges, an incredibly muddy track and a few little used paths across fields. As expected, yesterday's injury meant my legs ached constantly. The muscles would seize up during breaks and I would set off again using a complicated and awkward gait as I tried to remember the least painful sequence to make progress. A bystander wouldn't have expected me to make across the next field. Slowly, as my pace picked up, I would get into a rhythm and start to ignore these problems, at least until the next time I fancied a rest.

So, you might expect that today was a day to be endured rather than enjoyed, but actually I was pretty happy throughout. This may have been because, with the sun on my face, it felt pleasantly warm for a change, or because miles are more easily won on the road and I could feel progress being made, or maybe just because I was leaving the unpleasant farmland of Staffordshire behind and could almost see the hills of Wales on the far horizon.

In the cool breeze of the morning, I took a small lane out of Penkridge to follow paths along fields boundaries. These unexpectedly took me to the small hidden nature reserve at Bickford, where duckboards conveyed me smoothly across the tranquil wetlands. I left the Staffordshire Way at a bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal, taking minor paths to a reasonably busy road. Some miles later I was able transfer to the Monarch's Way, which used a track running parallel to the road about a field's length away. This was lovely and peaceful in places and an inescapable mud flow in others. The extra effort was a price worth paying to avoid the road for a couple of miles, particularly as the tarmac became more unavoidable later on.

The afternoon featured the noise of a motocross event, many more lanes and a small bit of wandering across fields. Approaching Telford, the road cut through the grounds of a grand house and outside a walled garden was a large flat tree stump, which I gladly parked myself on. This was a moment to be savoured. Full of endorphins from hours of effort and with the sun shining, I had almost reached my destination and I allowed myself to just rest and take it all in. Eventually I headed down into the steep valley of the River Severn and followed a cycle track until I could cross the famous Ironbridge. Picking the first B&B I could see, I relaxed and said goodbye to a tough but gratifying day.

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