This was our sixth walk in preparation for the 2021 LDWA 100.
WALK NUMBER: 6 (National Forest Way, Branston, Burton and Swadlincote)
DISTANCE COVERED: 21.2 miles
NUMBER OF NATHAN’S FRIENDS WE “ACCIDENTALLY” BUMP INTO: 0 (but we weren’t in Norfolk)
SUFFICIENT BEER CONSUMED: Yes
PUBS VISITED: 8
WEATHER CONDITIONS: Fair
ATTACKED BY ANIMALS: Yes
NUMBER OF SNAKES SEEN: 0
It’s been a while since we went on what might be defined as a training walk, but we bravely decided to go out of the county for this one, to Derbyshire and Staffordshire.
This is the YHA where we were staying. More on this later….. Incidentally, since I get a bit complainy later, I would add here that the staff at the hostel were friendly and it was one of the quieter ones that I’ve visited.
And the trek started by walking into the village of Overseal, where the pub the previous evening hadn’t quite met our expectations. More about that in another post though….
The weather looked favourable in the morning and we were following the National Forest Way from Overseal into Branston, a section which was about 15 miles.
My navigation was excellent and we strolled past lakes, trees and fields confident in our direction. By excellent, I mean generally excellent, there were a few fields which proved to be confusing.
Walking through some crop things.
The trail was relatively well signed throughout, other than when someone had built a reservoir across the path. But I’ll come onto that later. The Best Kept Villages trail is a nine-mile circular walk that takes in Coton, Botany Bay, Netherseal and Lullington.
The path went off into the trees near to Rosliston Forestry Centre. It got a bit muddy here.
And a rather pleasant lake.
By now, it was 11:30 and we were approaching the village of Rosliston. So we faffed about by going to the Co-op and looked around a church, as that meant we could visit our first pub of the day which opened at 12:00. Incidentally, the Co-op sausage roll was packed with 7% pork and it was a pretty dreary affair. But, at least it was hot. The village needs a Greggs is all that I’ll say here.
The main excitement of our outdoor lunch spot wasn’t though waiting for the pub. It was watching Nathan preening himself with tissues. Some mud had splattered up his leg and so he purchased a multi-pack of about 8,000 tissues that didn’t even fit in his bag. Not through choice, more because that was all that they had left. So, he confidently cleaned his shoes confident that we wouldn’t be going through any more mud. This was aspirational to say the least.
The Bull’s Head in Rosliston and I will write all of these pubs up separately, but for now, I’ll limited myself to brief comments. We liked this place as it was quiet, traditional, laid-back and seemed like a competently run village pub. It was also a chance to get a pint of Marston’s Pedigree.
The next stretch of path was from Rosliston to Walton-on-Trent. Here we are in the above photo with Bear Grylls battling through the undergrowth and hardly complaining about the nettles and thistles. I didn’t say anything and just let him get on with it.
We had a little incident here. Let me paint a picture of what was in the next field. Imagine a field full of cows in our way. Right, that’s the picture painted. That is undeniably a bloody inconvenience as I don’t like cows (nothing personal, they’re just big and threatening) and Nathan is hardly a cow whisperer. These big muddy patches are a legacy of the cows stampeding around the corner and we wanted to avoid that.
So, we decided we’d ignore the National Forest Way and just go down a track via a farmer’s field. This was easier said than done as the farmer wasn’t fussed about mud as they no doubt get about their land using a tractor. And then we had the delight of the farmer watching us, more puzzled than angry I’m pleased to say. So, we admit that his cows scared us and we want to use his farm to get out. The farmer was willing to deal with this crisis dumped upon him, and so we were shown the muddy path to escape. I suspect he thought that we were idiots.
I’ve never heard of Joseph Heler Cheese, but I liked the farmer who let us escape without being trampled by a herd of cows, so I’ll eat some if I see it.
We debated whether or not we should go into the Swan at Walton pub, but not for long, so we went in. For another pint of Pedigree, albeit served in a London Pride glass from Fuller’s. This tasted the same as the previous Pedigree and we were fortunate to get space in the beer garden as inside was full. Nathan’s shoes were also covered in mud, which he half-arsedly tried to clean again before we went in, so probably best we were outside away from their clean floor. The food coming out from the kitchen looked all rather lovely, but I had a pasta salad from the Co-op and Nathan had a scotch egg from the Co-op so we didn’t want to be too decadent by buying a rather lovely looking burger as well.
I had to have a quick look at the church opposite to the pub, some interesting history there. More on that in another post, as my posts about churches aren’t exactly the most stimulating content to some people (everyone) so I’ll contain myself here.
The bridge we crossed into a new county. There were a family the other side who looked moderately annoyed that we were on the path. But we ignored them and started to get ready for our river walk.
Incidentally, this is the change in county from Derbyshire to Staffordshire. As an aside, Staffordshire is home to the marvellous Keele University, so this sign is a distraction.
This bit puzzled us. We might be two of the finest minds in the long-distance walking community (I hope no-one else from the LDWA reads this as I’m clearly lying here) but our route seemed to be flooded. After some investigation, it was less flooded by recent rain, and more flooded as there is a reservoir built on the route. After we stopped for lunch by a bench looking at this irritating dollop of water dumped down, we meandered around it. It took ages and the signage wasn’t great.
Back to walking by the River Trent. The pleasing thing was that we could still get around the lake, as otherwise it would have been a fair amount of road walking.
Even the railway crossing had moved, they’d built this instead of expecting people to walk across the track. It was also here that it decided to rain, the only really bad weather that we had in the day. It started to rain three seconds after I took my coat off, which annoyed me and humoured Nathan.
The path goes across a housing estate at this point. I say path, but I more mean stream with some delicately placed bricks to walk on.
We had now reached the town of Branston and this was enormously exciting as this is where the pickle first came from. Branston Pickle is a food of the Gods, so we were delighted and honoured to be in such an historic place. There are no Good Beer Guide pubs in Branston, despite my hope they’d serve a marvellous Ploughman’s lunch with pickle. So, we opted for the Blacksmiths Arms. The first pint we ordered was not well-kept, and despite Nathan trying to battle through it, I have a very developed beer palate and I sent mine back. Nathan decided to keep testing his pint before sending his back. The staffing was friendly through and it got us out of the rain. Despite trying not to order Pedigree, we got another pint of it here, so our third of the day and it tasted like the other ones.
I’ve commented on numerous occasions over the last week about how Greene King really aren’t very innovative in their management of pubs, with beer choices being often way below par in my view. So, this is a great innovation, someone has paid for a support centre to deal with customers who have been traumatised by Greene King pub experiences.
I have no idea why Punch Pubs have that logo, but this is a PubCo that really needs putting out of its misery. Anyway, let’s not get political here.
Walking into Burton was quite exciting, as this is the brewing centre of the UK. And there were no shortage of Good Beer Guide pubs for us to go in. This is the Last Heretic, an excellent micropub that I’ll write about separately, and we moved away from Pedigree at last to Antracite. As a pub, this was really was a treat and I hope that it can go from strength to strength as it’s a location that Burton should be proud of.
After the Heretic, we walked around the corner to the Roebuck Inn and had a Theakston’s Old Peculier, a beer I’m rather partial to. The pub was friendly, you could play football in the toilets and it’s another justifiable entry into the Good Beer Guide.
The Burton brewery of the huge Molson Coors.
Opposite the brewery was this marvellous pub, although we were disappointed that they weren’t doing their home-made Scotch eggs. The rum porter I had was rich and delightful, so lots more about this pub in another post. This was our sixth pub of the day and we were going to pop to the Wetherspoons in Burton for a quick snack, since we couldn’t eat in the Coopers Tavern. The Wetherspoons looked a bit full, and just a little raucous so we went to McDonald’s, which was annoying as they were shoving all their customers into the same area and hidden the toilets. The wrap of the day was delicious though, so I forgave them.
Nathan, who is obsessed with buses, took control of getting us to Swadlincote. He did tell me all about the bus we were on and who made it, when and where, but I didn’t bother listening.
Our seventh pub of the day was Bodell’s, where there was a decent choice of beers, although I thought they were being served just a little too cold. Anyway, more on that another time. I’d add that Nathan will get annoyed if I mentioned that his sports casual outfit (or sports sports outfit as he called it) was probably looked at by customers in pubs since it was Saturday night. But I didn’t say anything.
Our final pub of the day, and pint number eight, was the Wetherspoons in Swadlincote and it was by now just before 23:00. They were serving reduced priced curries, so what better thing to have at this time of night than a £3.99 chicken vindaloo? This was one of the better JD Wetherspoon outlets and not a bad place at all to end the day.
Then it was just a three-mile walk back to the accommodation from Swadlincote. Nathan was livid at this bus stop opposite a bus stop, but he calmed himself down after a while at the lack of bus stop planning.
The story should end here really, it took us an hour to get back, so we reached the YHA at around 01:30. Now, I’m very forgiving, but it’s fair to say that the YHA here failed us. They had told us the door code when we checked in, but they didn’t make any reference to it changing every day. The new set-up also means you leave the YHA via the back door, so it’s actually essential to tell people at check-in that it changes, otherwise they can’t possibly know.
To cut a very long story short, the YHA emergency number wasn’t answered, the YHA itself didn’t answer and there were no clues as to how to get into Fort Knox. I became expert at checking every door in the building and managed to get into the meeting rooms section of the building, but this didn’t allow access to the main area. I was considerably annoyed at this situation, as it was avoidable by either having an emergency contact who answered, or not putting people in this position in the first place. A YHA in the middle of the country will likely frequently have walkers or cyclists coming back late, but I won’t dwell on this.
After debating what to do, my investigations continued and banging on a door did manage to get the YHA custodians out, much to my relief. It’s fair to say they knew that I wasn’t best pleased, but it did mean that we could get back in and life was again back to some sort of normality. They were keen to explain that code to the corridor upstairs had changed as well, but since that corridor has a door where the lock doesn’t work anyway (it just opens without the code), I wasn’t going to overly concern myself about this. Nathan was back in his bunk bed (this in itself says a lot about the luxury accommodation that we had chosen) by 02:00 and all was well with the day. Well, all was well with the night.
YHA debacle aside (and I can’t see Nathan going back, but I have to since I’ve got numerous YHA bookings ahead) this was a marvellous day. It goes to show what thirsty work this walking is, since we had to go into eight pubs (plus a McDonald’s and a Co-op) to stay hydrated, but that’s very important. I think we probably meant to order half-pints, but we got muddled up and never managed to do that. The total walk distance was 21.2 miles and we’re now prepared for the LDWA 100. Well, we’re not, we spent most of the day practicing our pub skills, but it was still a very brave effort.