There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Thursday, 29 September 2016

Two Dinners in Évora

To include the dinners in the Évora post would have made it over-long, but they were worth remembering, so here they are, all on their own. Neither was ‘fine dining’ – that is for special occasions – but both exemplified the affordable good food with pronounced regional character that is one of the joys of Portugal.

28/09/2016

On the Saturday we dined at a table outside Mr Pickwick’s Restaurant (strange choice of name) near the Praça de Geraldo, the city’s main square [Update: Several Tripadvisor reviews of this restaurant are unfavourable, but we saw it differently. Maybe travelling all the way to Évora and then ordering Spagbol is asking for off-hand service and a poor meal]. Arriving around 7:15 we had our pick of the tables, but we were only just ahead of the crowd and the little courtyard soon filled up.

The little courtyard outside Mr Pickwick's
To accompany the inevitable bread and olives we chose a glass of white port, an old favourite, though neglected of late. At its best (and this was), the complex off-dry palate hinted at so many of the joys off Portuguese cuisine.

Pork and clams is a marriage made in heaven, or at least southern Portugal (which may be as close as you can get on this earth). Two versions are available in the Algarve, the cataplana, in which the shellfish and part cooked meat are placed in the traditional copper shell for the final cooking; the flavours and aromas remaining sealed inside until the cataplana is opened at your table. The other way involves more frying and a darker, garlicky sauce and is called (in the Algarve, at least) carne de porco Alentejano.

Lynne opens the cataplana, Mr Pickwick's, Evora
I am not sure if the Cataplana Alentejano is really traditional or a judicious borrowing. Inside were huge chunks of deeply flavoured stewed pork, tiger prawns (of Thai origin?), mussels, crab claws and, of course, clams. Everything was steeped in a broth of the usual Portuguese suspects, tomato, peppers, garlic and coriander with a chunks of potato boiled in the broth. [update: Clams have been over-harvested in the Algarve and become expensive. The clams in this cataplana have a yellowish shell with a distinctive black tip. Ten days later we bought and cooked some identical clams in Carvoeiro – they originated from Vietnam. In November we ate the very same clams in Hong Kong and Macau. They are good, cheap and (for the moment) plentiful.]


Inside the cataplana, Mr Pickwick's, Evora
It was wonderfully messy – getting your hands in is the only way to deal with prawns and crabs - and in every way delightful. Our bottle of Reguengos branco from just down the road seemed a hard and unyielding liquid when tasted alone - not a wine that wins prizes at blind tastings - but as a compliment to the food it was ideal. Strong fruity flavours would have fought with the shellfish, while this was a wine modestly fulfilling the role for which it was born.

Praça de Geraldo, Evora
Quieter after the afternoons student initiations
It was also not the sort of food that requires a dessert. We felt well fed as we strolled back to our hotel through the now quiet Praça de Geraldo.

29/09/2016

We dined at one of the tables lining an alley outside a restaurant not far from last night's.

Our white port arrived in a brandy glass, a couple of blocks of ice swimming in it – was this a style choice or a rescue mission after someone forgot to put the port in the chiller? Either way it was regrettable – and the port was not as good as last night’s, either.

Appetizers appeared unbidden - chicken in mayonnaise with nuts (a spoonful of curry powder and it would have been coronation chicken) and a soft fish cake coated in fried breadcrumbs. Both were pleasant if unexciting.

Lynne had a veal steak with salad and chips, all very nicely done, she said and I can vouch for the meat being top quality. I ordered black pork and migas, the Alentejo’s two distinctive contributions to Portuguese gastronomy on one plate. (The Spanish dish also called migas is different, Mexican migas is very different indeed.)

Iberian black pigs – believed to be a cross between domestic pigs introduced by the Phoenicians  and wild boar - have been raised in central southern Spain and Portugal for millennia. They live a pampered life roaming in herds among the sparse oak forests feeding mainly on acorns – which tends to make black pork expensive.  My two large slices, tenderloin perhaps, beaten flat and bearing the stripes of the grill, were the most flavourful pork it has ever been my privilege to eat. Discovering a usually mundane ingredient that has been taken to another level excites me more than I rationally think it should.

An Iberian black pig in Alentejo
Picture borrowed from Wikipedia
Migas must have originated as a way of using up stale bread and as a filling start to an otherwise meagre meal. That people still eat it suggests this mash of bread, olive oil and garlic is well-liked as well as filling. There are several varieties, I ate migas de tomate, though the tomato gave more generously of its colour than is flavour. There were other flavours I could not pick out and it reminded me very much of bread sauce, at least the bread sauce my mother used to make in Christmases long ago. I loved it, but a ladle-full as a 'trimming' would have been perfect. I had a portion the size of a house brick.

Migas de tomate
This was not my meal but the migas was the closest match I could find
The picture comes from the Portuguese recipe site Mytaste
With the pork and too much migas, the pile of chips was unnecessary - it certainly made a smallish plate very full. By the time I had finished (and to my shame I ate it all) I was truly stuffed. [and did not eat another full meal for 48 hours].

The accompanying bottle of Borba tinto, from the largest (in terms of production) of the Alentejo wine districts slid down nicely.

Borba tinto
Desserts were again out of the question, but we thought a local brandy might be a pleasing complement to our coffee. I foolishly asked for conjac - conjac may be Spanish for brandy, but in Portuguese aguardente, is the appropriate word, though that covers many types of fire water. Two sizeable Brandy glasses soon appeared. To the British eye, used to a measure of 2.5cl (little more than a wet glass) almost anything appears generous, but these were vast. They were also paler than expected. I lifted a glass to my nose expecting a waft of the caramel used for colouring in all Iberian brandies but instead I sniffed the sweet woody aroma of not conjac but cognac, a sizeable step up in quality and in price. I asked the waiter what it was and he showed me the bottle, Martel Cognac. How much would two swimming pool sized cognacs cost? 'It's only money,' said Lynne, 'and it is very nice.' And indeed it was.

When the bill came I peered at it with trepidation. Two cognacs, it said, at €5 each.  The whole bill, appetizers and port, two substantial meat dishes, wine, coffee and cognac came to €50. Evora is an easy city to like.


Évora

28/09/16

This year's Algarve trip had a new twist. No sooner had we arrived in the Algarve than we set about leaving.

After picking up our hire car we drove north across the coastal plain and its clutter of tourist developments to São Brás and continued into the hills behind. Winding up and down past cork oaks, many newly stripped, eucalyptus and old gnarled olive trees we saw few signs of human habitation but passed several of the ruined windmills that pepper the Algarve. They probably never ground corn, this is not arable land, but maybe once crushed olives.
 
Freshly stripped cork oaks
 Barranco do Velha and Ameixal look important on the map, but there is little to either of them. Dogueno, the first village in the Alentejo, is even smaller but we stopped there for coffee at a tiny café frequented by those elderly local men who like to start drinking early.
 
After Dogueno the countryside changed. Much of Alentejo, is a plain dedicated to the production of wheat though in September only the stubble remains. Herds of cattle milled about in the harvested fields.
 
At Castro Verde we picked up the new IP2 which sped us to Beja where we stopped for lunch.
 
Our Journey through southern Portugal
 North of Beja, vineyards started to appear. Alentejo is a major wine producer - much of the wine drunk in the Algarve comes from here - and the road signs were a wine list of familiar names, Vidiguera, Moura, Reguengos and finally the old walled city of Evora, our home for the next two nights.
 
We found our hotel in one of Evora's tiny medieval alleys...
 
Hotel Santa Clara, Évora
It took me two attempts to get round that right angle bend - in a Fiat Panda!
 ... checked in and made the short walk to the Praça de Geraldo, the city's main square named for Geraldo sem Pavor (Gerald the Fearless) who took the city from the Moors in 1166. It was a good spot for David sem Cerveja (David the Beerless) to slough off that soubriquet and slake the thirst of a long, hot day's travelling.
 
No longer beerless, Praça de Geraldo, Évora
 Whilst rehydrating, we watched gangs of 18 or 19 year-olds with painted faces being led round the square by slightly older youths wearing academic gowns. Later, when we went out to eat, the painted ones were on their knees in the square ‘worshipping’ their elders. Évora's university was founded in 1559 making it Portugal’s second oldest, though it closed in 1779 during the oppression of the Jesuits and in its current incarnation dates only from 1973. University initiation rituals are common in Portugal and there is a perennial worry that they might descend into bullying. This looked good natured enough to me.
 
We ate well in Évora, so our two dinners there have earned their own post (click here).
 
29/09/2016
 
Évora is a UNESCO world heritage site and a city of great antiquity. Its Celtic beginnings are lost on the mists of time but the Romans arrived in 57BC and turned it into a major city. The Vizigoths filled the power vacuum after the Romans but then Évora  was in decline until taken by the Moors in 715AD. The 450 years of Moorish rule, which saw the city prosper and develop much of its present character, ended in 1166 during the Reconquista.  Évora continued to prosper, becoming a favoured royal city and centre of the humanities. Another decline started with the closure of the university in 1779 and in 1808 the city was sacked by the French during the Peninsular War. After a difficult 19th century Évora has returned to prosperity, its fortunes based on agriculture and tourism as the city exploits its rich architectural and artistic history.
 
Around the Praça de Geraldo, Évora
 We started back in the Praça de Geraldo which is lined with elegant buildings. Structures of all ages sit shoulder to shoulder within the largely intact city walls and even the most recent blend harmoniously. The medieval street plan has been largely respected, making Évora a pleasure to walk round, and a nightmare for drivers. There is a good ring road and ample free parking outside the walls, which we took advantage of.
 
The medieval streets of Évora
 The 16th century church of Sto Antão is at the end of the praça.

Sto Antão, Praça de Geraldo, Évora
A long thin barn of a church, its multiple side chapels are filled with baroque altars, but the high altar is the most baroque of all. Admirers call the decoration ‘complex’, I might call it ‘fussy’. 'It requires a lot of dusting,' Lynne observed. She is a keen, some might say fanatical, remover of dust, but I had to agree, and it looked as though the altars had not seen a cloth for years - the problems of dusting ornate carvings at height are almost insurmountable.

High altar, Sto Antão, Évora
We walked north-east from the square up the inappropriately named Rua Nova.  According to our tourist map parts of the Aguaduto da Prata  that once brought water to the thirsty citizens can be found here. We looked in vain, before realised that the arches in the buildings were once part of the aqueduct, though later doorways had been cut through them. Gravity dictates that aqueducts become lower as they approach the point of delivery, but the floors behind the arches were below street level, so maybe the low arches were also the result of ground levels rising over the centuries.


The arches of the aqueduct, Rua Nova, Évora
Rua Nova ends in the Praça de Sertorio a small square dominated by the 19th century town hall. Our map claimed the square also contained the city's 2nd century Roman baths, but where were they? A poster advertising a recent exhibition hung on the town hall wall, but there was no other clue.

 Town Hall, Praça de Sertorio, Évora
Inside we found office doors, waiting people and an unmanned reception desk. The remains of the baths, later reading informed us, can be viewed through a glass wall in the town hall, though there is, apparently, little to see.

We followed the line of the aqueduct from the square. Beyond the Roman stonework at the corner there was little to see, but a couple of turns through the narrow streets brought us to some higher arches….

The aqueduct is higher, Aguaduto da Prata, Évora
…which were higher again in the next road with dwellings built into them. It is fascinating how structures, like our hotel with its medieval façade, marble reception area and small but comfortable modern rooms, have been continually adapted, sometimes over centuries, to meet the demands of later living.

Dwellings in the Aguaduto da Prata, Évora
 Evora's walls are largely intact except where the demands of modern traffic have punched holes through them. We made our way to one of these holes and over the ring road to look at the aqueduct crossing the wall. We had assumed this was a Roman aqueduct – so many are - but it appears to have been built round a pre-existing wall.
 
The aqueduct crosses the city wall, Evora
In fact the aqueduct was constructed between 1531 and 1537, designed by Francisco de Arruda, who was also responsible for Lisbon's Torre de Belem (which features elsewhere in this blog). Beyond the walls it crosses a couple of hundred metres of open ground to the Forte de Santo Antonio before swinging left towards its water source.
 
The Aguaduto da Prata heads off to the Forte de Sto Antonio, Évora
 Walking back into town we came to the so-called Temple of Diana. It is a Roman temple, but was dedicated to the Emperor Augustus and there is not a whole lot left. Since the Romans, Évora has been Moorish and then Portuguese (and sacked by the French). Muslims and Christians alike have been zealous destroyers of remnants of earlier idolatrous religions, so it is surprising anything has survived.
 
Roman Temple, Évora
It was now eleven o'clock, time to seek out coffee and pasteis de nata, the custard tarts that make morning coffee in Portugal just that little bit special.

That task easily and pleasantly accomplished, we returned to the cathedral, which sits just behind the temple. The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, a 14th century enlargement of  an earlier building is the largest Gothic cathedral in Portugal. Medieval cities are cramped and major buildings lack the space to express themselves externally, but inside its size is obvious and there is much to see. We bought our tickets, being given a 'senior's’ discount without asking. That hurt a little.
 
The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, Évora
First we followed wide stairs, then a spiral staircase to the roof which gave us fine views over the city and the surrounding countryside...
 

Looking over the roofs of Évora to the Alentejo countryside
…the cloister...
 
The cloister, Évora cathedral
... the roman temple...
 
The Roman temple, Évora
...the aqueduct where it crosses the Forte de Santo Antonio….
 
The aquaduct makes its way to and across the Forte de Sto Antonio, Évora
....and the cathedral's Lantern Tower.
 
Lantern Tower, Évora cathedral
The bottom of the spiral stairs gives access to the high choir - several Portuguese cathedrals have the choir and the organ in a balcony at the eastern end of the nave. Lynne sat in one of the wooden choir seats with the usual heavily carved back. Most of the carvings are hunting scenes, behind her is a boar hunt, while to her right a man hunts hares with a dog.



Lynne in the high choir, Évora cathedral
The carvers were not without humour. Above one seat hares have caught the hunter and are turning him on a spit.

Hares roasting a hunter, high choir, Évora cathedral

 
There is also a good view down the nave of the church, another long thin hall with a fussy baroque altar.

Évora cathedral

Outside we had a walk round the cloister…

Cloister, Évora cathedral
…pausing at the tomb of Bishop D Pedro who built the cloisters between 1317 and 1340.

Tomb of Bishop D Pedro, Évora cathedral
The cathedral’s school of music was of great renown and the choir boys’ boarding house is now the cathedral museum. Zealous guardians rigorously enforce the no photography rule so you will have to take my word for it that the chapel displays a piece of the ‘true cross’ and a set of reliquaries containing body parts of saints major (St Thomas Aquinas) and minor. Upstairs the corridors and the schoolboys' cells are filled with religious art and artefacts, some beautiful, some curious (a model of the Virgin Mary which opens out into a triptych with scenes from her life) and others kept just because they are old. A display of reliquaries so old nobody can remember whose skin, skull or finger lies inside was rather sad.

After a long visit it was time to head for the Praça de Geraldo, a cold beer and a toasted sandwich. We took a leisurely break beneath a shady umbrella fanned by a slight but pleasantly cooling breeze.

Our main destination for the afternoon was the church of S Francisco and its famous oddity, but on the way we passed the tiny Largo de Graça. The 16th Igreja de Graça is somewhat off the wall.
 
Igreja de Graça (Church of Grace), Évora
The ‘robust Atlas-style figures… placed around the four corners… [represent] the four rivers’ (visitportugal.com). The locals call them, with justified irony, ‘the children of Grace’. The church was not open (have they something to hide?)

The Children of Grace, Igreja de Graça, Évora

The larger Largo S Francisco is a short step away. The church of S Francisco looked so clean and burnished I would have thought it was new had I not read that building started in 1475.
 
Church of S Francisco, Évora
There is no fee for entering the church, but there was for the exhibition and bone chapel so we paid up, but went to see the church first.
 
The main altar sits at the end of a canyon of a building, though the row of shallow side chapels each has a grander baroque altar than the main one.
 
Side chapels, S Francisco, Évora
 One of the side chapels was deeper and off it was the meeting room of the non-clerical society of S Francisco. The woodwork is impressive but the gap between table and bench looks a little large, so that whether it was your papers or your lunch you were attending to, it would be just too far away for comfort.

Meeting room of the society of S Francisco, Church of S Francisco, Évora
 Upstairs is an exhibition of nativity scenes, the collection of a local retired military man. We had not planned to see it, but as we had paid and it was there we thought we might walk through.
 
It turned out to be an amusing exhibition with artefacts of varying degrees of sophistication, and none. It is fascinating the way the nativity is so often rendered in the vernacular of the artist, whether they come from Papua New Guinea, Southern Africa or Europe. I particularly liked this modern Portuguese version, executed with tongue firmly in cheek. We all know the wise men brought, gold, frankincense and myrrh, but what about the shepherds? Well, had they been Portuguese they would undoubtedly have brought olive oil, cheese and honey as these men have.
 
Olive oil, cheese and honey from the shepherds - and Joseph has a good grip on his bottle of wine
Nativity exhibition, S Francisco, Évora
 The exhibition is in two parts connected by a walk across the roof with a view into the pleasant Largo de S Francisco.
 
Largo S Francisco, Évora
We visited S Francisco mainly for the bone chapel. It may not be unique, Faro even has two, but it was the first we ever saw (when we visited Évora in 1985) and is, as far as I know, the biggest and best. Sometime in the 16th century it became fashionable to empty monastic cemeteries and use the contents to decorate a chapel.
 
Bone chapel, S Francisco, Évora
 The bones do not come from a disaster or massacre, they are the remains of ordinary monks set on the walls to remind us that such is our bodily future, so we had better look after the future of our souls. If I was dug up and my bleached tibia used as an interior design feature, I think I would be quietly chuffed.

Bone chapel, S Francisco, Évora
 That finished our sightseeing in Évora. There is more to this small city, an excellent museum we have not seen, a venerable university to walk round, the palace of the counts of Basto and much more, but our time was up. Évora packs such a huge amount inside its medieval walls that maybe we will return.
 
We had an excellent dinner – see next post (click here).

 30/09/2016

Évora may be ancient, but the Alentejo has been inhabited far longer than humans have been city dwellers. Next morning we drove six or seven kilometres along the N114 to where the little road to the village of Guadalupe and the Neolithic sites of Almendres was well signed.

Guadalupe was larger than we had expected with rows of gleaming white modern bungalows stretching out from the centre. How the inhabitants make their livings this deep in the countryside in an age of mechanised agriculture is a mystery.

At Guadalupe the tarmac ran out and we completed the last few kilometres on a dirt road, enveloped in our own personal dust cloud.

We stopped in a pull-off where a sign pointed down a path to the Menhir dos Almendres. The design of the 3.5m tall menhir would have been familiar to Obelix, though it predates that fictional menhir delivery man by several millennia. A crook is allegedly carved into the upper portion, but we could not make it out.

The Menhir dos Almendres
The Almendres Cromlech is a further kilometre along the road. A group of 95 standing stones, some with rudimentary carvings, it is the biggest megalithic monument in the Iberian Peninsula.

Lost for many years, it was only rediscovered in 1966 when most of the standing stones were recumbent. They were re-erected after careful research.

Looking up from the bottom of the site through the double circle Alemendres II
Set on gently sloping ground the double circle of stones at the top (Almendres I) dates from 6,000BC. From here there is a clear view eastwards to the Alentejo plain from which our ascent had hardly been noticeable. A lower elongated double circle and central stones (Almendres II and III) were added later, though missing stones make the patterns difficult to see from the ground.

At the midwinter solstice the menhir and cromlech are aligned with the first rays of the sun. Like all such sites there are many theories but nobody knows their purpose.

Almedres Cromlech, looking east through the upper circle to the distant Alentejo plain 

Awed by antiquity we left Almendres for the three hour drive south to Carvoeiro on the Algarve coast.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Cowpat Walks: 10 The Roaches and Lud's Church

365 days after the last Cowpat* centred on Codsall (it would have been a year to the day had 2016 not been a leap year) Brian and I met Francis and Alison in Stone and together we drove to the Roaches.

The Roaches, Peak District National Park
Photographed April 2011
This walk had not been conceived as a Cowpat - the occasion was a visit by Brian and Hilary from their new home in Torquay - but as we strolled along Alison asked if I intended blogging this walk and I was surprised to hear myself answer 'probably'.  Then I commented that it had most of the attributes of a Cowpat, and nobody argued, so here it is.

We left home in drizzle (the weather forecast had been good right up until this morning) but it stopped before we arrived.

The parking spaces on the road below Hen Cloud and the Roaches (which is not the road in the photo above) have been the start of several walks over the years and the Roaches have appeared in this blog before (A Republican Ramble Round the Ramshaw Rocks, 2011).

Ready to depart on the road below the Roaches
With the long drive, and Alison coming all the way from Cheltenham it was almost 10.30 before we started
The Roaches (the name derives from the French for ‘rocks’ and does not infer an unpleasant infestation) are a 500m high ridge of gritstone. The road where we parked is at 300m, so the day started with a climb up onto the rocks via much-used well-graded paths….

Gently graded path up the Roaches
…through woodland…

Up through the woods, the Roaches
…and occasionally up steps.

Nearing the top of the ridge, the Roaches
Once on the ridge, there is a long but gentle rise towards the highest point. The ridge is an airy place - so airy, in fact, I had difficulty holding the camera still taking these shots.

Along the Roaches Ridge
With the rain gone and sunshine tickling the edges of the clouds, the day was clear and the views good. To the Southwest is Tittesworth Reservoir with the town of Leek (Queen of the Staffordshire Moorlands, as it likes to style itself) just visible beyond.

Tittesworth Reservoir with Leek at the far end
Looking northwest, The Cloud with its slanting gritstone cap guards the entrance to the Cheshire plain where the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank could be clearly seen.

The Cheshire Plain with The Cloud (left side, half way up) and Jodrell Bank (level with The Cloud, two thirds of the way across
We continued to the trig point marking the 505m high point. The trig points that sit on summits major, minor and sometimes barely discernible are an evocative reminder of earlier map making. Now obsolete some are in a poor state, but someone had bothered to give this one a coat of whitewash.

The trig point on the Roaches
From the trig point we started the long descent through interesting rock formations. In March 2009 I came across a photogenic grouse perched on a nearby rock. During World War Two five Bennett's Wallabies escaped from a private zoo and at one time the group had grown to 50 or more. Occasional reported sightings around the Roaches and Lud’s Church (see later) suggest they are still out there. Sadly, we saw no noteworthy fauna on the Roaches today.

Descending along the Roaches ridge
The descent ends at a minor road which we crossed and then ducked behind a wall to find a cosy wind-free coffee spot.
Coffee behind a wall
The ridge continues for a couple of kilometres, 100m or more lower than the Roaches, but we took a path that leads down to the woods on its northern flank.

Before reaching the trees we had a distant view of Shutlingsloe. One metre higher than the Roaches, it consists of layers of mudstone and limestone topped with a sloping cap of Chatsworth Grit. The summit was the main objective of Cowpat 5.
Shutlingsloe
On the upper path through Back Forest the wind-tossed leaves and branches made the dappled sunshine dance along the path. Contouring through the trees was pleasant, only a little spoiled by the frequent muddy sections, and the tree roots veining the track and threatening to trip the unwary.
Through Back Forest
After a kilometre we reached Lud's Church, or, as the OS Map helpfully calls it 'Lud's Church (Chasm)'.
Entering Lud's Church

Faults in the gritstone run along the ridge, some of them packed with softer mudstone. At some time in the past, probably after the glaciers retreated and before humans arrived, a huge chunk of the gritstone slipped downhill towards what is now the Dane Valley. The result is a narrow defile 100m long and 18m deep.
Into the lower part of Lud's Church
Wikipedia claims that whatever the weather the depths of Lud's Church are always cold but in the late summer/early autumn sun, and completely protected from the wind I found climbing through the bottom of Lud's Church warm work.

Unsurprisingly, such a noticeable feature has been fancifully connected with a variety of characters some legendary, like Robin Hood, and others real like Bonnie Prince Charlie. Imaginative derivations of the name are also legion. Most likely, there is a connection, both physical and linguistic, with the Lollards, the followers of the 14th century philosopher and religious reformer John Wycliffe, who would have needed a place of refuge. Wycliffe produced an English translation of the bible in the 1380s when such an action was radical, indeed heretical. 'Lollard' is drive from a Middle Dutch word meaning 'mumbler', and was a sneering reference to those with a little learning, but no knowledge of the classics (like a lot of us today).

Brian in Lud's Church
Also interesting is the identification of Lud's  Church with the 'Green Chapel' in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The 14th century chivalric romance was written in the North West Midlands dialect (some have even said the Leek dialect) so Lud's Church may well have been known to the author.

Alison heads for the exit, Lud's Church
From Lud's Church we headed upwards out of the woods and over the ridge as it drops towards the Dane Valley.
Out of the woods and over the lower part of the ridge
With a good view back to the Roaches, we rounded Hangingstone Farm....
Looking back to the Roaches
And made our way across a field of sheep….
Across a field of sheep - there were sheep, honest. They were just camera shy.
…. to the woods above the River Dane and the steep descent to the river,....

Down to the River Dane
... reaching it at Danebridge.
Across the Dane Bridge at Danebridge
Once over the river we were in Cheshire and ventured a couple of hundred metres into this strange and wondrous land but only as far as the Ship Inn where our Staffordshire walk was graced with a Cheshire lunch. The Ship has an interesting history and was the lunch stop on the Shutlingsloe walk where I wrote about it at length.

I enjoyed my pulled pork with hoisin sauce in ciabatta, but I was not the only one to find the beers, from the Greater Manchester brewery of J W Lees, lacklustre. We had passed the Wincle micro-brewery on our way up from the river and it seemed a shame that The Ship could stock none of their beer.

After our late start it was nearer three than two before we headed back down to the bridge. Unusually for Staffordshire rivers (even if on the border) the Dane heads not for the Trent and the east coast, but continues westward through Cheshire until joining the River Weaver at Northwich. The Weaver flowed into the Mersey until 1887 when the Manchester Ship Canal was built, and it now enters the canal at Runcorn dock.
The River Dane
In the morning we had enjoyed a splendid and varied walk, in improving, if varied, weather. The gentle sunshine of the afternoon was perfect walking weather but the route was less interesting. The morning had been a long curve and we returned by as straight a chord across it as paths allowed.

At Danebridge chapel we took a path back up through the woods. At the fork the left route was obvious, the right more hidden, and that was the one we wanted. After a little backtracking we found our way to a house marked on the map as ‘Snipe’….
Up towards Snipe
…and then made for the minor road across the Swythamley Estate (once home the of Brocklehursts who also owned The Ship and a zoo with - and later without - wallabies).
Across the Swythamley Estate
From there continuously rising but featureless field paths took us from farm to barn to farm A couple of hares careering across our path made up for the morning’s lack of fauna.
It was not all field paths
We forded the unnamed stream that is the main feeder of Tittesworth Reservoir and made our way up to Roche Grange through a wet field pocked with cows’ footmarks which always makes for difficult walking.
Up a cow-pocked field to Roche Grange
At Roche Grange a sign led us through deep nettles into a dead end, and we had to backtrack and take the lane up to the road below the Roaches. The lane was steep and, unlike the path we could not find, veered away from our destination.
The lane from Roche Grange - steeper than the photo makes it look
Eventually we made it to the road and a couple of kilometres on tarmac brought us back to the car.
Along the road below the Roaches and back to the car
After a shaky start the weather had sorted itself out and it was good to get most of the team back together though we missed Mike (family commitments) and Lee (so young he still has to work). All things considered, it was a fine day out.


*Starting in November 2011, the Cowpat Walks have formed a rough circle of circles as the starting points have moved clockwise around Stafford – though the clockwise sequence has not been strictly adhered to.

The Cowpats