The Daily Telegraph suggested it was barbecue weather on yesterday’s front page. I don’t know about that, but for mid-October the weather has been glorious. A bright, golden sun cleared any trace of mist before ten o’ clock. The sky was a perfect blue. We parked up at Seighford and set the dog and the boys off up the track fetching sticks. As the name implies the village got its name from a gentle ford, where a brook falls from the higher fields closeby and runs past alders across sand and pebble into marshy ground. Seighford has a school, St Chad’s church, one street of houses, a couple of farms spilling mud onto the roads, and an old coaching inn that is now an Indian restaurant. The village is perched just above the marshy ground of the Sow Valley.
The West Coast Mainline railway is closeby and the rumble of trucks on the M6 perhaps a mile off. But if you walk from the ford along the lanes and bridleways it is hard to believe much has changed since the days of serfdom. A narrow gravel track, hard pressed by hawthorn hedges, winds its way to the higher ground. The bank is hemmed by trees and falls away sharply into meadows spiked with marsh grass. From the bank there is a fantastic view of Stafford castle and town, beyond the M6. Trains pulse through the valley causing the rails to sing in anticipation. Beyond the track is Wilkes’ Wood and the ruined stones of 12th century Creswell Chapel.
We climb past colossal oaks and beech, before the path gives way tumbling down towards the railway and the sandy river shallows of Shaky Bridges. The path forks left and becomes a bridleway. Sunbeams pierce the thick foliage. The hedgerows have thick, gnarled roots gripping the rich soil. Rabbits zig-zag along the furrowed path and a pheasant takes flight. Wood pigeons perch to coo from lofty branches. Fruit still hangs, where shaded from wind and pest. We are never more than half a mile from the railway and the M6 is perhaps a mile off; sometimes we are yards away. But apart from the occasional rush of a Virgin Pendolino, we could be walking in centuries past, plodding the ancient lane with the farm labourers to church.