The old railway line near Stafford is a great place for a walk. There is rarely a van or speeding car to break the peace and solitude. Dog-walkers nod, occasional cyclists buzz past. The sleepers were ripped up years back leaving a gravel track that runs out from Stafford and west to the villages of Haughton and Gnosall. It once reached Wellington, beyond Telford. Stafford was a town that made salt and shoes. The railway also stretched east and picked up freight close to the town Common. These days the old line has become a popular walk. It’s a great way of watching wildlife on Doxey Marshes or striding through the fields between hawthorn, bramble and fern.
There are still telltale signs the railway was once here: Forgotten brick bridges leaching salt and moss and a house near Derrington called Crossing Cottage. A council signpost names the marsh section as the Isabel Trail after the locally built steamie that worked the line (she’s been restored and runs nearby). It seems an age where nostalgia is inescapable. My granddad worked on the LNWR and told the story of a brace of pheasants left on a carriage seat in Valley, Anglesey. They had a brown card tagged to their necks with his name and Stafford written on it. They not only found their way to Stafford, but they were passed onto the branch line and made his table in Gnosall for tea (140-miles and two or three changes). Someone in Crewe or Llandudno Junction apparently nodded at the label and said: ‘These’ll be for Frank then.’
Whether it’s true or not, and many lament the demise of the branch lines, there are some wonderful walks to be enjoyed. Half a mile or so distant from the line is Haughton. The Shropshire and Bell pubs are great for food and soon the whole village will be decked out with festive lights. A few yards on and you can reach Red Lion Farm. Their speciality ice cream (from their own Jersey herd) is exceptional and comes in numerous exotic flavours. The teashop is well worth a visit for a slab of cake or to buy some local cheese and butter.