Rail Rover Week is traditionally one of the pinnacles of the annual exploration calendar, so would the 2011 offering live up to the heights of previous years? You bet it did!!!
Monday April 4th: The week begins with a Potteries tour as my walk from Stoke-on-Trent Station takes me to Hanley Park, the Caldon Canal and Etruria Junction. I branch off into Burslem to admire an array of proud civic buildings (notably the Town Hall) and traditional pubs. Lunchtime sees me in Longport, getting drenched in the solitary rainshower of the week, but I dry off by tiptoeing into Cheshire for a roam around Alsager. A solid start.
Tuesday April 5th: Rail Rover custom has it that Tuesday is always Shropshire day, but not so this year. A dodgy weather forecast had me scampering eastwards where the trio of Derby, Beeston and Sileby ensures I neatly cover the three East Midlands counties, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Derby is a welcoming city and Sileby a village I wouldn't mind another look at, but the highlight of the day was Beeston, sampling a pint of Kiss Me Kate in the Victoria Hotel (what a great pub!) and tracking down the Nottingham Canal where it meets the River Trent at Beeston Lock - and it didn't even rain in the end!
Wednesday April 6th: Worcestershire on Wednesday with a morning stroll around Malvern Link, climbing up into Great Malvern and realising that the glorious sunshine has made it unseasonably warm - it's only April but it feels like August! Getting my breath back, I cross into Herefordshire for an afternoon in Ledbury, a gem of a market town with a delightful collection of black and white timber framed buildings. This is England at it's very best in my opinion, a fact confirmed with a pint of Hereford Pale Ale in the historic Prince of Wales pub on cobbled Church Street.
Thursday April 7th: Shropshire strikes back with arguably the best day of the lot. The weather stays stunning as I call at Craven Arms to absorb the town's agricultural ambience with its relaxed pace of life. A stroll around Shrewsbury introduces me to Castlefields and Abbey Foregate, then I get away from it all with a request stop at Yorton, a country halt with considerable charm. I wander up to the nearby village of Clive with its tiny village store, then make it back to Wolverhampton to join The Bears team as we take on the challenge of the Mayor of Wolverhampton's Charity Quiz Night.
Friday April 8th: A final morning of indulgence involves a Warwickshire workout in Rugby, taking in sights such as the Market Clock and Rugby School, where the game of rugby originated. My closing gambit takes me into Northamptonshire, completing a full Heart of England collection with a look at Long Buckby with it's portakabin-style rail station. The Coventry Beer Festival then beckons, but that - as the saying goes - is another story entirely...