The walking around Stoke-on-Trent is pretty amazing. I know the area because it is where our factories are. Staffordshire is very little-known and it’s marvellous. At the moment I’m walking in Trentham Park – it’s not exactly a pilgrimage but sort of is because Stoke is a holy grail to me. When I first came here in 1984, everyone else was leaving and the factories were closing. All these derelict factories totally grabbed me. I felt compelled to keep coming back and I wanted to make one of these factories busy again with people coming and going and the kilns flaring. I’ve been here ever since.
Would you make any special stops?
The places I love to visit here are the Wedgwood Museum and The Potteries Museum, which has an amazing collection: all the potters of Staffordshire are represented in the ceramics collection. I’d also visit each of the town centres. You might think retail is dead but, for example, Tunstall market has the most marvellous melee of retail: wonderful women will assail you with buns and cups of tea. The din of the welcome you get in the pie shops and cafes in Stoke is fantastic. Stoke was all about transport: they made all this breakable stuff and had to transport it in a way that wasn’t on the back of horses, so the canals came into being. Staffordshire is so wrongly overlooked.
Who would be your travel companions?
I would bring Tristram Hunt back to Stoke. He was an MP here and he’s now director of the V&A. He’d be good at explaining to other pilgrims the incredible significance of our trade with the empire. More than half of the produce of this city was sold all around the world. We’d want a nice cleric to bless the walk and make sure we would get into the churches, so I would take my friend, Father Jonathan Beswick, and his wife, Anne. It would be good to have someone who had a head full of poetry to cheer us along, ideally Tom Stoppard. We’d end with a picnic in Hanley Park.
You can transplant your favourite pub, bar or restaurant onto
the route. What is it?
I wouldn’t need to, I’d go to the Coachmakers Arms in Hanley. It has lots of tiny little rooms with coal fires and an endless supply of loquacious and funny chaps to tell you yarns. We’d probably only get crisps to eat but we’d drink very good beer. The whole point about pilgrimages is you don’t do lavish eating, you eat what you can find.
Camp under the stars, or find a church hall to sleep in?
I’m sure we could find a church hall. I am really keen on the idea of how to support longer-distance walks in the UK. As a teenager, eight of us went walking across the Yorkshire moors and slept in hostels – it was so much fun. Getting to grips with youth hostels and churches and encouraging them to get involved would revive local industry.
Which books would you take with you?
Very few. I’d take Ordnance Survey maps. I’m allergic to carrying anything – it’s all got to be in my pockets.
What Bible verse would you ponder as you walked?
Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” I read it to mean that you can walk in the hills as much as you like but you can only have help from God, so it would be a good one to think about as we’re walking. The ancient, pre-Christian instinct was to look for divine inspiration in the hills and wild places – this lives on in us and opens one up to different currents of emotion and thought.
You stop in a church. What’s your go-to prayer?
I always do three Hail Marys and an Our Father. I am an enthusiastic practitioner of daily meditation and I have recently cottoned on to the proximity of prayer to meditation. Prayer cycles still your mind. They are intensely important words.
It’s your turn to cook. What’s your speciality?
The children would say: “Macaroni cheese please, mum” so I don’t mind doing that. It would soothe any passing vegetarians. It’s the all-time-best comfort food.
What’s the singalong to keep everyone’s spirits up?
I can still remember when there wasn’t a radio in the car and my mum was a fantastic singer. She could sing all the way from Hertfordshire to North Yorkshire, so I’d choose a lot of English folk songs.
You’re allowed one luxury in your bag. What is it?
I want my daughter Lil Rice and her friend Ollie Clark to lead the pilgrim band, which they’d do so well. And my son Michael Rice could bring his banjo. My other daughter, Margaret Rice, would be reluctant to join so I’d have to fib or lay a trail of bourbon biscuits and promise her a swim somewhere.
What would you most miss about ordinary life?
I think the whole point is to walk away from your ordinary life with a light heart, knowing you’d be back. By the end I’d be longing for a bath with lots of Floris Rose Geranium in it for when I get home.
What would you miss the least?
My phone, computer and Zoom meetings.
Emma Bridgewater is the founder and design director of Emma Bridgewater
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