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Walking the length of the river Trent via the Trent Valley Way

The pioneering souls who have blazed a trail we want to follow – along the whole of the Trent Valley Way

Connecting people and the river is at the heart of what we do at Trent Rivers Trust, and opening up the Trent Valley Way for people and wildlife has long been one of our core aims. And we’re making great progress – with a 43-mile section of the Trent Valley Way now waymarked from just upstream of Rugeley in Staffordshire to Shardlow in Derbyshire; plus work currently underway to bring the Trent Valley Way back to life through Stoke on Trent.

As we say on our Trent Valley Way page, it is possible to navigate the entire Trent Valley Way using publicly accessible footpaths. Some pioneering souls have lived to tell the tale, having successfully section-walked the entire path. We thought it was about time we talked to some of those pioneering souls! So here is the story of Drew Wilson and Phil Thomas – two friends who set out to navigate the entire Trent Valley Way – and have indeed lived to tell their tale!

What’s your name?
I am Drew Wilson, age 46, an employer advisor from Stoke, and together with my friend Phil Thomas, 49, a graphic designer, we decided to follow the Trent from source to sea.

When did you follow the entire Trent Valley Way and what made you want to do it?
Hard to believe, but it’s ten years ago now, in August 2014. It all started over a pint, my friend Phil and I have a habit of coming up with crazy ideas and insane challenges! One evening, Phil mentioned to me that he had been considering running/hiking the length of the River Trent, I replied that coincidentally I too had been contemplating this as I found it astonishing that so little is known by many fellow Stokies about the river. We wanted to do something to champion it somehow.

So one of the main reasons Phil and I decided to undertake this trek was to investigate and celebrate our city’s namesake, the River Trent. Before we even decided to do this, we talked a lot about how the river holds an incredible history, but sadly is often ignored by Stoke and its people. We shared the same opinion and dismay over how underwhelming the love for this great river is in our own city, but cherished in almost all other towns, villages and cities it passes through.

How long did it take you?
At 185 miles, the river Trent is the third longest river in the UK. In reality, because we couldn’t always walk right be the side of the river, we ended up covering over 200 miles in seven days.

During the planning stages, Phil mentioned that it would be fun if we could include a day or two on the river in a Canadian canoe, fortunately I had a bit of river canoe experience and good contacts at Trentham Canoe club to help train us! They even kindly supplied the canoe (which we nicknamed The Trent Endurance, after Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic ship and Antarctic expedition). Thankfully we avoided being crushed by ice floes!

We spent two and a half days from Stone to Nottingham on the river, and then continued on foot to the river’s end near Hull – in fact we used the Humber bridge as our finish line.

What are your favourite memories from the route?
Drew: My favourite memories include the experience of getting to know the river and its towns more personally. I also really enjoyed the support we garnered along the trek, we shared a daily blog and photos on Facebook and followers along the route interacted and even offered accommodation, including a night in a teepee, an AirBnB and a beautiful hotel. The majority of British people are wonderful and go out of their way to be kind.

Phil: I enjoyed seeing how the river changes and grows, and seeing the river in use commercially by boats and ships from the industrial Midlands to the North Sea via the Humber. Scenery-wise, I love the area around Shugborough and its Packhorse Bridge (Essex Bridge).

What did you get out of the experience?
Drew: We both had an amazing time and regularly still look back fondly on the experience. We both firmly believe that life is about living and doing, creating treasured memories that last.
Also, as part of the challenge, we succeeded in raising awareness and many generous donations for Stoke on Trent’s Donna Louise Children’s Hospice which supports end of life children. This was a hugely satisfying part of our journey.

Would you recommend it to others?
Most definitely, I would avoid summer though as many parts of the route that were less travelled were overgrown with nettles, at one point we even Googled to find out if it was possible to overdose on nettle stings! There were also plenty of killer cows which caused us to travel those extra bonus miles – we took some enforced diversions to save being trampled!

What are your favourite routes close to the Trent through Stoke?
There are many parts of the river close to Stoke that we both enjoy. The river’s source, in Biddulph, is amazing to see – to see such a small trickle emerge and knowing how large it grows. Knypersley reservoir and the Trent feeders are amazing, the ingenuity of how it was engineered and feeds the Caldon canal.

Also in Stoke town itself, it’s great to see the river as it’s hidden away behind concrete walls next to the A500, passed by thousands of car users daily – unnoticed, uncaring. Here it also passes underneath the Trent and Mersey canal at the Trent Aqueduct.

Do you think it’s a good idea to waymark the route? Why?
Of course, as well as celebrating the river and its local villages, towns and cities, waymarking the route inevitably encourages health, fitness and all-round wellbeing both physically and mentally. The River Trent trek will stay with us forever, we still enjoy spotting the river whenever we pass it and it brings a smile to our faces. Occasionally we still share photos from the trek with each other and keep up to date with the evolution of the river’s changes, like getting involved with Trent Rivers Trust’s project to waymark the Trent Valley Way through Stoke.

The river Is surrounded by various wildlife habitats such as wetlands and floodplain forests, and its constantly evolving. Even in Stoke since we did the trek, a part of the river has had a new diversion created around a housing development, including an accessible footpath beside it. I’m enjoying watching its young riverbanks grow into a thriving, diverse ecosystem.

Do you want to get involved in the Trent Valley Way project? We’re always looking for volunteers to join us on a walk, help us run events or support us with awareness-raising for the Trent Valley Way. Huge thanks to Drew and Phil for doing just that! If you want to join them – and us – in celebrating and improving the Trent Valley Way, get in touch.

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