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Gingering it Up at Market Drayton

Enjoy a veritable feast of gingerbread men and Cheshire cheese on the Staffordshire border.

Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 165ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Streets, tow path, sandy track and quiet lanes; field paths and 6 stiles on Walk 4

Landscape Market town, canal and mixed farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 243 Market Drayton

Start/finish SJ 674344

Dog friendliness On lead between Point d and Walkmill Bridge and in dairy fields on Walk 4

Parking Car park on Towers Lawn, next to bus station

Public toilets At bus station

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1 Walk past the bus station, cross at the zebra crossing, then turn left down Queen Street to the Buttercross and left on Stafford Street. Go straight on at the first junction, right at the next on to Great Hales Street and then left on Berrisford Road (use the easily missed footway on the left until forced to join the road).

2 You'll soon come to Berrisford Bridge, also known as 40 Steps Aqueduct, which carries the Shropshire Union Canal over the road. Go up the steps and turn right on the tow path. This part of the Shroppie system was originally the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, which went from Autherley to Nantwich. The engineer was Thomas Telford and the boldness of his design is apparent along this stretch, with its massive cuttings and embankments. The deep cutting on the approach to Tyrley Locks has its own microclimate, and positively drips with ferns, mosses and liverworts. The tow path marks the county boundary - this stretch of the canal is in Staffordshire.

3 At bridge 60 by Tyrley Wharf go up to the lane (Tyrley Road) and turn left. This leads to the main road (A529) and a pub called the Four Alls. Cross with care to Sandy Lane. After 600yds (549m) a footpath leaves the lane on the left. Continue along the lane.

4 Sandy Lane comes to a T-junction with a track. Turn right here; it's still Sandy Lane, but this part is a private road and dogs must be kept on leads. It heads north towards Drayton, overlooked by Salisbury Hill, where a Yorkist army under the Earl of Salisbury camped in 1459 before heavily defeating a Lancastrian force twice the size.

5 When you meet a road, turn right to cross the River Tern at Walkmill Bridge (a packhorse bridge). Cross Walkmill Road and go up Kilnbank Road opposite. This leads to Shropshire Street; turn right. After passing Sandbrook Vaults, turn left past the Buttercross to Cheshire Street, which leads back to Towers Lawn.

In 1245, at the behest of Abbot Simon of Combermere Abbey, Henry III granted Market Drayton a charter for a Wednesday market and two annual fairs. Marketing has been its main role ever since, serving a large area of rural Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire. Abbot Simon wasn't just thinking of the local peasants and farmers - his monks had their own produce to sell. They cultivated vines and kept honeybees, as well as participating in dairy farming, which flourished in the fertile countryside. Food has always been the main focus for Market Drayton's traders and, even today, the town is full of small, independent shops selling a wide range of locally made produce. Every Wednesday Cheshire Street is still submerged by a flood of colourful stalls heaped high with food, along with goods from the Staffordshire Potteries. So you can buy your cake and the plate to eat it from too.

To compete in the modern world, Drayton now markets itself and the theme is still food, as it tries to entice tourists to the 'home of gingerbread'. First made here in 1817, for many years there were four gingerbread dynasties in town, each with its own secret recipe. People then enjoyed gingerbread in 'junks as big as my foot', but nowadays you can buy it fashioned into hearts, teddy bears, sheep or footballers.

Traditionally, Draytonians dunked their gingerbread in port and one of the most popular recipes already contained rum. Billington's gingerbread is still made locally to a secret recipe, but Drayton also boasts plenty of other specialities, such as damson jam, damson cheese and damson gin, which possibly goes down well with a bit of rum-soaked, port-dunked gingerbread. Go into one of the bakers in town and you can choose from other local treats like butter buns, lardy cakes and oven bottoms, while pikelets and oatcakes from the Potteries are popular too. Since the 16th century, Drayton has been famous for dairy goods. Yogurt is made in a factory on the edge of town, but farm-made yogurts are also on sale in the shops, along with excellent cheeses. It is said that the only unpasteurised Cheshire cheese still made in England comes from Market Drayton.

Robert Clive was born near Market Drayton in 1725 and went to school there. He terrorised the town as a boy, even running a protection racket. His despairing family packed him off to India where he achieved great wealth and prestige in the process of establishing British supremacy there. Despite his fame (or notoriety), it's his culinary contribution they celebrate in Drayton. At the Clive and Coffyne (a coffyne is a pie case) they serve an award-winning Clive of India Pie which is said to be based on a recipe given by Clive in 1768 to the bakers of Pézenas in France. He has also, rightly or wrongly, been linked to the gingerbread tradition because of his involvement in the spice trade.

Where to eat and drink

The Four Alls is a popular place with lots of outside seating, ideal for families with dogs. Market Drayton has many friendly, attractive pubs - if you appreciate period buildings you'll want to try them all. You'll pass several of the best on this walk. Special mention must go to the Corbet Arms; the landlord in 1885 was my ancestor, Richard Wycherley.

While you're there

Hodnet Hall Gardens at nearby Hodnet, about 5 miles (8km) south west of Market Drayton, is worth a visit, with over 60 acres (24.3ha) of landscaped gardens around an Elizabethan-style house built in the 1870s. Enjoy the woodland walks and lovely water gardens with their chain of ornamental ponds.

What to look for

With a flight of five locks and a group of gorgeous buildings, Tyrley Wharf is a place to linger. It's hard to imagine this was once a real working wharf - rough, tough, noisy, smelly and mucky. It served the Peatswood Estate and was also a change-over point for the tow horses, which were expected to do about 25 miles (40km) a day.

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