Bells, beers and breads at Stone

Little Stoke to Stone, 1.35 miles, 0 locks

            So much for plans! A hot air balloon (coincidence?), a peal of bells and huge marquees in the park alongside the towpath alerted the Cleddau crew to Something Going On. Dispatched by the Captain into town (Stone) to pick up a paper and find a post box Boatwif found herself trapped in the very slow-moving crowds on the High Street. An enormous Farmers’ Market was stretched from the top end of the street to the bottom. Her mission was achieved  – but the word back on the towpath was of the attractions of the weekend-long Stone Food and Drink Festival.

A boat shuffle and a supermarket stock up later Boatwif returned to the High Street. Artisan breads, farm grown flowers, handbags, wooden toys, garden ornaments, jewellery, knitted hats and much, much more were laid out on the stalls while prospective customers inched by. Gents in shorts, women in floaty sundresses, locals and visitors basked in the sun at tables set out in a small square beside the library. Surely this is a scene from a sunny Mediterranean location, not Staffordshire in October!

Because it was open (every first Saturday of the month) Boatwif took a sneak look in the church, a beautifully kept building furnished with the upper balcony and box pews of the Georgian period. Simply decorated for tomorrow’s harvest festival the church looked much cared for.

Then to the marquees: the boaters ahead had warned that the £6 entry fee gave you access to a lot of sausages and some cookery demonstrations. What noise! What crowds! What sights! Fire and Rescue crews demonstrated the folly of pouring water on burning cooking oil. Two enormous marquees displayed and promoted hundreds of gourmet products. If so inclined you could taste your way round the tentage. A rock band (average age 45?) pounded in the beer tent; across the grass folk fiddlers (average age 50+?) turned up their amps in competition. In terms of tunefulness, the folk group won, but for sheer savage noise the rockers had it!

There were olives and cheeses, cakes and pies, teas and wines, ciders and whiskies… Iced coffee slurped, a beeline was made for the Demonstration Tent. There, at 3pm, the Head Chef from the much applauded Aston Marina Bistro (see yesterday’s post) was to do a demo. Once his radio mike had been sufficiently tweaked the demo started: within half an hour the audience gasped at the appetising look of the pan seared breast of duck with fig and Armagnac sauce, potato rosti and curly kale and also the tail of beef fillet in red wine jus (“basically, gravy,”) plus scallops, golden beetroot, and as before, potato rosti and curly kale.  Festival organisers cannot invite people to taste food cooked in the open… but can leave it for the audience to have a closer look. Politely the vultures devoured it all and pronounced it superb!

Back on the towpath afternoon drew into evening: the mild-mannered boaters moored ahead tonight are made of sterling stuff, they having shipped their narrow boat to France and spent six years touring Europe’s waterways before returning. Tonight fireworks (heard) have celebrated Something and a deep bass tone floats down the canal now (Festival Fun).

            Tomorrow we must be serious about boating again, set off once more for Barlaston – and get there!

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