Parking the bus: Dave Hadfield's World Cup column

The Independent writer explores the mood of the nation as he travels around on his recently acquired free bus pass

When Fifa absent-mindedly scheduled its World Cup to clash with the first stages of my bus trip around England, they left me with a tricky choice: pull the plug or press on.

I’d paid some deposits for bed and breakfast, though, so that was that one resolved. Problems in Whitchurch, however, where the whole of the north Shropshire market town appears to be booked up.

“Must be a wedding on or something,” they tell me at the fourth B&B I try. So  Plan B it is, extending a day that begins at 6.42 on the bus to Bolton until a teatime landing at Ludlow.

That involves traversing the whole county of Shropshire, or Joe Hart Country, as it might be known for tourism purposes.

The England goalkeeper is a proud Salopian, born and bred in Shrewsbury, where I change buses for the seventh and last time of the day, and a former head boy at Meole Brace High School, which we pass on the way out of town, not far from Shrewsbury Town’s unloved new ground, New Meadow. Some of the stand seats from Gay Meadow now grace the bowling green behind a pub in the Belle Vue area of the town.

 Nowhere in England will they have been hoping for a blemish-free performance from the nation’s No 1 more ardently than here.

Shropshire has not exactly produced a wealth of internationals, but the ones it has nurtured have tended to be rather durable. Billy Wright, from Ironbridge, further down the Severn, was the first player anywhere in the world to win 100 caps.

Ludlow, a foodie Mecca and a regular choice as most pleasant town in the country in which to live, is not exactly mainstream football territory. I’ve already been warned by a Ludlow resident not to expect interest to be at fever pitch. “Half of them are Welsh and care more about the rugby,” he says of his neighbours.

There are accommodation hiccups here as well, as I book in at one place and find myself transferred further up the hill to another establishment, like a lower division striker used as a makeweight in a deal.

There are few England flags in evidence, apart from one rather impressive one on Stokesay Castle near Craven Arms, but apparently that is always there.

Evidence of patriotic fervour is hard to find in Ludlow itself. Only three of its 20-odd pubs consider it worth putting the match on. Behind the bar of one that doesn’t, the debate is over whether the landlord has missed a trick.

The consensus is that he hasn’t, although he always brings down a TV for the big rugby occasions. As for the three candidates, he doesn’t like sending anyone to the first and says the second is “full of idiots”.

That leaves The Compasses, the sort of multiscreen sports bar they have in every town, but in this case across the road from the half-timbered magnificence of The Feathers.

For a long time, it seems that the audience might consist of two lads in England shirts, sipping pints of lager. By kick-off time, though, the place is tolerably full and ready for the roller coaster ahead.

When Italy score their second, though, the spirit goes out of the place and people start wandering off into the night.

Sir John Betjeman famously called Ludlow “the pleasantest town in England”. Not when Mario Balotelli has just scored the winner it isn’t.

‘Route 63: Around England on a Free Bus Pass’, Dave Hadfield’s account of his travels, will be published by Scratching Shed early in 2015. www.scratchingshed- publishing.com

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform