I will not write about Cannock Chase every time I spend a day there – I would soon run out of things to say. We are fortunate to have a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on our doorstep, but at 26 square miles it is one of the smallest, so the variety of day walks is limited - and as most of the Chase is coniferous woodland it is not always easy to tell one route from another.
|From the Punch Bowl to the Stepping-Stones|
This Saturday was not my first visit to the Chase since the Chip Walk in December, indeed I was walking there the day my grandson was born (sorry, I had to crowbar that in somewhere) but there is a reason to write about this walk. According to weather records, the average low on the 20th of December and 5th of February alike is 2°C (with a high of 7°), but average figures don’t tell the whole story. At 9.00 am on the 20th I clocked a temperature of - 13°, at the same time on the 5th of February it was +11°, 24° degrees warmer. The Chase was in a very different mood - but Mike still wasn’t wearing shorts.
|Mike and Alison not discussing the rugby|
From the Punch Bowl to the stepping-stones over the Sherbrook is familiar territory, and the subsequent climb up Heywood Slade - though a path we had not taken before – looked no different. I took the opportunity for an in-depth discussion with Lee about the previous night’s rugby. He was gracious in victory (for a Englishman) while I had to admit Wales were lucky to be finish only 7 points adrift.
When it was not actually drizzling, the air was full of moisture. The white-carpeted paths and crystalline hoar frost of December had given way to brown mud and dull green trees. We pressed on, joining Marquis Drive near Rifle Range Corner and then following the route of the Chip Walk; a swift tramp down to the railway and across Hednesford Road before the long, steady climb to Rugeley Road.
|Flanders 1916? - I exagerrated, so what?|
|The sunken lane from Upper Longdon|
|The Glory that is Rugeley Power Statiom|
|Francis produced his compass and |
emphatically pointed the way
We slogged back across the Hednesford Road and up to the Birches Valley visitor centre, where we had cunningly left a car, arriving around 4.00 pm. We finished in full daylight, unlike the Chip Walk. The day’s higher temperature had not been predictable but the longer daylight had, the days having lengthened cam ceiliog* (to quote my friend Anne’s friend Elin) since the shortest day.
It was a good day’s walk, but I preferred the December cold to the February damp; not only is it much prettier but though a walk can warm you up, it can never dry you out.
I may or may not write about the Chase again, but I will certainly continue to walk there. Sitting on a 100 metre high pile of sandstone pebbles (Triassic Bunter, to be precise) it is superbly well drained. The rest of Staffordshire is famous for its clay (hence the pottery industry) so it is impossible to walk field paths in winter without dragging several kilos of real estate round on your boots. Familiarity with the Chase breeds not exactly contempt, but a lack of respect. I should be grateful to live so close to a place that is magnificent, even in the wet and sullen mood it affected on Saturday. Given the government’s current plans for selling off forestry [update; plan abandoned, a victory for common sense], it is important to ensure that unrestricted access to all parts of the Chase remains available to everyone.
* For non-Welsh speakers (which includes this long exiled Welshman) ‘cam ceiliog’ is the span of a cockerel’s stride.