There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Cannock Chase - not for the first time

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 wild life had decided to stay indoors. Most days you expect to glimpse some of the 800 resident Fallow Deer and often a fox or two. All we saw was a squirrel and several dozen mountain bikers. Francis said that a great shrike had been reported near Rifle Range Corner, but we missed it – not that I would recognise any sort of shrike, even if it perched on my nose. We did see a tree full of siskins, but it would take a hardcore ornithologist to find that exciting.

Between Rugeley Road and the Horsepasture Pools forestry vehicles had churned the usually dry Chase into a facsimile of 1916 Flanders. Nobody was shooting at us, so we picked our way carefully through the mud and then up Hare Hill to Upper Longdon, where the Chetwynd Arms provided a sandwich and a couple of pints of Batham’s excellent Bitter.
The sunken lane from Upper Longdon
We left Upper Longdon along a sunken lane and eschewed the Chase for a while in favour of field paths and the customary viewing of Rugeley Power Station.
The Glory that is Rugeley Power Statiom

Francis produced his compass and
emphatically pointed the way

Back among the trees at Chetwynd Coppice we ran into navigational difficulties. The problem on the Chase is never finding a path, it is selecting the right one among many. The numerous rights of way are sometimes narrow but usually signed, the even more plentiful forestry tracks are larger, appear on the map, but are unsigned, and then there are unmarked, unmapped trails created by local usage. Arriving at a parting of ways, Francis produced his compass and emphatically pointed the way. The chosen path soon wandered off the bearing, while one we had rejected turned on to it, but that was hidden by the trees.

We reached the top of a small disused quarry. A new compass bearing persuaded us to walk down into the quarry and then the fencing made us climb back up the other side.

Stile Cop

Finding a path going the right way, we hauled ourselves to the top of Stile Cop then back across the Rugeley Road and down into Miflins Valley. The steep valley side is the home of serious cyclo-cross trails with suicidal looking ramps and jumps. Given their severity and the muddy conditions we were not surprised to see nobody using them.

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.


  1. Sorry to pick a small hole but the shrike that's on the Chase is a great grey shrike. I feel that even you would not confuse it with a great grey owl.

    If 'ceiliog' is a cockerel, have Kelloggs nicked it for their logo?

  2. I should of course have said how well you have done to produce an interesting blog on a grey, damp and not tremendously interesting day.

    Perhaps the caption on my photo should have been "... and emphatically pointed the WRONG way"!

  3. Very enjoyable as always. Thank you.