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…..

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Cannock Chase a Little Warmer: The (N + 1)th Annual Fish and Chip Walk

I am unsure exactly how long the Chip Walk tradition has been going, but it is over a decade. In the early days it was not always on Cannock Chase: I remember once reaching the Hollybush in Denford on a day when any self-respecting owner of a hammer and a cubit of gopher wood would have been building an ark, and dripping our way through lunch. In those days it was not even called the chip walk; it was merely a celebration of the end of the Christmas term.

I think, though I may be wrong, that I have been a Chip Walk ever-present, as has Francis and, until this year, Brian. Strangely he decided that a two week tour of Burma followed by Christmas and New Year in Hong Kong would be preferable to legging it across Cannock Chase. Mike and Alison T were also missing, the prospect of winter sunshine in Lanzarote being enough to lure the weaklings away.

The remaining hardy souls gathered at the Coppice Hill car park on the 20th of December, a year to the day after the Nth annual Chip Walk. In 2010 the ground was covered in snow and the thermometer as I was driving to the Chase dipped to -13°, the lowest I have seen. This year there was no snow, not even any frost, and the temperature was a balmy +7.
I only said 'smile for the camera'

Arriving at the car park, Sue and Lee spotted the only deer we would see all day. I was driving so I missed it. Starting at Coppice Hill on the ridge to the west of the Sherbrook valley saved the usual upward slog at the start of the walk. The track along the ridge gives good views over the valley. A jay flew across our path and sat in a tree, watching us. It was about the only wildlife I saw all day.

Looking across the Sherbrook Valley
We strode on past the Glacial Boulder, missing it by just enough not to be able to see it. It is not much of a boulder, really; it is interesting only because it is in the wrong place, left solitary and forlorn when the ice-age glaciers retreated.
Alison and Francis near the glacial boulder

After missing boulder-no-mates we also missed the Katyn Memorial by some fifty metres, so this is a photograph I took on another occasion.

Katyn Memorial, Cannock Chase

In May 1940, 22 000 Polish army officers, policemen and intellectuals were massacred in the Katyn forest in Russia. The Nazis were officially blamed, though many Poles remained doubtful. It was not until 1990, in the era of glasnost, that the Russians admitted responsibility, the order having come directly from Josef Stalin. Although Staffordshire has been home to a substantial Polish community since 1945 it is not entirely clear to me why, in 1979, a memorial to the victims was erected on Cannock Chase. I have read that the forest here is very like that at Katyn, though I have no idea if that is true.

Near the Katyn Memorial - like a Russian forest?
Either before or at the Katyn memorial we usually turn east, descending into the Sherbrook Valley. On this occasion we carried straight on to another Chase oddity, the German War Cemetery. The bodies of almost 5 000 German servicemen who died in this country during the two world wars were moved here in 1959. The site is administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission under an agreement with the equivalent German organisation. Like all the Commonwealth War Graves we have seen in Europe, North Africa and the Far East it is immaculately kept.

German Military Cemetery, Cannock Chase

We continued south before turning east across Brindley Heath. This is a long way round to the visitor centre - where tradition demands we drink coffee by the bird feeding station - but it avoids having to dip into and climb out of the Sherbrook Valley.

Slogging across Brindley Heath, Francis remarked that we rarely visit this corner of the Chase. He paused for a moment before observing that it actually looks exactly like every other bit.

Across Brindley Heath
There was little of interest at the bird feeding stations. Robin’s hopped right up to us, as they do, and there was a bullfinch on the feeding table but little else worthy of comment.

 Following Marquis Drive south east, we descended to cross the railway and the A460 before climbing up towards Stile Cop. As we passed Parson’s Slade, and have elsewhere encountered (among others) Pepper Slade and Haywood Slade, Lee asked the very reasonable question ‘what is a slade?’ As resident know-all and smartarse I was embarrassed by being unable to answer. Chambers tells me that ‘slade’, from Old English slæd, is ‘a little valley or dell; a piece of low moist ground.’

Sue and Alison approach Stile Cop

From Stile Cop we descended to Horsepasture Pools. Here, and all along Marquis Drive we passed mud-bespattered peddlers on mountain bikes. The bikes’ gearing is remarkable, and on steep uphill stretches riders spin the peddles with enormous speed and effort to achieve only minimal forward momentum. Walking seems much easier uphill and much safer downhill.

Mountain bikers near Horsepasture Pools

From the pools we ascended Hare Hill to Upper Longon where Lee’s car was parked. There is supposed to be a great grey shrike resident in the clear-felled area near the village. ‘They are not difficult to see,’ Francis said, ‘they sit quite openly in the tree tops.’ Not on this occasion, they didn’t.

Binoculars at the ready, but not a shrike in sight

As we reached the lay-by, two other cars arrived and disgorged more occupants than seemed possible. One of them carried a camera with a telephoto lens longer than my arm. By the time they had crashed through the undergrowth, the shrike would be half way to Derbyshire.

 Lee drove us down to the Swan with Two Necks in Longdon. A decade or more ago somebody (Francis?) noticed that the Swan with Two Necks served excellent fish and chips. Good fish and chips are easy to cook, but stand-out fish and chips are another matter. The freshness of the fish and the crisp, light batter made The Swan with Two Necks an irresistable destination for the pre-Christmas outing, and the Chip Walk was born. Sue, sadly fails to understand tradition. The large bowl before her contains pasta with chicken and bacon in a cream sauce. It looked good, on another occasion I might have eaten it myself, but this is a CHIP WALK, SUE! Like many rural pubs the Swan with Two Necks has seen several changes of ownership over the years. The fish and chips are still good (if no longer stand-out) and, thankfully, the place remains open.

The essential ingredient of a Chip Walk,
The Swan with Two Necks, Longdon

After lunch we drove back through Rugeley – no day out is complete without a viewing of the power station – and on to the Seven Springs car park near Little Haywood.

Last year we had a long afternoon session with a detour down Abraham’s Valley. This year we kept it short. The stroll down to the Sherbrook is enjoyably different as it is one of the Chase’s few remaining areas of deciduous woodland.

Towards the Stepping Stones

At the stepping stones Lee and Sue plodded steadily across……

Lee and Sue plod across

….while Alison employed a different technique. Sadly, she never succeeded in taking off.

Alison attempts to fly

A steady climb up the other side brought us back to Coppice Hill. The second shortest day of the year still had half an hour’s light left, but we felt enough exercise had been taken to justify our intake of calories. Whether the same can be said of the rest of the Christmas period is another matter.


  1. Sorry I missed the walk (and the fish and chips would have been nice too) but we had to go away somewhere warm for the week.

  2. The great grey shrike, at the time of writing, is still there. I saw it both yesterday and today on short outings with my post-Christmas house guests.

    Isn't 'Slade' a 1970's glam-rock band?

    Another excellent blog and great photos!


  3. I'm with Francis- I'm pretty sure Slade means large boots, outsize curly hair and lavish brummy accents. And Noddy Holder, who I believe once gave my mother a lollipop. That's not a euphemism, either.

  4. I was also very sorry to miss the walk but I was well compensated with a wonderful holiday in Myanmar. I am very disappointed in you all for taking the short cut in the afternoon, I am amazed that Lee let you get away with it, finishing with 30 minutes of daylight left on nearly the shortest day of the year -shame on you!!