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, 28 January 2012

The Cowpat Walks: 2 Eccleshall and Cop Mere

Once upon a time Eccleshall (Eccle-shall is the unlikely but correct pronunciation) consisted of a manor house on the north bank of the River Sow and a single east-west street running down to the church on the other side of the river. This was enough for the several dozen people who lived here in 1068. Eccleshall’s population now exceeds 6000 so it could be a small town but feels like a large village. All subsequent development has been to the south but that original street is still the main street, so Eccleshall’s centre is, paradoxically, on the very edge of the village.

We started outside the church. The present edifice, built on the site of the Domesday church in the 13th century, is large and self-important, as befits the last resting place of six bishops of Lichfield.

Holy Trinity, Eccleshall
Cop Mere – our intended lunch stop - is only two kilometres to the west, so to make it a full morning we took a less than direct route. We started by walking round the edge of Eccleshall in a south easterly direction. It was a cold crisp day with a pale blue cloudless sky; it looked good, but we needed to get moving to keep warm.

Outside the village we passed Johnson Hall. There has been a manor house on this site since the 12th century, but the present building is 16th century (with an 1883 makeover).

Johnson Hall, Eccleshall

Leaving the grounds of Johnson Hall......

Leaving the grounds of Johnson Hall

....we crossed the A519 and made our way by lane and field path to the village of Ellenhall.

Field paths to Ellenhall

Ellenhall’s 300 inhabitants have no shop, pub or post office, but they do have a church and that church has seats in the churchyard so, although it was a little early, it seemed a good spot for coffee. The church is much more modest than Eccleshall’s; its oldest sections are 12th century, but the tower is a 1757 rebuild.

St Mary's Ellenhall

The low January sun was generating a little warmth, so it was a pleasant place to sit, although, after an hour’s walking we were now twice as far away from our intended lunch stop as we had been at the start.
Alison and Francis have coffee in the weak sunshine

Refreshed, we left the village via the grounds of the tautologically named Ellenhall Hall. It does not seem a particularly old building, though there has been a manor house somewhere in the village since the 16th century.

Lee makes a friend

A long, very gentle descent took us down to Lodge Farm and a string of fish ponds, and an even more gentle rise brought us back to the A519 near the hamlet of Whitely Heath. Crossing the main road we headed down Cash Lane. A row of churns had been placed on the verge outside a farm for decoration. Seeing milk churns awaiting collection on roadside stands was commonplace in my youth. At some point, probably in the late sixties, they disappeared, though I think it was some thirty years before I had noticed they had gone.

Milk churns beside Cash Lane

Turning off Cash Lane, field paths took us to Horsley Farm before another lane and more field paths brought us to the small road down to Copmere End. There seemed an inordinate number of stiles on this walk and many of them tricky to negotiate, being above steep banks down to slippery footbridges or hemmed in with hawthorn or in poor repair.
Another awkward stile

The Star at Copmere End is the sort of country pub that has been fast disappearing over the last decade. The Star, though, is very much open and was busy. Perhaps it shows that if the landlord can get the food, the beer and the welcome right, country pubs can still be viable businesses.

Lunch in the Star, Copmere End

Copmere End stands beside Cop Mere, but as the lake is roughly circular I struggle to see how it can have an ‘end’. Like Aqualate Mere, Cop Mere is glacial in origin - a shallow scoop in the Staffordshire clay made by retreating ice.

Cop Mere

Leaving the pub we walked half way round the Mere to its north edge before heading up across Sugnall Park to the B5026.

Mile post beside the B5026

Crossing the road we wandered up, across and then down Sugnall Hill before turning east and heading along the northern edge of the flood plain of the River Sow.

The 25 km long Sow (pronounced as in female pig) may not be one of the world’s great rivers but does have the distinction of being the longest river entirely contained within the Borough of Stafford. It rises at Fairoak, flows into and out of Cop Mere then through Eccleshall and Stafford before joining the Trent at Shugborough.
The flood plain of the Sow

Eccleshall Castle was some 500 m away at this point, and although we eventually walked right past it, this distant view was the best we had. A manor house on the site was originally fortified in 1200. It became a residence of the Bishop of Lichfield, played a walk-on part in the Wars of the Roses and was besieged and taken by Parliamentarian forces in 1643. After the Civil War, the castle was destroyed. The current house, built among the ruins some 50 years later, is privately owned - and remarkably difficult to see.

Back to Eccleshall

We re-entered Eccleshall across the Sow bridge. Eccleshall may be twinned with Sancerre, but that does not mean it produces wine of any great quality – or indeed at all. Beyond the bridge we crossed the water meadows back to our starting point by Eccleshall church.

Across the water meadows to Eccleshall church

[Note on Cowpat Walk numbers.
Francis thinks this was Cowpat 4, I have called it Cowpat 2. I have a long and complex justification for this which is far too tedious to bother with here. What it boils down to is: my blog, my numbers.]


  1. A great walk. A little short for Francis but enough mud for all. Just remembered - still haven't cleaned my boots!

  2. Very good and, as usual, interesting!

    Right, I'm just settling into planning Cowpat 5.
    My maps, my numbers!

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed cowpat 1 - sorry I missed the other circular walks.