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, 11 January 2014

Cannock Chase in Winter Sunshine: The (N + 3)th Annual Fish and Chip Walk

The Annual Chip Walk started sometime in the 1990s. The idea was for a small group of like-minded pedagogues to celebrate the end of the school term and take a lungful of fresh air before the Christmas festivities began in earnest. Other regular walks involve a lunchtime pint and a sandwich, but this one has always been different. The Swan with Two Necks in Upper Longdon - a gastropub before the word was invented – did something special with fish and chips and that became first an attraction and then the focal point of the day. The people who made the ‘Swan’ special moved on long ago, and in 2012 the pub went the way of so many country pubs and closed. Reluctant to change tradition too much, the walk stayed on Cannock Chase but shifted its focus to the Chetwynd Arms in Brocton.

There has been a Chip Walk blogpost every year since 2010, but what happened to 2013? Perusal of the December archive shows only one post and it was about North Korea, not Cannock Chase.

The walk was scheduled for Monday December the 23rd, but the big scheduler in the sky had other plans and sent along the deepest Atlantic low in living memory. Driving rain we can cope with, but when winds are gusting to over 100kph wandering around among large shallow rooted trees seemed less than sensible.

The Bank above the cutting, Cannock Chase
Rescheduling for January the 11th had the happy consequence that Brian had returned from Hong Kong and Mike and Alison from Leeds, so it was the largest chip walk for some years. Six people gathered at The Cutting car park beside Milton Common before setting off up the cutting towards Mere Pits, or, as the cutting was rather muddy, across the top of the banks.
Through the cutting 2010

The Cutting was dug in 1914/15 to provide railway access to the military training camps on the Chase. Later one of the training camps became the headquarters of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, the other a German Prisoner of War camp and the Cutting is still sometimes known as The German Cutting. Little remains of either camp, or of the railway that served them.

The Chetwynd Arms is hardly more than a kilometre southwest of Mere Pits, but our plan, insofar as one existed, was to turn northeast, descend into the Sherbrook Valley and approach the pub via an extended loop around much of the western part of the Chase.
Down into the Sherbook Valley
Brian (half hidden), Lee, Francis, Alison. Where is Mike?

Lunching at the ‘Swan’ dragged us over to the eastern side of the Chase, but since changing to the Chetwynd Arms we have tended to stay on the west. This matters little as the Chase, even its most ardent admirers would admit, is a bit samey. Few, if any, of the paths we followed this year were new to the Chip Walk but what makes the walk fresh every year is the weather. In 2010 the ground was covered with snow, the trees hung with hoar frost and the day’s high was -6. 2011 was what I think of as ‘normal’ winter weather, grey and overcast with drizzle in the wind, but 15 degrees warmer. The 2012 walk was not entirely conducted in rain, but followed ten days of torrential downpours while 2013 was postponed because of high winds.  Its January 2014 replacement was conducted in brilliant sunshine. It was a cool day – and the following night would be seriously frosty – but in a sheltered spot in full sunshine there was enough warmth to hint at better days to come.

Hoar frost above the Sherbrook Valley, 2010
At the bottom of the valley we crossed the stepping stones, climbed up the other side and headed towards Seven Springs.

Crossing the stepping stones
Sherbrook Valley

Swinging right before the car park, we ascended Abraham's Valley. There is a shooting club near the bottom and the sunshine must have brought out the shooters - the clays were taking a hell of a pounding.

There's something in the tree
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Will they shoot it?
The weather also brought out the mountain bikers, and wherever we went there was the danger of being run down from behind. Abraham’s Valley is not steep – although there is a steeper section near the top, but it is a long and tiring upward slog.  In low gear the cyclists pedal like fury but advance so slowly they sometimes lose balance,
Up Abraham's Valley
Cannock Chase

Abraham's Valley 2010
At the top we had intended to sit round the trig point for coffee but the spot was occupied by a couple of birders with impressively large cameras. They were particularly uncommunicative ‘just checking out the tripods’ one grunted when asked if they were looking for anything special. I am not sure what there is to check out on a tripod, so I was unconvinced. Either they were hoping for a lesser spotted albatross or they were MI5.

We turned left towards Rifle Range corner and drank our coffee perched on a large log. The spot gave us the regulation ‘View of Rugeley Power Station’ which is an integral part of every chip walk.

The obligatory View of Rugeley Power Station
The Rifle range is another relic of the Great War, but there is little to see now. From Rifle Range Corner we turned right onto the Heart of England Way and followed it back into the Sherbrook Valley, though this far up it is more of a slight dip than a valley, before taking the path up towards the Katyn Memorial. Last year this path had been a stream with several centimetres of fast flowing water.
Paddling up to the Katyn Memorial, 2012

We missed the Katyn Memorial (see (N + 1)th Chip Walk), turning right over Anson’s Bank and down to Chase Road Corner.

Anson's Bank
Cannock Chase
A couple of hundred metres later we left the minor road, turning into the top of the Oldacre Valley.  Last year Francis caused some hilarity by mentioning that it was a dry valley as we splashed down the middle of what seemed very much like a stream. This year it was muddy, but stream free and we rounded Brocton Pool, made our way down to the road and up the Chetwynd Arms.
The 'dry' Oldacre Valley, 2012

Hilary joined us for the traditional fish and chips. Brian had given her a call and she volunteered to make an up even number to best take advantage of the pub’s BOGOF on meals. But we already had six people, did we not? Yes, but as part of my January penance I was abstaining from both fish and chips and beer, though I thoroughly enjoyed two bottles of slimline tonic water. A couple of years back I had a go at Sue for eating pasta on a fish and chip walk. It was my turn to take some stick, though it would have been (justifiably) worse had Sue been there. My slice of humble pie, though not very nourishing, gave me some perverse satisfaction.

Brian, Francis, Hilary, Alison, Mike, Lee
Six Fish and Chips and a slimline tonic
I am sure the management of the Chetwynd Arms would like me to point
out that other menu options are available

After lunch we walked into Brocton, following a path beside a stream around the village centre.
Around Brocton
I found the climb up Tar Hill hard work, but still easier than it would have been dragging a portion of fish and chips and two pints of bitter up there.
Mike and Alison reach the top of Tar Hill

From the top we could see across Staffordshire to the Wrekin and the Long Mynd beyond. The county town looked particularly lovely bathed in sunshine, the roof of the Argos distribution centre sparkling in the sun at Junction 13 and the Junction 14 industrial park being two particular highlights.
The Wrekin from Tar Hill, Cannock Chase

 We followed the path round the hill and then the minor roads to Coppice Hill where a decision had to be taken.

To Coppice Hill
Alison was keen on turning left and following the path straight back to Mere Pits and the Cutting. Other voices suggested a further loop into and out of the Sherbrook Valley. I stayed silent - I really wanted to follow the direct route, but I was reluctant to admit it, even to myself. I was relieved when Alison’s view carried the day and twenty minutes later it was all over. Three and a half kilometres hardly counts as an afternoon walk, but as Francis had measured the morning at 14km we had probably done enough – anyway my feet were sore.

Silver Birch, Coppice Hill
So ended the (N + 3)th Chip Walk. Who knows what the future holds, but maybe 2014 will be a year of two Chip Walks. We will find out in December.


  1. I enjoyed the chips and your comments but am still glad that I missed the rest! Hilary

  2. An excellent day and the fish and chips were very good quality - you'll have to take my word for it!

  3. The Wingard family, living at your Jaques Close home, managed 4 Cannock Chase walks in our England year 1983-84. I remember spirited family arguments over the 'No Through Road' maps. Fond memories.