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…..

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Cowpat Walks: 9 Codsall

Francis, Alison, Mike and I met at Codsall Wood for the first Cowpat Walk for over eighteen months. Now that Francis has retired – the last of us to do so - it should be easier to get together, though experience suggests the opposite is actually true!

Since November 2011, the Cowpat Walks have formed a rough circle of circles as the starting points have moved clockwise around Stafford – and if that sequence has not been strictly adhered to, who cares? At Codsall Wood we had pretty well gone all the way round

Getting ready to set off, Codsall Wood
On a morning that was as warm as you want for walking and promising to keep dry - as good as it gets this summer - we parked beside the Crown Inn and set off in a north westerly direction along the road beside the old wall of Chillington Park.

The old wall of the Chillington Estate
The road forms part of the Monarch’s Way, a long distance footpath following the meanderings of the future Charles II after his defeat in the Battle of Worcester. At this point Charles would have been fleeing north from the battle and would spend the next day hiding in the famous oak at Boscobel House.

Striding out of Codsall Wood
We passed an apple tree. The fruit looked a little small to me, but some of them had promising rosy touches. Francis plucked one and took a substantial bite. His look of pain said all we needed to know about their ripeness.

The road crosses the M54, with its noisy concrete surface, and runs beside a big wood which, according to the map, is called Big Wood – sometimes place names tell you all you need to know.

Reaching the northern edge of both Big Wood and the Chillington Estate, we turned right into Lime Kiln Lane, leaving the Monarch’s Way, but still following the boundary wall of the estate. Obviously the Lime Kiln is little used, as the lane was unpleasantly overgrown. On a walk with hardly a contour in sight Alison had little need of her walking poles for their traditional purpose, but now she went to the front, pole in hand, to bash down the nettles.

Alsion leads down Lime Kiln Lane
When not overgrown, the path was boggy but after a kilometre and a half we reached a minor road. I would like to say that we emerged unstung, but it is no criticism of Alison's efforts to say that was not entirely true.

After his unsuccessful attempt to cross the Severn at Madeley, Charles Stuart returned to Boscobel House and then headed south east to sanctuary at Moseley Old Hall. We followed part of this route past the front of Chillington Hall where we paused for coffee.

Behind us was the long Upper Avenue which turns right in the far distance and becomes the even longer Lower Avenue. In the avenue a group of Chillington Hall’s Long Horns sat chewing the cud in mindful meditation or staring blankly into space - it is not easy to tell with cows.

Cows practice mindfulness in Chillington Lower Avenue
On the other side was Chillington Hall, home of the Giffard family since Peter Giffard (pronounced with a soft 'g') bought the manor for 25 marks and a charger of metal in the early 12th century. Sir John Giffard replaced Peter’s stone castle with a manor house in the 16th century and in 1724 another Peter Giffard demolished the Tudor house and built the present structure. The following year he planted the avenues, incorporating many older trees.

Chillington Hall
The hall is currently the home of John Giffard, the 29th generation of Giffards to live there. Perhaps unusually for a man in his position he joined the police on leaving Southampton University in 1973. Working his way through the ranks he became Chief Constable of Staffordshire in 1996, retired in 2006 and now serves on the sort of worthy committees that retired Chief Constables usually serve on.

We followed the Monarch’s Way down Chillington Street which, despite its name is a roughly surface lane, past some outstanding (or, if you prefer, twee) examples of English vernacular architecture. 

A house in Chillington Street
The 'street' becomes a grassy lane from which we turned south across a couple of field paths while the Monarch’s Way continued east.

Chillington Street becomes a grassy lane
By the time we reached the B road connecting Brewood with Codsall we had joined the Staffordshire Way, a 150km long footpath traversing the county from one end to the other. We walked it in 1997(ish) and again in 2005-6

We were on the road for 100m or so before heading towards a lane which reaches Codsall via the hamlet of Gunstone, a Norse name (Gunni's farmstead) although the boundary of the Danelaw was several miles north of here.

We re-crossed the M54, rounded Gunstone Hall, now a riding centre, and the pond beyond, much beloved of local fishermen.

Fishing Pool, Gunstone
The field paths beyond were well marked and Staffordshire County Council seems to have taken delivery of some new and distinctive signs - I wonder how many of these they had made.

The Stafforshire Way?
We reached Codsall at the church, once the centre of the village, now on the north west corner. Codsall is described as a large village, but along with Bilbrook - and to an amateur it is not easy to tell where Codsall ends and Bilbrook begins - it feels more like a small town. We walked down Church Street, across the square, which is now Codsall's focal point and down to the railway station.

Church Street, Codsall
At the station a train to Shrewsbury was just arriving, but although the train had brought Alison in the morning and would take her away again later, it was not why we were there. Unusually, perhaps uniquely, the station buildings have been turned into a pub.

Train to Shrewsbury anyone?
A pint of Holden's Black Country Bitter was very welcome. These days, when a new microbrewery opens every other week, Holden's is an oddity; it has been a microbrewery since 1915, long before the word was coined. Although Codsall is in the rural hinterland beyond the true urban and industrial Black Country, I decided to combine the Black Country Bitter with the ultimate Black Country lunch. While the others had a sandwich, ploughman’s lunches or all-day breakfast, I had faggots and peas. The faggots from the local butcher were good, the peas were mushy, but the gravy was, disappointingly, a product of commercial gravy powder.

Lunch at Codsall Station
My legs had almost recovered from the morning’s nettle stings by the time we set off along the surfaced footpath opposite the pub/station to the affluent village of Oaken. Across the fields in this flat piece of country we could see the tower blocks, and industry, on the edge of Wolverhampton. 'We are just beyond the outer edge of the conurbation,' Francis remarked, and then as a girl on a large and expensive looking horse passed us, he added: 'between industry and agriculture is horsiculture.' (That’s not an exact quote, but it has the gist)

Towards Oaken
The Staffordshire Way continued south and we picked up the northbound Monarch’s Way through a patch of woodland.

I was walking through this wood when I turned round and found I was being followed by three very scary people
We missed the right turn that would take us down to the bridge over the railway - it should have been better signed on a major footpath. Realising what we had done we took the path across the land of Oaken Park farm -which confirmed the accuracy of Francis' 'horsiculture' remark.

Horsiculture, Oaken Park Farm
Crossing the railway by Husphins Bridge we headed for Husphins farm beyond. I tried googling to find the origin of this unusual name and learned a) that a lot of other people had done the same, and b) nobody knows where it came from, it just appeared in the 19th century.

Mike and Alison approach Husphins Bridge
There was a simple farm track through the farm, but that was not the right of way and signing made it clear that we were expected to follow the official route. We were clearly unusually law-abiding as parts were so overgrown we may well have been the first to walk it this year. The tingling in my legs was back long before we reached the minor road.

Overgrown path round Husphins Farm
Passing some half completed barn conversions we took the path past Wood Hall Farm. The farm building dates from 1663, but the medieval moat - a scheduled ancient monument - was built to defend an earlier version of the building. The golf centre and paintballing business are presumably less venerable.

Wood Hall Farm with a medieval moat
The farm track/entrance to the golf centre brought us out on the minor road to Codsall Wood opposite Pendrell Hall which the map and Alison's memory suggest was a college of some sort (adult education?) but is now a 'country house wedding venue.'

From Pendrell Hall it was only a few hundred metres back to the cars.

It had been a short day as Cowpats go, and as flat a walk as can be imagined, but we have not done a great deal of walking recently so that was no bad thing. The sun failed to put in an appearance, though it had been warm enough, and more importantly, we had not seen any rain. Negotiations were opened for another Cowpat in the near this space.

1 comment:

  1. Good to be walking a cowpat again after walking Offa's Dyke with Lee. Interesting that John Giffard left Southampton University the year after Alison and I joined. We don't always have that effect on people! We studied geography and it was in that subject we learned about horsiculture.