The Fish and Chip Walk came into being some 20ish years ago (nobody knows precisely when) so that a small group of teachers could get some fresh air and exercise between the end of term and the start of the Christmas excesses.
Marquis’s Drive ends at the top of Stile Cop, more a ridge than a hill, despite its name. As usual Lee’s car had earlier been positioned in a Stile Cop Road car park, but instead of walking to it and driving to the Swan with Two Necks in Longdon we crossed the road and plunged down a muddy forestry trail towards the Horsepasture Pools, thus entering Beaudesert Old Park and venturing further east than any previous Chip Walk*.
In December, with Francis and Alison in Australia, Mike and I did a rerun of the 2012 walk, though in snowy rather than rainy conditions, but the official Chip Walk was held over to now. There is a precedent, weather caused the 2013 walk to be postponed until January 2014.
Alison was still unavailable after her antipodean trip, Mike was in Mexico, Sue was playing hockey and Anne had a nasty bought of flu, so like 2012 there was only Francis, Lee and me.
Francis had promised a new route and a different pub, so we met at a new starting place, the Glacial Boulder Car Park.
|Glacial Boulder car park, Cannock Chase|
Several Chip Walks have passed the boulder, but starting there was a new experience. The boulder was dragged from the Dumfries area 20,000 years ago by a glacier that didn’t take its rubbish home. It is not a huge boulder, indeed it is not much bigger than its plinth which is constructed from the river-rounded Bunter Sandstone cobbles that underlie most of the Chase (there is more in Chip Walk (N + 5), 2015).
|The Glacial Boulder, Cannock Chase|
Past the boulder we descended, as so often before, into the Sherbrook Valley. It is a pleasant, gentle descent through gorse covered heathland.
|Down into the Sherbrook Valley|
At the bottom we turned right to follow the brook. I can find no record of the Sher Brook being used to power mills, but there are odd pools which look mill-related to my amateur’s eye.
|(Mill?) pool on the Sher Brook|
A kilometre later we joined the Heart of England Way where it crosses the brook and followed it as it turned right towards Flints Corner and joined Marquis’s Drive.
Here Marquis’s Drive is a tarmac road. We paused for coffee on a roadside bench and watched a large group of walkers go by. The road later becomes a footpath and descends towards the railway and the A460 Hednesford Road. On the descent we re-passed the group; three people can sit on a bench, twenty must make do with the wet ground.
|Marquis's Drive, Cannock Chase (with the large party on and round the bend)|
I have occasionally wondered why Marquis’s Drive (usually referred to as Marquis Drive) is so called. I have a plausible (if unproven) answer.
Marquis's Drive ends (or starts) at Beaudesert Park. The Estate and House (now a ruin on the edge of the Chase) was granted to the 1st Baron Paget in 1546. The family collected titles and the 10th Baron, another Henry Paget (b 1768), was also Earl of Uxbridge and Baronet of Plas Newydd, Anglesey. He was Wellington's Second in Command at Waterloo where he famously mislaid his leg. As a reward he was created 1st Marquess of Anglesey because another title was just what he really needed.
The Marquesses of Anglesey lived at Beaudesert, with Plas Newydd (now owned by the National Trust) as a second house, for six generations. The 5th Marquess (1875-1905) was an interesting character whose extravagances led to bankruptcy. and his early death, after which the titles passed to his cousin, Charles. He tried to keep Beaudesert going but eventually bowed to the inevitable and sold the estate making a gift of 120 acres to Cannock Chase District in 1920 and a further (unspecified) gift 'to the people of Staffordshire' in 1938. Marquis’s Drive is presumably named after him. (Marquess is the preferred spelling, but Marquis is a common variant.)
Charles Paget, 6th Marquess of Anglesey (also 7th Earl of Uxbridge, 15th Baron Paget and 9th Baronet Plas Newydd)
(portrait by Rex Whistler, 1937)
At the bottom we crossed the railway. Last time I was there this involved opening a gate, looking both ways and scuttling across, now an elaborate footbridge has been constructed.
We still had to cross the A460 on foot – which was always more dangerous than the railway.
Marquis’s Drive continues up the other side. I have previously moaned about the long slog up Miflins Valley, which runs parallel a little to the north, but the climb up Marquis’s Drive seemed much pleasanter. Eventually the Miflins Valley path turns and runs into Marquis’s Drive. We made a navigation error at that point last year; this year there was no error and it was hard to see how we ever made one.
Nearing the top of Stile Cop and the end of Marquis's Drive
Somehow a much gentler and pleasanter ascent than Miflins Valley
After some slipping and sliding the path improved and I was strolling along, talking to Lee when we suddenly realised Francis was missing. Turning, we saw him striding down towards us. It is unlike Francis to lag at the back (that’s my job) and he watered a tree just before Stile Cop, so why was he behind? As he came closer we could see that his left arm and leg were covered in mud, closer still we observed that both knees had been torn out of his trousers. The slimy sludge had claimed a victim, his knees were red, his trousers ruined and he was caked in mud, but his dignity had suffered the most.
After a brief scrape down, we continued to the largest of the Horsepasture Pools.
The map showed a network of forestry roads, and to climb Hare Hill to Upper Longdon we should turn left, second right and then bear right. In fact, we followed the single path straight into the village. The mismatch between map and ground was a warning.
The Chetwynd Arms in Upper Longdon…
…then became the third pub (and the second ‘Chetwynd Arms’) to host the walk’s traditional fish and chips. The ‘small’ portion lived up to its description, which made the afternoon walk easier. A couple of pints from the excellent Three Tuns brewery in Bishop’s Castle did not, perhaps, help that cause but were much enjoyed.
It felt cold going out after lunch but it was only 5km back to Lee’s car on Stile Cop Road. We started by retracing our steps to the Horsepasture Pools.
The track that should have taken us from our earlier route up towards Startley Lane did not exist (we had been warned!) so we turned late, followed a barely discernible path in roughly the right direction and emerged on Startley Lane only a little to the east of our intended point.
We could then have walked down the road to a signed right-of-way, but Lee was scornful of that approach. He suggested that if we cut through the forest we would pick up the path in 150m or so. His argument won the day, but once you go off-piste you tend to stay off-piste.
We never did pick up the proper path, but we did find a muddy track which eventually became an unmarked farm road and deposited us on The Slade only 50m from the sign marking the intended path.
Back on track we followed the road until a bridle way led us behind some farm building where we found a signed path, for once exactly where the map said it was, heading steeply up Stile Cop. I had an attack of cramp at the bottom – my penance for trying to keep up with two much fitter walkers - but after a brief pause for stretching I found the steep gradient aided recovery.
The path at the top was barely visible, so we followed our best guess....
...until reaching a crossing of trails where we should have gone straight over – through impenetrable gorse bushes. Being only 500m from the car we zigged and then zagged....
...following any passable track (and there were many on the ground, though none on the map) that seemed to lead in the right direction. This approach was surprisingly effective and we reached the car at 3 o’clock.
It had been a short walk, as these things go, but long enough for me and a good test for my plantar tendons, which have taken well over six months to recover but seem to have got there.
While driving home I stopped at a red light and a girl crossed the road wearing trousers ripped exactly liked a pair I had seen earlier. I emailed Francis to tell him he had inadvertently arrived at the cutting edge of fashion but he said had had already thrown the trousers away. Apparently, some people just do not want to be a fashion icon.
*Oh dear it seems we took a similar route in 2011, walking to Upper Longdon and driving to the Swan with Two Necks, so this is not entirely true.
The Annual Fish and Chip Walks
The Nth: Cannock Chase in Snow and Ice (Dec 2010)
The (N + 1)th: Cannock Chase a Little Warmer (Dec 2011)