Cannock Chase may be small compared to our National Parks but it packs a big punch, as Roger Burlinson found out on a recent training session.
I was working near Stafford recently and had a lot of time to kill before the next day’s appointment in Birmingham. It was a beautiful clear but freezing day and it was the perfect opportunity to visit one of the Midlands’ wild pockets for some training.
At first, my thoughts turned to the Wrekin, which I’d always admired when travelling back from Snowdonia but my recollection of its proximity to Birmingham was way off the mark. Then I noticed Cannock Chase on the map, which was practically on my doorstep. This would be ideal, both in terms of its position and also its size. I had several hours to spare but not the whole day, so I wanted to walk 15-20k max.
I’ve always known about Cannock Chase but have never been there. In a previous life, working in Mountain Bike racing, Cannock Chase was a well known venue but our paths just never crossed. So this was a good opportunity to put things right and make the introduction.
After spending a little time on OS Maps (my favourite pastime), I had a good loop plotted out that, on screen, looked to give me a nice overview of CC’s delights. It was about 16k, so perfect length for the time I had available and it also included a few points of interest that I’d spotted on the map.
I parked up in the main car park in Milford on the northern tip of Cannock Chase and the weather forecasters hadn’t disappointed. It was glorious. Freezing cold but glorious. My route was going to take me roughly in a clockwise direction and would stay within the confines of the top half, before the first of the roads that divides it in two.
Right from the first step, I had a feeling this was going to be a great walk and I wasn’t wrong. I followed various paths on my plotted route over to The Punch Bowl and then headed south on the Staffordshire Way next to ‘Harts Hill’ before turning sharp left and continuing down to the first point of interest – the stepping stones over ‘Sher Brook’.
From there I followed the track east, tracing the foot of a steep bank at the edge of Haywood Warren before the next junction at ‘Beggar’s Hill’. For the whole time on this section there was the sound of gun fire getting ever louder and ever closer. My route would dip into a danger area on the map and I was wondering whether I would need to work out a diversion ahead but as it turned out the marked danger area was, seemingly, just a precaution.
Next began a steady but long climb up through the idyllic ‘Abraham’s Valley’ that seemed to just go on and on. I love these kinds of climbs – steep enough to put you under pressure but not so steep that you can’t keep up a strong pace, perhaps even maintaining your flatland pace if you work hard enough. That’s my kind of hill that is!
At the top and having turned west, I reached what I’m pretty sure was the highest point on the loop – a trig point with a view ahead down to Sherbrook Valley. Having emerged from the forested Abraham’s Valley, there was now no cover from the savage and biting easterly wind, so it wasn’t really a place to linger, even though it really was a place to linger and soak up the views all around.
At the bottom of the descent into Sherbrook Valley, I was reminded of an old haunt from my mountain biking days – Caesar’s Camp in Aldershot. I would ride up there all the time and we’d also go to watch the Farnborough Air Show from the hillside on the edge of the camp. It’s always interesting to me when I discover a new place that bears such a strong resemblance to somewhere else, especially somewhere I’ve not visited for many many years. It’s like a ghost from your past suddenly passes straight through you.
After another steady but this time shallower climb, my route joined the Heart of England Way, which it would stay with all the way back to Milford. Shortly after joining this track, I came to a memorial to Polish prisoners of war who had been interned and killed on Stalin’s orders. It seemed a little strange to stumble upon this in such a location but it was a very moving and respectful monument and, on closer inspection of the map, it wasn’t the only war memorial in this place, so it seemed to be one part of a broader commemoration.
From there, the Heart of England Way, traverses along the ridge top of the west flank of Sherbrook Valley, above Sherbrook Banks and there, another curious monument – the Glacial Boulder. Now I don’t know exactly whether this stone was actually left in this spot by receding glaciers or not – there were some signs of plaques being present on it but not any more but it didn’t matter because it was an interesting enough curiosity to add to the overall palette of interesting features and beautiful views.
The route back to the start point was simple enough from here – just follow the Heart of England Way signs, which were frequent and clear, off the high ground and down into Milford.
This may have only been a 16k loop but the variety of terrain, the different areas – forest, heathland, firm sandy trails, stream crossings – made it a really fulfilling route. It would be easy to double it and with a little tactical route plotting raise the distance to 40-50k I would imagine. In fact, I was so impressed with this little gem that I’m looking at designing a complete circumnavigation challenge route to take on sometime.
It reminded me of my home patch – the New Forest, it was just more lumpy. I think, given its proximity to Birmingham, Stafford and even Leicester further afield, it’s a really fantastic Sport Walking location. It’s so easy to create loops of various distances for any training need. There are nice long steady climbs as well as steep ramps to up the pressure and all the trails I saw were in great condition and pretty firm and dry under foot.
To say this relatively short training session on Cannock Chase was a revelation might be overdoing it a bit but I was really very satisfied with the walk and loved the environment. I’ll definitely be going back for more!
You can get the route on OS Maps here.