I’m just back from a trip down to the Midlands to visit relatives and I took the opportunity to do a short walk over Cannock Chase. It is designated an ANOB, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it is where I developed my love of the countryside and walking almost 60 years ago.
The Heart of England Way
I had no set plan but I wanted to try out my new gadget. A Satmap Active 12 GPS device. In a recent review, Country Walking Magazine rated it highly but said it was for ‘the expert’ not the beginner. It has 8 pages and six buttons which seem to have a different function for each page. That’s 8 x 6 = a lot of confusion. How will a technophobe like me get on and how will it compare to my 1:25000 paper map?
I parked close to the White House and set off along the Heart of England Way (HEW). This long distance footpath runs for 80 miles from Milford to Chipping Campden but I was only going to be on it for a short section. I passed a recently fenced off area which intrigued me. It is going to be grazed by hardy breed cattle or ponies as part of a lowland heath restoration project. Until World War I, the Cannock Chase heathland was grazed by Cannock Grey Faced sheep which kept the scrub at bay and allowed the heather to flourish. Grazing the area with cattle will achieve the same objective creating a varied habitat for wildlife and special heathland plants.
After just over half a mile I turned right into Sherbrook Valley. It was very peaceful with the sound of the wind and birdsong. Not many people were out, just a few people walking their dogs and some mountain bikers.
I continued along the valley for a mile until the Pepper Slade track came in from the right.
I turned left and glancing at my paper map I could see that I was close to the Glacial Boulder. Could I find it using my GPS? . Yes, of course I could, with a bit of help from a signpost.
The Glacial Boulder
This boulder was conveyed down to Cannock Chase from Scotland during the last Ice Age. It is mounted on a plinth and there used to be a brass plaque giving details about the boulder but this has been removed. No doubt to be melted down for scrap. Nearby is a trig point giving a spot height of 194m.
It was now half past twelve. I had completely lost track of the time and I had promised I would be back for lunch. Time to use my new gadget and plot a route back to my car. I headed south parallel to a minor road to Chase Road Corner and then over Acorn Bank to reach Springdale Lodge. I was now back on the Heart of England Way which I could follow all the way back.
But first I had to make a diversion to the Katyn Memorial.
This memorial was erected in memory of the 25,000 Polish prisoners of war and professional classes who were murdered on Stalin’s orders by the Soviet Secret Police.
The setting, in light woodland is similar to where the mass graves were discovered in Katyn Forest.
Waking back I noticed some waymark signs that I was unfamiliar with, the Two Saints Way.
This is a relatively new 92 mile long distance walking route between the cathedral cities of Chester and Lichfield.
The Saints were, St Werburgh, who was the daughter of the Mercian King Wulphere and his wife Ermenild who was a princess from Kent. She learned the Christian faith under the influence of her mother and developed a very pious and virtuous nature. Although she was very beautiful and had many admirers she refused them and declared that she wanted to me married only to Christ. She entered a convent and eventually supervised all the convents in Mercia. St Werburgh died in the late 7th century and was buried at Hanbury. Around 875 during a Danish invasion her remains were moved to the walled city of Chester where her body was re-interred in the Saxon church of St Peter and St Paul. In 907 the church was rededicated to St Werburgh and St Oswald by Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred the Great. Her shrine became a major site of Pilgrimage and eventually became Chester Cathedral.
St Chad was born around 634 into a family of Northumbrian nobility.He did his early training under St Aiden on the holy island of Lindisfarne before moving to Ireland. In 665 he was ordained Bishop of York and in 669 he was appointed the Bishop of Mercia and formed a monastery at Lichfield.
Chad died in 672 and was buried in the church of Saint Mary which later became part of Lichfield Cathedral.
Along the Two Saints Way
I was almost back to my car but looking at my map I saw a point marked ‘stone’. My GPS indicated I was less than 200 yards away.It was worth another detour. I found it in a clearing and it was inscribed with the words ‘Bremen 25.
It refers to the 25 oak trees planted in the nearby German War Cemetery in 1987.
I had walked almost 5 miles. The GPS told me exactly how far, to the nearest yard. Also how long I had been moving and how long I had been stationary. Which was almost as long. It is good to see exactly where you are on the screen of the GPS and I am sure it will be reassuring when visibility is poor but the paper map gives you the bigger picture and more detail. Which one is best. Hard to say. I think you need both.
I have got a steep learning curve ahead of me.
It had been a great morning out. Lovely scenery and lots of history.
I had a late lunch !