My walk this weekend took me down to Cannock Chase. My intention was to do a 7 mile walk through Shugborough Park and Sherbrook Valley but it got kind of extended and became a bit of a history session.
Cannock, or Cank forest once covered a large area of what is now Staffordshire. It was once a Royal Forest but in 1290 King Edward 1 gave part of it to the bishops of Lichfield to use as their private chase. In the 16th century the land passed on to the Paget family who helped to develop the local iron industry. The demand for charcoal for the furnaces led to the felling of much of the traditional oak forest and vast areas became heathland.
Our walk started from Milford common and we walked through the landscaped parkland of Shugborough Hall which is the ancestral home of the Earl of Lichfield.
Leaving the park we crossed the 17th century Essex Bridge. Just upriver of the bridge the River Sow flows into the River Trent. Looking down from the bridge you could clearly see the difference in colour of the water before they merged.
Our route now followed the towpath of the Trent and Mersey canal.
It was easy walking with the canal on our left and the River Trent to our right. At road bridge number 72 we left the towpath and turned left to cross Weetman’s Bridge and the main road to reach the picnic area at Seven Springs.
We were now on Cannock Chase and we followed a track through the woodland to the Stepping Stones picnic area where we could pause for lunch and enjoy the peace and quiet.
After crossing the stepping stones we turned left and headed down Sherbrook Valley which is considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of Cannock Chase. The woodland gradually thinned out and soon we were in open heathland. The heather was in bloom and it looked beautiful but also quite remote.
The walk description in my book turns back here but we decided to continue down Sherbrook Valley as there was much to see. We reached Gospel Place which has associations with J R R Tolkien. He was stationed at the army training camps during World War 1 and the area features in some of his works. Shortly we reached the German War Cemetery.
Here in 1967 the remains of all German servicemen who died in Britain in both wars were brought for re-burial. 2143 soldiers from the First World War and 2786 from the Second World War together with other un-named soldiers.
Nearby is the Commonwealth War Cemetery.
During World War One a hospital was established at Brindley Heath to serve the local camps and to treat convalescing soldiers from the Western Front. The cemetery was the final resting place for soldiers who died whilst being treated at the hospital. The majority of the Commonwealth burials are soldiers from New Zealand. Many survived the conflict but died in the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic that broke out towards the end of the war.
Heading north along a track running parallel to the minor road we came to the Katyn memorial which is dedicated to the 14,000 members of the Polish armed forces and professionals who were executed in the Katyn forest in 1940.
Continuing north we passed Anson’s Bank to reach Chase Road Corner and then arrived at The Glacial Boulder.
The boulder was carried down from Scotland during the last Ice Age. What I had not realised was that the plinth upon which it stands was the base of a Reservoir Tower which supplied water for the trains on the Tackeroo Line.
We had one last objective, which was to find Freda’s Grave. Freda was a Dalmatian and she was the mascot of the New Zealand Rifles Brigade. She was buried on the chase and her grave is marked with a headstone. her collar and lead are kept in a military museum in New Zealand.
We now followed the Heart of England Way towards Mere Pitts. We entered a shallow cutting which was part of the Tackeroo Line which linked some of the army camps on the Chase.
Back at the car we had a much needed hot drink. My 7 mile stroll had extended to 14 miles but it had been full of interest.
Whilst looking up information for this blog I came across two other walks in the area which give a deeper insight into the history of Cannock Chase and the war.
The Cannock Chase War Trail
The Staffordshire Tolkien Trail.
I must do them the next time I am in the area.