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Cannock Chase is extensively wooded and this does tend to shut out the views somewhat, but if you're the type of hiker who likes to get into a good stride and keep going without the constant interruption of gates, stiles and road crossings, then Cannock is the best walking country since the Quantocks. It's a popular area, particularly with cyclists, but it's also vast. There's not exactly a problem with crowds.
The first five miles of the walk, between Lichfield and Gentleshaw, are more typical of what's gone before; a world of farmland, pastures and country lanes. The HOE originally went through the village of Chorley by road. It's now routed to the south but much of the route hereabouts is on tarmac anyway so you can really please yourself which way you go. A second revision of the official HOE route has taken place on Cannock Chase itself, and here I definitely favour the original route for interest and scenic value; it's shown above as the Fairoak Loop. The interface between the HOE and the Staffordshire Way is fairly complex and occurs on the western side of Cannock Chase on the open heath; at one point the two paths run parallel to each other. My suggestion here is to follow the obvious track northwards along the Sherbrook valley, leaving the HOE and joining the Staffs Way a mile and a half further north. The last five miles of today's walk thus follows the Staffordshire Way out to Haywood and then along the canal towpath back to Rugeley from the northwest.
As the route depicted here goes right
Rugeley and might also seem overlong or inelegant to some, I've
a "Rugeley shortcut" alternative that will knock a good five miles off
the distance and is also much more direct. It's by no means the only
available. If you wish to break up the walk into shorter half day
then there are several break points at which you can walk - or take a
- into either Rugeley or Cannock. One word of warning though - directly
west of Rugeley (just above the word "Cannock" on the diagram) there is
an army firing range, so don't try following any of the tracks
|Length:||20.6 miles / 33.1 km|
|Total ascent:||1481 ft / 451 m|
|Total descent:||1523 ft / 464 m|
|Estimated time:||6 hrs 42 mins|
Map: OS Explorer 244, Cannock Chase.
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Lichfield town centre and the cathedral
Lichfield Cathedral website
The route out of town runs initially southwestwards from the cathedral close, across the main road in the vicinity of the library and then through the Beacon Park on the western side of town. The park is essentially a water meadow centred on Leomansley Brook, which forms a small lake on the town side of the park. The route of the HOE runs hard by the edge of the park, close to an industrial area and beside the golf course, before turning left to cross the A51 bypass.
Beacon Park; path beside golf course; leaving the park
From the A51 you run across a cropped field and then reach a stile, where you enter the pastures of the Pipe Green Trust. Curve around to the right to come alongside a small wood, known as The Dell, to your left. At the end of the pasture the route crosses a stile to enter the wood for a short stretch before coming out onto an unclassified road.
Fields before and after the A51
The pastures of Pipe Green Trust
The Abnalls road
About 800m west of Abnalls the HOE forsakes the road for a footpath running through a series of fields and pastures to the WNW, passing the corner of the Pipe Coppice plantation and reaching the road network once more at Keepers Lodge. Depending on the time of year and on what might be growing in the fields, the path may well be badly defined. After the first field head for a small copse of trees in a dip, where you'll find the next stile. Then head more or less for the lone cottage (Keepers Lodge) on the skyline. As you near the house go to its left to find the narrow gap between the hedges that gives access to the road.
first field; copse in dip; approach to Keepers Cottage
Walk a couple of hundred meters west of Keepers Lodge then take the road (Ford Lane) to the right. This road runs into the village of Chorley about a mile from the junction and this was the original route of the HOE. Chorley is a pleasant little place and by all means take this route if you wish. The official route of the HOE, however, turns left about 800m northwest of the junction to access a footpath running into Creswell Green.
Road from Cresswell Cottage to Chorley
Field paths south of Chorley
The footpath to Cresswell Green runs along the south side of a series of pastures, with a stream to the left.
The Heart of England Way approaching Cresswell Green
Arriving at Cresswell Green
The track leaving the road beyond Cresswell Green; the track to Green Lane Farm
The environs of Green Lane Farm
The lane reaches another collection of cottages, not even given a name. There's also a pub, the Drill Inn if I remember correctly. Not many paces after the pub, the HOE turns right to traverse another field-side footpath.
Springlestyche Lane; footpath beyond Drill Inn
Footpaths, Nag's Hill
You're down in a dip here, and it's not really apparent that you're close to the outskirts of Burntwood, barely 400 metres to your left. The route runs along the right-hand edge of the pasture then kinks right, crosses a stile and plank bridge and cuts across the corner of an unkempt field. After this, cross another stile and follow the right-hand edge of the succeeding pasture uphill to a road junction.
the path round the waterworks area
Gentleshaw is another pleasant locality and is a place that looks half like a village and half like a suburb - a very neat patch of residential roads. As you reach the village green (first picture above), leave the road for a path through an avenue of trees. Follow this for about 350m then turn left. Iron railings to your left mark the boundary of a covered reservoir.
The path around the two sides of the reservoir leads you into the village of Cannock Wood. It's actually contiguous with Gentleshaw, and like the village you just left it has a suburban air of neat residential roads. Walk along the road for about 500m. As you reach a road junction on the western edge of the village (from where you will get a view over Burntwood and Cannock), a driveway signposted "Castle Ring" goes off into the trees to the right (second picture below). Take this driveway and walk past the car park. You're now in Cannock Chase.
Cannock Wood; entering Cannock Chase
Cannock Chase, Castle Ring
Suddenly you're in a different world. Cannock Chase is a huge area of heath, extensively wooded, and for the next nine miles you will be following forest tracks. There is virtually no habitation although you will cross several busy roads. You are actually standing at the highest part of the Chase, around 750ft above sea level, and through the trees to the right is an earthwork known as Castle Ring that is all that remains of an Iron Age fort.
Beaudesert Old Park
This sector of Cannock Chase is known as Beaudesert Old Park, and from Castle Ring a broad track heads NNW through the trees. The Chase has a good mixture of tree species, both coniferous and broadleaved, and there are plenty of semi-open areas that afford views over to the north (you will probably spot the cooling towers of Rugeley power station now and again).
The Heart of England Way through Beaudesert Old Park
About a mile and a half north of Castle Ring the track converges with an unclassified road coming up from Hazelslade, to the northeast of Cannock. Don't join the road but continue to follow the track, which turns half right to run parallel with it. After a further 400m, just as the track approaches a house in the trees ahead (third picture below), turn left and walk out to the road junction at Wandon. At the junction take a rough vehicle track heading west.
The Heart of England Way, Wandon
Campsite 300m south of Wandon junction
The track you're following is known as Marquis's Drive. The Heart of England Way follows this track for the next four miles but personally I favour a variation that was the HOE's original route. About half a mile west of Wandon, just past a lodge, a track turns off to the right to follow the Miflins valley to the northwest.
Heart of England Way, Marquis's Drive
HOE, Miflins Valley
In this part of the chase the Miflins Valley track is very similar to Marquis's Drive itself. This was originally a mining area and you will see occasional signs warning you to keep to the path (presumably there are unfenced shafts or areas liable to subsidence hereabouts). One downside of Miflins Valley is that the tree cover to the southwest side of the track is very dense and as a consequence the track itself sees very little sunlight from mid morning onwards (hence the relative lack of good photos here). About half a mile from the path junction back at Marquis's Drive the track comes out onto the A640 Hednesford - Rugeley road.
Scenes in the Miflins Valley
This locality appears to have no name. Walk northeast along the side of the road for about 100m to a road junction, and take the side lane to the west, which heads downhill to pass under a railway bridge to reach Sheepwash Farm.
Sheepwash Farm; Smart's Buildings
The lane curves smartly to the right just past the railway bridge, passing a small row of cottages known as Smart's Buildings. A few yards further on take a forest track that turns into the woods to the left (second image above).
The woodland track to Fairoak Pools
You're following a pleasant, wide track through a mature plantation. It's more open than the Miflins Valley track and allows more light in. About half a mile beyond the road you reach a complex junction of paths and tracks in the valley of Stony Brook.
Turn left onto the track passing along the north side of the brook. Here you will find the principal reason for taking this diversion off the official HOE route along Marquis's Drive. Stony Brook opens out into a series of small lakes, comprising Stonybrook Pools and Fairoak Pools. This is a lovely recreational area and you will no doubt see plenty of anglers and cyclists as well as fellow walkers. You might normally expect to see a couple of clearings provided with lawns and picnic tables at such a spot, but apart from the odd bench seat the environs of the pools have been left rough.
Fairoak Pools, a gallery
The track to Fairoak Lodge
The path network around here allows plenty of variation and of course you should choose whichever route pleases you personally. If you keep straight on you will come out to the road at Flints Corner in another half mile and can rejoin Marquis's Drive and the official route. Alternatively you can dogleg right then left to pass Fairoak Lodge, which adds a little more interest to the route at the expense of incorporating some road walking to approach Flints Corner from the northeast. Some useful shortcut routes to Rugeley also diverge at Fairoak Lodge; you can walk east from here through the woods to the cycle hire centre near Sitting Mill, or head north across the Penkridge Bank road to the visitor centre and head into Rugeley along Kingsley Wood road.
The track westwards from Fairoak Lodge
The road leading to Flints Corner
Forest track from Flint's Corner
After some 500m the track crosses the busy Penkridge Bank road. Watch out also for a couple of points where the path, where it crosses perpendicular tracks, is not contiguous but instead doglegs right then left (as seen in the centre and right image below).
Forest track and dogleg
Penkridge road crossing; the last half kilometre of the Heart of England Way; Cannock Chase
A further 350m past the Penkridge road the
track ends at a "T" junction. If you've had enough at this point and
to head back to Rugeley turn right, where you will reach the Penkridge
Bank road at Rifle Range Corner; just beyond here is the visitor centre
from where Kingsley Wood Road gets you into town. Our route, however,
left, where in another 400m we reach the edge of the forest at the
T-junction; track to Sherbrook Valley
The track crossroads where we leave the Heart of England Way for the Sherbrook Valley
The Sherbrook Valley route actually comprises two parallel tracks, one each side of the brook. You follow the edge of the forest here, with the trees to your right and open heath to your left - but, since this is a valley, you don't get much of a view across the heath.
The Sherbrook Valley route
About 1 km north of the old HOE terminus you reach a major path junction; to the left lays Brocton Field (see paragraph below), while to the right the path of Pepper Slade runs through the forest to become Kingsley Wood Road and a direct route into Rugeley. After a further 800m the Staffordshire Way converges from the left.
The Sherbrook Valley and its environs, near the Staffordshire Way convergence point
The first steps on the Staffordshire Way
The Staffordshire Way, Sherbrook Valley
You're following the Staffordshire Way now, which continues to run along the Sherbrook valley to the north. The valley becomes enclosed by forest on both sides and begins to meander, first curving gently right then harder to the left to reach a path crossroads at the splendidly named locality of Devil's Dumble.
Scenes on the Sherbrook Valley section of the Staffordshire Way
Arrival at Devil's Dumble
Devil's Dumble and the Harts Hill track
You've reached Devil's Dumble, either direct along the Sherbrook Valley or by the variation from the HOE at Coppice Hill. It's a lovely spot and is a favourite picnic place. Yet another shortcut heads east from here, reaching Beggar's Hill in a mile and a half (from where a short road walk crosses the Trent into Little Haywood). The Staffordshire Way proper continues to follow the main valley around the left-hand curve to Harts Hill.
Devil's Dumble to Harts Hill
Harts Hill and the right turn for Satnall
The track leading straight on from here converges with the HOE and reaches Milford, and the path from the left is a variation from the HOE at Mere Pits, but we follow the Staffordshire Way which turns right. In 400m we converge with the A513 beneath Satnall Hill and follow it north-eastwards to White Barn Farm. For most of the road walk there is a good footway on the left side of the road.
Reaching the end of the forest path
The A513 and the road walk to White Barn
Just past White Barn Farm this half mile stretch of main road walking comes to an end, as we turn left for the track to Shugborough Park. The track crosses the Trent Valley railway, the main route between London and Glasgow.
The Staffordshire Way runs for the best part of a mile through the National Trust owned Shugborough Park, passing the farm and then Shugborough Hall itself at the north end of the park. The grounds are both extensive and handsome, and the park and house would undoubtedly repay a longer, dedicated visit.
Shugborough Park and Hall
Shugborough Park and north gatehouse
We leave the park and cross the Trent just outside Great Haywood, by a stone bridge of great character. Iimmediately beyond we turn right to follow the towpath along the south bank of the Trent and Mersey Canal.
The Trent bridge
Views along the Trent
The Trent & Mersey Canal, Great Haywood
The canal between Great Haywood and Little Haywood
After a mile and a half you reach Navigation Farm; a road bridge across the canal here leads into Little Haywood on the opposite bank. This is also where the Beggar's Hill variation (see the Hart's Hill paragraph above) converges with the main route.
The canal at Little Haywood
Continue along the towpath, which dives under the railway 300m beyond Navigation Farm. The Trent runs hard by to the right. The map suggests that scenery here is a little drab, and the view dominated by the massive cooling towers of Rugeley power station, but nothing is further from the truth. The landscape hereabouts is lush and green with plenty of tree cover, a microcosm of rural Emgland at its finest.
The canal between Little Haywood and Rugeley
At Wolseley Bridge you hit the last leg of this marathon walk. The Staffordshire Way crosses to the north bank by a footbridge about 400m east of Wharf Cottage; this is tomorrow's walk and the start of the Staffordshire Link to Ilam.
The end of the walk
To reach Rugeley stay on the towpath as
canal loops around to the south and crosses the Trent. Beyond is
Bank, a north-western suburb of Rugeley; follow the map and make your
from here to the bus or railway station.
£5.00 inclusive of postage / packing.
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This page last updated 26th February 2006