There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Saturday, 12 December 2015

Cannock Chase, Dismal, Dismal, Dismal: The (N + 5)th Annual Fish and Chip Walk

The Chip Walk has been an institution since I don't know when. I first blogged it in year N, and this is now (N + 5) so I am running out of things to say. The participants and the route vary a little from year to year, but not much, while the lunch varies not at all (there is a clue in the title). The saving grace from the blogging point of view, the one uncontrolled variable, is the weather. This year's can be summed up in three words 'dismal', ‘dismal’ and ‘dismal’.

Anne, back from a lengthy trip to the USA, was again a very welcome guest and she drove me – just back from Thailand - through the drizzle to Haughton to pick up Mike, just returned from a nine week sojourn in Australia. Alison T questioned her husband's sanity and then she questioned mine. She was forthright and, as it turned out, entirely correct, it was a lunatic idea.

At the Cutting car park on the western edge of Cannock Chase we met Francis, just about to set off on a four week excursion to Australia and Lee, who is so young he still works for a living so hasn't been anywhere much since the summer. Brian was missing this year - he was in Hong Kong – but has re-located to Torquay anyway.


Anne, Lee, Francis, Mike
Ready to set off in the drizzle, Cutting Car Park, Cannock Chase
It was drizzling when we arrived, the mist hung in the air and snagged on the trees forming larger droplets to splash down necks. We set off along the cutting, choosing to walk along the top to avoid the mud.

The 2012 Chip Walk, (N + 2)th, is subtitled, 'in torrential rain'. In fact the rain, which had been torrential for the previous ten days, eased off during the walk. This year the preceding week had been mild, as Staffordshire December's go, and largely dry - we avoided the deluge that drowned half of Cumbria.

Reaching the top of the Cutting we could see Brocton lurking below us in the mist. For the last three years the Chip Walk has centred on Brocton’s Chetwynd Arms. The food has been fine, the service efficient and the prices good but its location limited the scope of our wanderings. This year we were heading for the walk’s original focus, the reopened and revived Swan with Two Necks at Longdon.

Brocton down in the mist to our right

Leaving Brocton behind, we passed a bird feeding centre. Blue tits, coal tits, great tits, blackbirds, dunnocks and several species I have forgotten were busily helping themselves. The old tree stump was festooned with birds most of the time, but my photo only catches a bedraggled pair of tits (make your own jokes) and a blackbird - it was that sort of day.

Bird feeding station, Cannock Chase 

We emerged onto the western edge of the Sherbrook Valley. A wooden sign pointed towards Freda's grave, but we ignored it. Freda, a Dalmatian, was the mascot of the New Zealand regiment stationed on Cannock Chase in the First World War. She died in 1918 and was buried here, while her collar and lead are on display in a museum in New Zealand. As we were not prepared to walk 50m to see her grave, there is little chance of any of us flying 18,000km to see her lead. Sorry, Freda.

Looking over the Sherbrook Valley

Progressing along the valley’s edge we passed, though again did not see, the glacial boulder. I include a photo from March 2006; perversely the boulder seems to have aged not at all, which cannot be said of the rest of us. The web sites of the Chase Chamber of Commerce and Walking Britain both quote the phrase ‘originating from Scotland it was placed here in the 1950s’ which could be read as suggesting it was brought on the back of a lorry some sixty years ago. Geograph confirm what I always thought (and I think the others mean); the boulder was carried here in a glacier – probably from the Dumfries area - during the last ice age. The largest of several erratic boulders on the Chase, it was placed on its plinth in the 1950s, though the concrete base dates from the First World War.

The Glacial Boulder, March 2006 on the Staffordshire Way walk
Geography teacher Francis appears to be delivering a lecture, Mike is not listening and Alison C (absent from today's drenching) might be enthralled - or not -  there is no way to know.

Further along we made a left turn and descended into the valley, though this far up it is only a fold in the land.

Descending into the Sherbrook Valley
 
Slogging up the other side through the unending drizzle Francis remarked that the weather was not that bad, it was at least mild and there was no wind. On cue we emerged into an exposed area where a cool breeze was made doubly chilling by our damp condition. We soon regained the shelter of the trees and, to be fair, Francis’ observation was largely accurate.
 
Lee makes light of the weather

We reached the top of the valley where Penkridge Bank meets Marquis Drive. The White House on the corner (both its name and description) was once a pub but is now owned by ‘One Another Ministries International’ who describe themselves as 'conservative evangelical Christians'. The notice on their rear gate to anyone with the temerity to use their premises to turn round struck me as being unwelcoming and, dare I say it, un-Christian.

We left Marquis Drive after a kilometre, descending towards the Fairoak Pools, a corner of the Chase I don't remember having visited before.

Starting the descent to the Fairoak Pools


There are two pools and as we approached the first the local residents - mallards, coots and moorhens - who connect humans with food, paddled over to greet us. On this occasion they were to be disappointed.
 
The first of the Fairoak Pools


We paused for coffee standing by one of the picnic tables, the seat was far too wet to sit on.

 
A damp coffee beside the Fairoak Pools

A moorhen ventured up for a closer look. When Mike lobbed his apple core in the direction of the lake all hell broke loose among the waterfowl, who seemed to recognise the throwing action. I have no idea if they ever found the core.

 
Inquisitive moorhen, Fairoak Pools

A sign board informed us we were standing in what may once been the bed of the River Budleighensis and the cutting enabled us to inspect the deposits it had laid down.

 
Cutting through the deposits of the River Budleighensis

250 million years ago a huge river is conjectured to have flowed north from Brittany across England to reach the Irish sea at the Solway Fifth. It deposited the river-rounded Bunter sandstone pebbles that form the Chase (and the plinth of the glacial boulder) and various other features across the Midlands and west of England, including one at Budleigh Salterton in Devon from which the river derives its slightly odd name.

Fully informed we strode along the path above the small Stony Brook pools….
The path above the Stony Brook Pools

….and crossed the Stony Brook by stepping-stones before descending to the railway and the A460.
 
Anne and Mike cross the Stony Brook


Over the main road we took the path that ascends Miflins Valley. It is not steep, but it is a long and tedious drag through the drizzle…
 
Up Miflins Valley


… and we paused for breath beside a venerable beech before continuing upwards to the road that runs along the top of Stile Cop. From here it was a march along the road to the further of the two car parks (why the further? Ask Francis) where Lee had left his car. We reached Longdon and the Swan with Two Necks exactly on schedule at one o'clock and found Lynne waiting.
 
Beech, Miflins Valley

The origin of the pub name may be well-known, but here it is anyway. The queen owns all unmarked swans on open water. The only other organisations entitled to own swans are two of the livery companies of the City of London, the Dyers’ and the Vintners. From the fifteenth century the Dyers’ Company swans were marked with a nick on the beak while the Vintners’ had two nicks. Over time, 'two nicks' has become 'two necks' perhaps because it makes for a more interesting pub sign, though there are, I have discovered, at least three pubs in England still called the Swan with Two Nicks.

A choice of two excellent beers, Sharp’s dark, malty, Doom Bar and Salopian Brewery's winter special, the light hoppy, very bitter Firkin Freezin’, (there must be a better name) accompanied fish and chips all round. The quality was high, the size exceptional. Whales are not fish, but I could have sworn I had a whole battered minke. I was one of several unable to finish - indeed I did not eat for the rest of the day, Lynne ate nothing for 24 hours.

Minke, chips and mushy peas (or garden peas for Lee)
Swan with Two Necks, Longdon
 
Outside the drizzle continued, there had been no let up all morning and no prospect of change. The bright spot of the day was discovering that The Swan with Two Necks, is again thriving. Perhaps we lingered longer in the pub than we should, but by the time we left the light was beginning to fade and with it our enthusiasm for further walking. Lee drove us to the intended start of the afternoon’s walk, but as we approached the car park and watched the windscreen wipers doing their work a group decision was made to call it off. Nobody dissented.

This has never happened before on a Chip Walk, and it was disappointing, but it is many years since we have attempted to walk on a day as dismal as this. Anne's ‘smart phone’ told us that in the morning we had tramped 6.5 miles and taken some 17,000 steps, so a walk was taken, fish and chips were eaten and tradition was maintained.

I expect I am not the only one looking forward to better weather for the (N + 6)th walk next year.