I am unsure exactly how long the Chip Walk tradition has been going, but it is over a decade. In the early days it was not always on Cannock Chase: I remember once reaching the Hollybush in Denford on a day when any self-respecting owner of a hammer and a cubit of gopher wood would have been building an ark, and dripping our way through lunch. In those days it was not even called the chip walk; it was merely a celebration of the end of the Christmas term.
I think, though I may be wrong, that I have been a Chip Walk ever-present, as has Francis and, until this year, Brian. Strangely he decided that a two week tour of Burma followed by Christmas and New Year in Hong Kong would be preferable to legging it across Cannock Chase. Mike and Alison T were also missing, the prospect of winter sunshine in Lanzarote being enough to lure the weaklings away.
The remaining hardy souls gathered at the Coppice Hill car park on the 20th of December, a year to the day after the Nth annual Chip Walk. In 2010 the ground was covered in snow and the thermometer as I was driving to the Chase dipped to -13°, the lowest I have seen. This year there was no snow, not even any frost, and the temperature was a balmy +7.
|I only said 'smile for the camera'|
Arriving at the car park, Sue and Lee spotted the only deer we would see all day. I was driving so I missed it. Starting at Coppice Hill on the ridge to the west of the Sherbrook valley saved the usual upward slog at the start of the walk. The track along the ridge gives good views over the valley. A jay flew across our path and sat in a tree, watching us. It was about the only wildlife I saw all day.
|Looking across the Sherbrook Valley|
We strode on past the Glacial Boulder, missing it by just enough not to be able to see it. It is not much of a boulder, really; it is interesting only because it is in the wrong place, left solitary and forlorn when the ice-age glaciers retreated.
|Alison and Francis near the glacial boulder|
After missing boulder-no-mates we also missed the Katyn Memorial by some fifty metres, so this is a photograph I took on another occasion.
|Katyn Memorial, Cannock Chase|
In May 1940, 22 000 Polish army officers, policemen and intellectuals were massacred in the Katyn forest in Russia. The Nazis were officially blamed, though many Poles remained doubtful. It was not until 1990, in the era of glasnost, that the Russians admitted responsibility, the order having come directly from Josef Stalin. Although Staffordshire has been home to a substantial Polish community since 1945 it is not entirely clear to me why, in 1979, a memorial to the victims was erected on Cannock Chase. I have read that the forest here is very like that at Katyn, though I have no idea if that is true.
|Near the Katyn Memorial - like a Russian forest?|
|German Military Cemetery, Cannock Chase|
Slogging across Brindley Heath, Francis remarked that we rarely visit this corner of the Chase. He paused for a moment before observing that it actually looks exactly like every other bit.
|Across Brindley Heath|
There was little of interest at the bird feeding stations. Robin’s hopped right up to us, as they do, and there was a bullfinch on the feeding table but little else worthy of comment.
Following Marquis Drive south east, we descended to cross the railway and the A460 before climbing up towards Stile Cop. As we passed Parson’s Slade, and have elsewhere encountered (among others) Pepper Slade and Haywood Slade, Lee asked the very reasonable question ‘what is a slade?’ As resident know-all and smartarse I was embarrassed by being unable to answer. Chambers tells me that ‘slade’, from Old English slæd, is ‘a little valley or dell; a piece of low moist ground.’
|Sue and Alison approach Stile Cop|
|Mountain bikers near Horsepasture Pools|
|Binoculars at the ready, but not a shrike in sight|
Lee drove us down to the Swan with Two Necks in Longdon. A decade or more ago somebody (Francis?) noticed that the Swan with Two Necks served excellent fish and chips. Good fish and chips are easy to cook, but stand-out fish and chips are another matter. The freshness of the fish and the crisp, light batter made The Swan with Two Necks an irresistable destination for the pre-Christmas outing, and the Chip Walk was born. Sue, sadly fails to understand tradition. The large bowl before her contains pasta with chicken and bacon in a cream sauce. It looked good, on another occasion I might have eaten it myself, but this is a CHIP WALK, SUE! Like many rural pubs the Swan with Two Necks has seen several changes of ownership over the years. The fish and chips are still good (if no longer stand-out) and, thankfully, the place remains open.
|The essential ingredient of a Chip Walk,|
The Swan with Two Necks, Longdon
Last year we had a long afternoon session with a detour down Abraham’s Valley. This year we kept it short. The stroll down to the Sherbrook is enjoyably different as it is one of the Chase’s few remaining areas of deciduous woodland.
|Towards the Stepping Stones|
|Lee and Sue plod across|
|Alison attempts to fly|
The Annual Fish and Chip Walks