First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Just when the Cornovi tribe built the polyhedral stronghold of Castle Ring is a matter of conjecture. Certainly it was with primitive hand tools and massed labour, long before the Romans arrived in Britain. Walking the ramparts on this bright cold morning at the southern edge of Cannock Chase, we looked out over the sunlit Staffordshire plain to crumpled hills rising far in the northeast.
The Heart of England Way trails north from Castle Ring through the depths of Cannock Chase, ‘green lung’ and recreational woodland for the cheek-by-jowl old manufacturing towns of the Black Country. None of that was even a twinkle in an industrialist’s eye when the Bishops of Lichfield and Coventry held this area as a hunting forest for their great palace at Beaudesert, the ‘beautiful wilderness’.
The wilderness looked well regulated today. Cyclists pedalled, dog walkers sauntered. The rasp of saws and rattle of mechanical grabs sounded from Stonepit Green, where piles of logs just harvested gave off a tarry, resinous whiff. Soon we’d turned aside, deeper into the forest, where the long lake of Horsepasture Pools lay ruffled by the wind.
The sun struck down through the trees, a touch of wintry warmth for the cheeks, the strong low light silvering the trunks of beech and birch and turning the dangling seed cones on the larch boughs to rows of golden lanterns. Long-tailed tits and siskins skipped in company among the cones, twittering with excitement over their treetop feasting.
A rutted track led away from Horsepasture, over Startley Hill and on west along Marquis’s Drive. After the Reformation the Paget family, Marquesses of Anglesey, replaced the Bishops of Lichfield as lords and masters of the forest, a role they sustained for 400 years until emptying coffers and the demands of the taxman drove them away.
We passed the silty streams and rushy ponds in the hollow of Seven Springs, and turned up a rubbly track over Rainbow Hill. The pebbles underfoot, as hard and cold as quartz, had been rounded and smoothed by some primordial flood through millennia of tumbling, something to conjure as we crunched this ancient stony carpet back to Castle Ring.
Start: Castle Ring car park, off Holly Hill Road, Cannock Wood WS15 4RN (OS ref SK 045126)
Getting there: Castle Ring is signposted from Cannock Wood (M6 Toll Jct T6; A5190, Burntwood).
Walk (6¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 244): Circuit of Castle Ring hillfort, then Heart of England Way/HEW north. In ½ mile descend over crossing (040133); in 200m, at HEW/Two Saints Way marker post, bear right/east (040135) on forest road. In ¾ mile, bear left past Trout Lodge gates (050139); cross Horsepasture Pools; on for ¾ mile to road at Wandon (040146). From junction opposite (‘Rugeley’), fork left downhill (public bridleway, HEW). Follow HEW/Marquis Drive for 1 mile. Just before A460 at Moor’s Gorse, left off HEW past metal barrier (025151), up track. In 100m, right at 3-way split; in 100m, at 4-way split, follow 2nd on left, uphill/south through trees. In 1 mile pass golf clubhouse (027136); left along roadway; in 50m, right down drive. Cross road (029136). Pass barrier; left on path beside road, then follow forest road southeast for 1 mile, keeping ahead at all junctions, to HEW at Castle Ring (042128); right to car park.
Lunch: Park Gate Inn, Castle Ring WS15 4RN (01543-682742); friendly pub with bar snacks
Accommodation: The Lodge, B&B, 603 Littleworth Rd, Cannock WS12 1QQ (01543-428582, thelodgecannockchase.com)