7 family-friendly walks in Cannock Chase, Staffordshire
Our guide to Cannock Chase and its family-friendly walking trails
Cannock Chase is a vital pocket of wilderness in the busy West Midlands. It was created as a royal hunting forest in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. Today, it has acres of ancient woodland and pastures teeming with wildflowers, plus lots of birds, bats and butterflies. It has streams to splash in, heathland to run across, historic houses to visit and archaeology to uncover. It has handy car parks, picnic benches, toilets and cafes. And it has miles of family-friendly trails. Here are a few routes, to suit all ages…
1. Sherbrook Valley Stepping Stones
Best for… messing about in the river
The Sherbrook Valley is an ideal spot for sploshing and paddling, no matter what the weather. If it’s raining, just pull on your wellies and off you go.
From the Punch Bowl Carpark, an easy trail of less than a mile leads through the twisty trees to a river ford. Here, a line of stepping stones extends across the shallow water. There are also fallen trunks offering excellent clambering opportunities and picnic tables that provide a chance to rest. You can return by the same track.
Or make a longer loop of around 2.5 miles by parking at Coppice Hill instead. This anticlockwise walk reaches the stepping stones via the brilliantly named Devil’s Dumble and the leafy pool at Mere Pits.
2. Gruffalo Trail
For… finding monsters
Add an extra challenge to your Cannock Chase family adventures. Kids can have a go at orienteering around the Gruffalo Trail, seeking out the characters from Julia Donaldson’s beloved book.
Pick up a map at the Birches Valley visitor centre, for a small fee. Then let your budding young ramblers navigate along the flat, mile-long route into the forest. They can hunt out the 12 Gruffalo markers, visit the Fairy Trees, share their problems with a ‘worry remover’ and pose with beastly sculptures. There are questions to answer along the way too.
3. Fairoak Trail
Keep your eyes peeled on the Fairoak Trail. This easy, well-marked 2.5-mile path loops around a string of little pools where all sorts of birds like to hang out. You might see dabbling mallards, bald-headed coots or elegant swans. Also look out for squirrels scurrying along the branches and deer grazing in the undergrowth.
The trail passes the Fairoak Memorial Plot, a flourishing forest of native trees planted since 2003 for families to commemorate lost loved ones. It’s a lovely place to sit, with benches overlooking the pools where you can watch out for wildlife.
4. Castle Ring Loop
For… raiding an ancient fortress
Around 2,500 years ago local tribespeople built a mighty hill fort on top of Castle Ring. At 240m above sea level, it is the highest point within Cannock Chase and would have been a real symbol of power. The people would have sheltered inside if under attack and would have held spiritual ceremonies here. It has been significantly weathered over the years but is still an impressive and intriguing site.
Several routes are possible here. There’s a car park right by Castle Ring, so you could simply make the half-mile circuit of the hill fort itself. Walk around the defensive banks and ditches, enjoy the views, look for common lizards and try to imagine what happened here millennia ago. Alternatively, start from Beaudesert Old Park to make a loop of around 3.5 miles, which takes in woodland and lily ponds too.
5. Milford Common
For… getting back to nature
Milford Common has long been a place for escaping the city. Trains used to stop here, carrying workers from surrounding towns into the countryside. Footpaths run all over this open-access ground, weaving between the yellow gorse, splendid oaks, Swedish whitebeams and cowberry bushes.
The 2-mile-long red trail starts at the car park at the north of the common. It heads southwards, past two magnificent Scots pine trees and the Sister Dora Pool, where you might see dragonflies and newts. It also follows part of the old Tackeroo Railway track. It then returns north, via the remains of an old hermit’s house, hewn out of the sandstone cliffs.
6. Shugborough Estate
For… manmade marvels
Shugborough Estate, on the northern edge of Cannock Chase, was once called ‘a perfect paradise’. Now owned by the National Trust, it’s home to an elegant manor house, beautiful formal gardens and acres of rolling parkland.
A lovely walk of around 5 miles combines freely accessible areas of the wider estate with a section of the Trent & Mersey Canal. There’s lots to see along the way. First, you will pass the grand follies and mature trees in Shugborough’s grounds. Then you’ll cross a Grade-I listed packhorse bridge to join the towpath, walking via colourful canal barges and the cute lock-keeper’s cottage. Finally you’ll emerge on the wild expanse of Milford Common, a good place for picnics.
It’s a fairly easy walk, though there are a couple of short sections on roads where extra care should be taken.
7. Tolkien Trails
For… Middle Earth magic
Do your kids have longer legs, a little more stamina and a love of Hobbits, elves and fantastical worlds? Then you might persuade them to follow one of Cannock Chases’s three Tolkien Trails. Ranging from 10 to 12 miles, these bigger rambles follow the footsteps of JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was posted to training camps on Cannock Chase during the First World War and the trails visit sites linked to him. That includes the charming village of Great Haywood, where he once lived, and the remains of Rugeley Camp, where he was stationed. Or follow the trail though Shugborough to visit a gnarly old tree that inspired his stories.
We’ve got ideas for hundreds of wonderful walking routes across England, Scotland and Wales, long and short, easy and challenging. Search for routes on our website. Or join a guided walk with a local Ramblers group. Find your nearest Ramblers group and choose a walk that suits your pace, fitness and interests.
All images © Getty
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