Sunday, 23 September 2007

Hill and dale, a riders tale.....

Today I decided that I needed a little exercise. I've been taking it easy since my last kayak trip and unfortunately my shoulder still hurts, so it will have to be a bike ride instead..... Heading out from Lichfield, I dipped down some favourite lanes towards Cannock Chase. This is the old gatehouse to Beaudesert Hall which now lies in ruins. Adjacent to it is a woodland that once was a daffodil farm, supplying flowers to the Victorians of Birmingham. I turned into Horsey Lane, aptly named as there is stable after stable, probably due to the good riding to be had in the Chase. Down here is a gorgeous Leopard Appaloosa, kindly identified to me by Secret Agent (

With 'teapot' Micra it's sometimes difficult to know whether I should be putting the bike on the car or popping the car on the back of the bike. Anyway, with the two vehicles separated I set off. I started from the 'German Cemetery' area of the Chase. This expanse of land abounds of tales of strange animals. Sightings of big cat, werewolves and underground dwellers rising from the many abandoned mine shafts! I've never seen anything myself, even when I've been here at night watching deer but, over towards 'Dick Slees cave' you often come across dismembered deer carcasses which I never see anywhere else in the Chase. For the latest updates on any reports it's well worth checking out 'The Debris Field' by Lesley (

The first valley is relatively easy, lots of footpaths and tracks to follow. My need for directness always lands me in trouble and, as I climbed higher I cut across country breaking my way through the bracken. It was hard going as my bike picked up an increasing amount of scrim.

As I climbed my way slowly out of the second valley, passing the old ruined stone hunting lodge, I bordered the lands of Beaudesert hall. Once owned by the Marquis of Anglesey, he spent his ill gotten gains on fantastic gardens with huge waterfalls, pools and this private amphitheatre set high up on the hillside. By all accounts the Marquis was a greedy bastard! When the ancient managed deciduous woodlands of Cannock Chase came into his possession, his first act was to chop it all down and sell the timber for profit. Left with a devastated wasteland he decided to mine it for coal. After the Great Wars the area was replanted with coniferous but it is a shadow of what it once was.

Rising out of the valley I approached my chosen destination, Castle Ring. This is an Iron Age hill fort thought to be created over 2000 years ago and thought to occupied by the Celtic Cornovii tribe in AD50. The circular site covers 7.75ha and has series of banks and ditches. Today only 4 metres but would have been substantially higher and topped with a robust wooden pallastrade.

It's difficult to judge the scale, but on the top left of the picture you can see how small the adult dressed in white is.

The interior is deserted apart from a few stone outlines, these are the remains of medieval hunting lodges.

The views are normally great from up here, today though it was overcast. Time for coffee.

The way back to the car was marked by the telecommunications tower. It was only 5miles away, but all the rough ground and ups and downs made it feel much further. With my tired legs wobbling it suddenly seemed along way away.

A straight line was the shortest route so I took a compass reading so that when I was down in the trees I could still head the right way. This was odd, when I stood up the compass was fine, but if I crouched down it would fluctuate. It didn't matter where I was it did the same. I'll have to see if it does the same at home!

The direct route took me crashing through undergrowth, bouncing over tree stumps, in a steep downhill roller coaster ride. A funny smell... sort of like Rice pudding..burnt Rice pudding. A familiar odour, now where had I smelt that before?... Ahh, yes it was when I overheated the clutch on my old Austin Maxi. The lever for the front brake suddenly went floppy. The front pad had disintegrated and I was accelerating. The back brake alone wasn't cutting it, the rear wheel locked but I wasn't slowing. It felt like the scene from Star Wars where the 'speeder bikes' were racing through the dense woodland. Splash, as I went through a boggy patch, Then it happened, mud right in my eye. My depth perception gone, the ride took on a video game quality. Just as I was considering my predicament, another clod went in my other eye, crap! Desperately trying to remember the layout of the path ahead there was a jolt and the bike left the ground. I braced for the impact that never came, instead I trundled to a gentle halt on a gentle upward slope. I was alive, blind, but alive! Forcing my gritty eyes open I realised that I was next to the big old oak, an old friend and landmark. This hulk of a tree was one of the few survivors from the Marquise's rein of terror. I took it easy the rest of the way to the car, the disc brake making odd tinkling noises as it slowly cooled. Only 11 miles on the clock but I was knackered and ready for tea.


vicci said...

love the bike ride....I especially love the bike by the tree....we finally had some rain here too...

Lavender said...

Hahaha the bike on the car or vice versa LOL! (The compass is a good idea, will put one on my wish list, Ta!)
The Marquis of Anglesey's mustve been a real piece of work, but I do love the amphitheatre, very cool!
I wonder if the compass flux. was due to the electro. fields from the comm. tower - hope thats all it tis.
Egads Man! The drama with the brake made it exciting in a way you didnt need - your bike looks way too new for that sort of trouble. Guess we can thank the favorable spirits that live with that magnificent oak for helping you thru that - hows your shoulder now Mate?

barkfoot said...

Lavender - The compass thing has got me stumped, I live quite close to a TV/ comm transmitter and usually have no problems, I'll have to look into it.
The shoulder is still sore, it's just a legacy from a motorbike accident, I've still got this other spare arm. I vary my activities by what available working bodyparts I have on the day!

Lesley said...

I am just thankful that you weren't eaten by a werewolf or some other creature of the chase.

It is quite lovely there. I can't wait to get back to the UK and hopefully visit the chase and other places that I have heard so much about.

Thanks for all the great photos!

secret agent said...

It's bad when life takes on the video game quality isn't it???

I love that tree.... amazing.
Oaks are my favourite
we have 4 biguns here.

So.... 11 miles on a bike huh?
do you wear the skin tight biker shorts?

Naturegirl said...

This was a very interesting ride off the beaten track. If only that ~big Oak~ could speak the tales it could tell! Thank you for the get well wish
and for stopping by nature-trail!This
disease surely is painful. ouch NG

Holly said...

Great pictures!

barkfoot said...

Secret Agent - Sorry, I completely forgot to post the lycra shorts shot, time!

secret agent said...

ha! yeah please post them
I saw a guy in traffic riding with WHITE lycra
totally see through with his sweaty rear.

I shall elaborate cute Brit
I've had quite a few video game "Oh Shit" moments of my own
on horseback usually
I know the video experience well :)

Gillian @ Indigo Blue said...

I love the bike on the tree too.
Great history in your country, right in your own backyard.
These are fascinating posts Bark. You must be the fittest dude in England!