Cannock Chase Visitor Centre Family Day Out
A Short Walk with from Hednesford with Wildlife, Heritage & Adventure
Last weekend we had a nice walk through Cannock Chase to the Visitor Centre at Brindley Heath where we ate lunch and played on the adventure playground, but before I tell you about our route, where we parked, the facilities and Harry’s all important ice cream rating, here are the basics.
What is it?
Cannock Chase is a former royal forest set aside primarily for hunting dating back to Norman times and was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1958. Set in Staffordshire between Lichfield, Cannock, Rugeley and Stafford it covers almost 70km2 and features a varied landscape with a mixture of woodland (deciduous and managed coniferous plantations), open heathland, streams, ponds and a legacy of former industrial and military uses.
The area is home to a remarkable variety of wildlife including a heard of approximately 800 fallow deer and rare and endangered birds. The area has rich industrial and military heritage, including two former WWI camps (Brocton and Rugeley) that trained over 500,000 personnel. The camps and associated infrastructure were built from scratch with road and railway networks, electricity, water and sewage systems, and became small ‘towns’ with accommodation, a church, a theatre, post offices and places to eat and drink.
Following the war, sections of the Chase were converted to an RAF training camp. Whilst the buildings of these former bases have now long gone, there are a large number of old roads and hard standing areas, plus the remains of a mock trench system for training the troops. One of the only remaining accommodation huts has been recreated at the Marquis Drive visitor Centre (I’ve added a number of links at the end of this post for those that would like to learn more about this interesting history).
Today, the area is well used for a wide range of recreational activities including walking, horse riding, mountain biking, orienteering, picnics and wild flora and fauna spotting.
We parked at the Tesco supermarket in Hednesford as the car park here doesn’t have a time restriction, and I’ve been told (not verified) that the car park is designed to provide a service to the wider community and local shops as well as. We popped into the supermarket to get a few supplies for our walk and then made our way over to Hednesford Park where we picked up the Cannock Chase Heritage Trail footpath that would start our journey (I’ll add a link to a map of the route that we took which you can view, print off or download).
Hednesford Park has an excellent playground, skate park, tennis courts and an ice cream parlour. It’s often well used but not over crowded, but today was hosting the annual Hednesford Carnival. We decided to go for our walk and then visit the carnival on the way back.
Cannock Chase Visitor Centre
We arrived at the visitor centre ready for lunch after our 2.2 mile walk, and it felt strange for a moment turning a corner in the woods and then suddenly seeing lots of people again given that we had only seen one or two people during our entire walk. The second thing to hit me was the amazing smell coming from the many BBQs that were in full use which made me even more hungry!
The Cannock Chase Visitor Centre has a number of great facilities and is the starting point for a number of self-guided walks and cycle paths. There are toilets (with a drinking water tap), a picnic area with brick BBQ stands, an adventure playground, a bird watching area (which I’m told often has rare species including brambling, yellowhammer and bullfinch), a reconstructed WWI accommodation hut museum, displays and information about the Chase, a gift shop and a cafe. We headed straight for the cafe and ordered lunch from a wide variety of choices (ranging from sandwiches, wraps and paninis to hot dishes such as baked potatoes and soup). I had a surprisingly spicy (in a good way!) panini and Harry had beans on toast. The food was reasonably priced and good quality.
After eating lunch Harry was keen to get on the ‘wobbly bridge’ in the adventure playground. They have a good selection of wooden play equipment, with the usual swings and slides, but also quite an interesting mini aerial course to navigate around (low to the ground). The playground was quite busy on the day, but there is enough variety to keep it from feeling crowded. A lot of the equipment looks a little tired, but it all worked and looked safe which is the main thing.
Just before starting our journey back I had a quick look at the WWI hut discovery centre. At the far end they have recreated how the hut would have been set out with the beds and stove etc, whilst the section near the entrance contains information, old photographs and maps and a 3D model of the former camp. The hut had a number of volunteers that were giving guided explanations and answering questions. It looked really interesting and well worth spending a little more time at.
We took the same path home for quickness as we wanted to catch the Hednesford Carnival before it finished (although I usually come up with circular routes to keep it interesting). We arrived in time to see some classic carnival events – a display of old cars, a tug-of-war challenge and a dog show competition! There were a large number of stalls, fairground rides and displays by various emergency services, charities and conservation trusts. We only had a short time to look around, but next year we’ll probably head over for a longer visit.
1.A nice easy going walk just over 2 miles each way
Harry’s Ice Cream Rating
Visitor Centre 3/5
After our walk we had a treat to cool down from a local ice cream van at the carnival. It was a really hot day, and the consistency of the ice-cream wasn’t the best, but I would imagine that the machine was struggling with the heat. Harry didn’t care one bit and loved his small cone – even if he did end up with a lot of it on his face and and t-shirt!
Note – the visitor centre did have a nice selection of standard Walls Ice Creams. Although we didn’t have any they looked good for another time and so Harry would give them a 3/5!