This wild land of heather and gorse


Sherbrook Valley from Brocton Field – a wide, cinematic landscape.

Here’s a quirky one found in the newspaper archives by friend of the blog and researcher extraordinaire Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler, who’s spotted a lovely, devotional essay to Cannock Chase from a walker and enthusiast in 1925.

This is important to me – most readers know just how much I adore Cannock Chase, and the way it keeps it’s historical secrets. There is so much history up there – from the pagan Castle Ring to the military camps it held.

Lovely, talented fellow blogger Cazzypot has recently published an excellent post about the Takeroo great war history, which is a great read and wonderfully written – please do check it out.


Cannock Chase keeps its secrets close to its heart.

One point I will make is that the Cannock Chase described here was quite different to the one we visit today. As the map below shows, woodland there was very sparse from the Industrial Revolution onwards; most of the wood had been cut for fuel or timber, and many of the heaths were scarred by shallow mining. It was not until the post Second World War days of the Forrestry Comission that this beautiful place was re-forrested.

Thanks to Peter for a great spot. If the weather’s nice this weekend, why not take a stroll up on the Chase, and try and imagine how it was?

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This section of 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey mapping from the 1920s shows the surprising lack of woodland on Cannock Chase following the Industrial Revolution and Great War. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that reforestation was undertaken. Click for a larger version.

(Lichfield Mercury October 1925)

There are people who,though Iive within a short distance, know nothing of its beauty and attraction, and it is those people that I would try to give some idea of it, so that they may know what they are missing in not making the most of this charming part of Staffordshire, so misnamed the Black Country.

Cannock Chase covers about fifty square miles in area, though the encoaching villages have narrowed the uncultivated and most beautiful parts to under ten square miles.

Unfenced and lonely is this part, for cultivation is only carried on the fringe of this wild land of heather and gorse. It is possible for a stranger to lose himself and wander for hours here, even though he may be within a few miles of civilisation, for the Chase is such that once well up on it, the outside world of noise and hurry vanishes as if it had never been there, and the walker finds himself alone on the uplands. The Chase is said to have been the home of the Druids, and later the hunting forest of a King (‘Cannock’ is a word derived from the Anglo-Saxon, meaning ‘wood‘), but the forest has retreated to a few chosen strongholds, leaving the gorse, the heather,and the quick-growing silver birches for the most part in undisputed possession. Many fine trees were felled during the war also, leaving the country still more open, but this has not greatly decreased its remoteness, and has only changed the character of its beauty.

Here one sees valleys as wild as of Scotland, little clear streams and heather reminiscent of Dartmoor, and still deep pools. In summer the bracken grows higher than a man, turning in autumn to a royal riot of red, yellow, and bronze, which stays until the little green fronds push up throughthe mast again in spring, for the Chase is never bare or ugly; each season brings change in its outline and colour, but even the bleakest winter cannot rob it of its charm.

Then the Chase has sounds and silencesof its very own. In one very lonesome valley, shut in by queer rounded hills, there always seems to be absolute, utter silence.No wind ever seems to rustle the dry ferns, no frightened rabbit scatters to his hole, and no birds sing in it. It is seldom one finds perfect unbroken silence, but it is here. I never saw any living thing in that valley, but once I found the perfect whitened skeleton of a deer deep in the bracken, giving an air of indescribable desolation to the winter scene. 


Seventy years ago, my beloved Abraham’s Valley was open heathland.

This is the only really desolate part of the Chase; other parts of it may be impressive or grand, but never sad or silent. There is always a sound of some kind, inexplicablelittle sounds for the most part, the movement of small wild things in the brushwood,the sound of insects and the bees revelling in the heather honey! And the song of the lark, fluttering up above, in his ecstasy, appearing to be lifted by the power of songrather than of wings.

Then the wind—there is always wind upthere—blows through the undergrowth, and whispers in the birch trees. In one beechwood, a place I love, where the smooth grey trunks rise high from their russet carpet offallen leaves, like the pillars of a vast cathedral, the wind, like a fairy organ, is never silent sometimes far away, high in the tree-tops, or sometimes, in March, rushing and roaring like a great sea, making the grey columns quiver and vibrate to it like ship’s masts in a gale. There is a great deal of wild life about here. The deer are sometimes to be seen moving along the skyline, or you will hear a faint rushing noise, and turn to see them disappear up some sheltered valley. Rabbits—and their holes—are everywhere and the careless huntsman finds to his cost, when he rides after the many foxes that find safe homes in the thick brushwood and overhanging banks. Badgers and stoats are sometimes seen, and the vicious adder suns himself on the dry rushes by the stream when the sun is warm enough to tempt him out. It is impossible to tell how the Chase appears in all its different moods; how the bare trees look after a snowfall, with the red sun setting behind them; how heather in flower spreads a kingly robe over the hillsides; and how the air is full of fine, clean scents all the year round, it is well worth seeing, this little piece of England, untouched and unspoiled, and if I have but given an idea of what it is like to those who have the patience to read this, I shall feel as if I had done something, at any rate, in return for the very many happy hours which I have spent silent wandering on Cannock Chase.

B. C. K


Cannock Chase: how many ways do I love thee?

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4 Responses to This wild land of heather and gorse

  1. kate Goodall says:

    That newspaper piece is so beautifully written, I feel like standing up and clapping.

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    A beautiful piece and a beautiful land! I have got to know more about the Chase through your blog and especially your photos and cycling videos. A big thankyou to Pedro and to yourself for this article.
    Kind regards

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