Hi everyone! Cherry Doyle here. This is the first blog of the new Arts Council England-funded poetry project from Offa’s Press, ‘In The Sticks’. We want participants to explore human interaction with the countryside, and our first workshop – being held virtually due to the COVID-19 outbreak – invites you to respond to Brindley Village, on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire.
In 2014, I moved just under a mile from the edge of ‘the Chase’, as it’s known locally. I immediately started walking there daily, and over the years have come to feel close to its landscapes, wildlife, and history.
Just below the surface, you can see evidence of how the land has been used in the past. The crumbled foundations of Brindley Village, the WWI army camps and the Hednesford RAF base can be seen emerging from the ground, and even the herds of deer are a throw-back to when Cannock Chase was a royal hunting ground.
Nowadays, you can visit cafés, war cemeteries, and memorials, see a working quarry, an operational cadet centre, a ministry, and a sled-dog training circuit, and even swing through the trees or camp under the stars at activity centres and campsites.
The landscape is constantly changing through human intervention. Vast areas of pine forest are regularly harvested and replanted. The heathland must be managed too, with chemical treatments and grazing cows used to control the invasive bracken. In some areas, the heath has been taken back to soil to encourage invertebrates.
Some parts of the Chase have remained untouched for centuries. The ancient oaks at Brocton Coppice are hundreds of years old, and it’s said that Tolkien walked through this area while stationed on Cannock Chase in WWI, gathering inspiration for Middle-earth.
If you watch closely, you can see nature going through the cycles it’s always been through. Hawthorn fizzes with blossom, the deer gain their spots, the heather flushes purple, the beech leaves turn all shades of fire. Seasonal visitors like the cuckoo return year after year.
People return to Cannock Chase too – whether they’re racing through the woods on their bikes, hoping to capture a nightjar on camera, or, like me, just wandering. I find a reassuring familiarity in retracing my steps and seeing the seasons carry on around me. Yet each year I find something new – a different place to pick blackberries, the first glimpse of an animal or bird, or a path I’ve never taken. I poured this love into my pamphlet, September (Offa’s Press, 2019) to celebrate the parts of Cannock Chase I hold so dear.
I’m hoping that ‘In The Sticks’ encourages those who are familiar with Cannock Chase to remind themselves of why they love it. For those who aren’t, I hope you find something new and exciting in its varied and welcoming landscapes. As lockdown rules relax and we are more able to get out and about, why not start planning your visit today?