The canal towpaths are, on the whole, excellent cycling routes. This section south of Tamworth is an exception, however. Tree roots make for a teeth-rattling experience so concentration is vital; this is sad as the rider is likely to miss some great scenes, just like this one. On these occasions I wish I rode a mountain bike rather than my trusty tourer.
On the other side of the bridge the footpath improves, and is great all the way to Bodymoor Heath.
Canals are great for providing the passing traveler with an endless supply of wonderful photographic subjects. At this point to the South of Hopwas, Hopwas Hayes Wood can be seen, with the Common Barn TV transmitter beyond - formerly broadcasting commercial 405 line TV for the IBA, it now pumps out Channel 5 for no discernible reason whatsoever.
The canals that crisscross the countryside around the midlands provide the cyclist with pretty, gentle trunk routes that make a viable, enjoyable alternative to the busy main roads. Viewed from the quirky footbridge near Drayton Manor Park, the millpond-still water is like a mirror, reflecting the esrly spring sky.
Just don't try getting a bicycle over this bridge - it's impossible due to the spiral staircases either side... see this picture by igb99.
Canwell church is a quiet little oasis despite being located just a few hundred yards from the A38. It possesses a charming, secluded churchyard which has it's own gate to the grounds of Canwell Hall. On this winter day I took shelter in the porch for a cuppa, all the better to enjoy the scene before me.
In summer, the greenery present on the heathland of the Sherbrook Valley can be quite startling. In winter, a stark scene of greys and browns; but in summer the landsacape really bursts into life.
In some parts of Cannock Chase, the rangers are now managing the heathland with the careful, controlled introduction of grazing cattle to encourage biodiversity and release the stranglehold of some of the more invasive plant species. Here, near the Stepping Stones in the Sherbrook Valley on a summer afternoon, I'm glad they're not trying it right here. A more perfect woodland scene would be hard to find... even if the bracken is a pain in the backside.
Up on Milford Common, The Sherbrook Valley trail becomes busier and more hilly, with a fun, challenging ascent into woodland before descending sharply onto the car park at Milford. I try to come here as much as I can, just to observe the subtle transitions in colour and texture as the seasons change.
The River Trent always seems so angry - crossing it here on the track past Hoo Mill between Tixall and Ingestre I'm reminded of that thought as the water cascades below me, the relentless cacophony ringing in my ears. Further downstream some of this flow will become steam and drive the turbines of Rugeley power station... just as it once hauled the waterwheels of countless mills along the Trent valley.
A journey from Hixon to Admaston along the Lea Road should be compulsory for any inquisitive visitor to Staffordshire. Along it's path are many delightful vistas - here near the hamlet of Newton it's possible to see Shropshire's majestic Wrekin on a fine day such as this, as well as splendid views of Blithfield Reservoir, Cannock Chase and the Trent Valley.
One of my favourite rides on Cannock Chase is up the pleasant trail of Sherbrook Valley, stretching from Marquis's drive up to Milford Common, it encompasses some of the most wonderful scenery to be found in the area, and it never seems to be as busy as some of the more popular trails, even in the height of summer.