What it's like
Staffordshire is large, varied and curiously under-rated. It’s a mystery that, for so many, it means little more than Alton Towers, the Potteries and the M6. Yet, Staffordshire accounts for no less than one-sixth of the Peak, including some of the loveliest parts of the national park, ranging from popular Dovedale to the quiet, remote-seeming country round Hollinsclough. The county’s share of the Peak is part of the administrative district of Staffordshire Moorlands, which also includes the gorgeous countryside east of Stoke, where the beauty of the steep, wooded valley of the River Churnet comes as a big surprise to those unfamiliar with Staffordshire.
Further south, Cannock Chase is sandwiched between Stafford and the Black Country. That might sound unpromising, but the Chase is a huge and captivating outdoor playground of woodland, wetland, parkland, plantation and heath, offering something for everybody.
In between the Moorlands and the Chase there is an abundance of gentle, pleasant countryside, some pretty villages and the charming cathedral city of Lichfield.
In the south-west, a long, narrow finger of Staffordshire is squeezed between neighbouring counties, culminating in Kinver Edge, a relatively low-rise escarpment which nevertheless offers fine views. It is partially wooded but more important for its remnant heathland, though better known for the cave dwellings carved out of the soft sandstone.
Staffordshire’s landscape is further enhanced by an extensive canal system, and rivers feature strongly too, though the largely footpath-free Trent is elusive. Others, such as Dane, Manifold, Hamps, Dove and Churnet, are more accessible, and rate among the loveliest of English rivers.
- The Roaches These fabulous gritstone formations are unmissable, but busy. Combine them with the much quieter country to the north and east: places such as Wolf Edge, Oliver Hill, Hollinsclough, Morridge Top, Blackbank, Edgetop and many, many more.
- Churnet Valley Glorious at any time, but especially in autumn, with highlights which include Consall Wood, Froghall, Caldon Canal, Far Kingsley Banks, Alton, Hawksmoor and Dimmingsdale. Kingsley makes an ideal base.
- Milford Common Great walks for all the family start from Milford Common near Stafford. On the edge of Cannock Chase, it also gives access to two canals and their busy junction at Great Haywood; the rivers Trent and Sow; a 17th-century packhorse bridge; Shugborough Park, and so much more besides.
Must see and do
- Watch a pagan fertility rite Visit Abbots Bromley on Wakes Monday (8 September in 2008), to walk with the Horn Dancers, six men wearing reindeer horns who dance at various venues along a 16-km route accompanied by Maid Marian (she’s a bloke too), a hobby horse, a crossbow-wielding boy, a jester and musicians. I am not making this up. www.abbotsbromley.com
- Guzzle a Staffordshire oatcake They’re large and flat, like pancakes, stuffed with tasty fillings and sold all over the county, but you’ll have to be quick to patronise the last of the traditional ‘hole in the wall’ oatcake shops in Waterloo Street, Stoke - it’s soon to be demolished by ‘developers’. www.staffordshireoatcakes.com www.welovelocal.com
- Climb to Holy Austin Rock Cave homes inhabited from the 16th century until 1967 have been superbly restored by the National Trust, whose custodian lives in one of them. Find them at the northern end of Kinver Edge, well-placed for great walks. www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Destination County : Staffordshire