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Chasewater Conservation

A walk through a country park, now a haven for watersports and wildlife.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient 75ft (23m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Gravel tracks

Landscape Lakeside and heathland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 244 Cannock Chase

Start/finish SK 040070

Dog friendliness Can be taken off lead

Parking Ample parking at start point

Public toilets At visitors' centre

1 From the car park go back to the road you came in on and go left, down towards the reservoir. Follow the shore to the end of the concrete embankment and then go right, off the path, following the road round to the left, towards Chasewater Sailing Club.

2 Where the road turns hard left, carry straight on along a wide gravel track, following the public footpath signs. Keep following this track around, ignoring paths to the left and right, past some sports fields on the right, until it comes out at Chasewater Heaths Station.

3 Stay on the track as it veers left here, back towards the reservoir, as far as the railway embankment. Head left along the path here, across the reservoir and along the shore back to the car park. There are some carved picnic benches along this shoreline if you want to stop for a rest or a bite to eat, or to just watch the world go by.

Originally Chasewater was a natural reservoir called Norton Pool, but little is known about its history prior to the late 18th century; with its poor acidic soil, heathland and forest, it was unsuitable for cultivation. But during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15) there was a drive throughout the country to increase food production for troops at the front, so many previously uncultivated areas of heathland and forest were farmed.

In 1797, a dam was constructed to turn it into a feeder reservoir for the new Anglesey Branch Canal, built to carry coal from local pits to Birmingham and beyond. A steam-driven pump lifted water back into the reservoir from the canal, as it had a very small natural catchment area (only the valve house remains today, on top of the dam wall).

With the arrival of the railways in the second half of the 19th century however, canals were - quite literally - overtaken by the new technology. A network of tracks was soon established in the area, including a causeway across the water which carried coal from Cannock Chase. Mining in the area around Chasewater continued well into the 20th century, but by 1950 it was an industry in decline, leaving behind a desolate landscape littered with disused railways, sidings and pit waste.

Even back then, though, the local authority had the foresight to transform Chasewater into an aquatic pleasure park, complete with fun-fair, big wheel and miniature railway. The fun-fair is no more, but the park has recently undergone renovation and now features a waterskiing centre, a sailing centre and, at the time of writing, a go-karting track is also planned. For those who prefer their leisure pursuits a little more? well, leisurely, there's an interpretation centre and craft barns selling locally-produced goods and gifts.

But of course, all this has little to do with the thriving wildlife of this park, which is arguably the most significant achievement of the reclamation program. It comprises three main habitats: waterside, heathland and bog.

Because water levels rise in the winter and fall in the summer, the sediment along the shore when the water is low (the littoral zone) makes an ideal feeding ground for wading birds like heron, pied wagtail and ringed plover. The stringy mat of weed over the exposed beaches is the rare but aptly-named shoreweed. During winter, the water becomes more important than the shore for many birds, particularly coot, mute swans and a vast roost of gulls, best watched from the south shore in late afternoon. Cormorants and Canada geese are also common and great crested grebes can often be spotted displaying in spring. In all, some 230 different species have been spotted here.

Heathland favours plants that thrive in acid conditions: areas that have been reclaimed from mining activities tend to support only coarse grasses and support little in the way of wildlife. Naturally-formed grassland, though, boasts a rich variety of plants such as lichens, mosses and cowslips. Finally, boggy areas can be divided into two types: true bog, which supports sphagnum moss and acid-loving plants like cotton grass, and fen, which is alkaline and harbours reed mace and marsh orchids. Today, much of the area has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Where to eat and drink

The Rising Sun serves a varied menu all day every day, including sandwiches, baguettes, breakfasts and butties, plus hot meals and desserts. It's a chain pub, so don't expect home cooking, but the food's just fine. The benches by the lake are ideal places for a picnic.

While you're there

Chasewater Railway operates along the only remaining section of the old Cannock Chase coalfield network. The steam-powered trips can be taken around the water, from Brownhills West to Chasetown Station via Chasewater Heaths Station. The former has been built in traditional Victorian style and has a gift shop and a station buffet serving hot and cold snacks. The round trip takes an hour, with trains running five times a day, every Sunday and bank holiday Monday from the end of March to the end of October.

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