A colourful and ancient tradition is alive and well in one of the county's most charming villages.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 525ft (160m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Roads, grass trails and gravel tracks, 10 stiles
Landscape Farmland and village
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 244 Cannock Chase
Start/finish SK 079245
Dog friendliness Keep on lead at all times
Parking Ample street parking in Abbots Bromley
Public toilets None on route
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1 From Church Lane go right, along the B5014 and left just before the Crown Inn. At the top of the hill turn right along Swan Lane and when you get to the end head right along a path to a stile. Head diagonally left across the field to a gap in the hedge. Go through this gap and continue across the next field to a footbridge. After the footbridge keep following the faint grassy trail to a stile near the top right-hand corner of the field.
2 Bear slightly left across the middle of the field to another stile. Carry on straight up the next field, keeping a hedge just to your left across a series of stiles and fields until you get to a road. Head straight across the road, following a footpath sign and, just as the track heads hard right, go straight on over a concrete stile and across the next field.
3 After another stile, follow the curve of a field to the right as far as a metalled road. Go left here, following the road and track as far as Parkside farm gate. Just before this gate, go through a gate on the right and then left through another series of gates.
4 Continue across the field, with a hedge to your left, before crossing a funnel-shaped section of meadow to the hedge on the far side. Follow this hedge to a stile and wood. Bear diagonally right through this band of trees to a pair of footbridges and another stile. Leaving the wood behind, head for the far right-hand corner of the field.
5 At the road opposite Park Lodge turn left. Just after crossing Story Brook head left. At the far left-hand corner of the field, follow the hedge round to the right and cross a small copse with the help of a pair of stiles. Continue to follow the fence to the corner of Bagot Forest and then go left through the hedge. Follow another hedge just to your right for about 200yds (183m) and then go right, through a gate.
6 Follow the Staffordshire Way footpath sign through the next field, keeping the hedge just to your right. At the far right-hand corner of the field go through a gap in the fence and follow the hedge to your left to a gate at the top of the field. Carry on straight along the track as far as a metalled road. Go straight on to get back to the start.
The existence of Abbots Bromley can be traced back to long before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, through a number of references in charters and wills dating from that time. The first market charter was granted in 1221 for a weekly market and an annual two-day fair to be held in the village, and this fair survives today in the form of a rare and slightly unusual ritual. One theory on the obscure origins of the horn dance is that it derived from an ancient fertility rite, another is that the dance celebrates the establishment of ancient hunting rites.
The horn dance was first performed at the Barthelmy Fair as long ago as 1226. It was originally held on the feast day of St Bartholomew, one of the apostles and the patron saint of tanners, but an alteration to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 changed this date to 4 September. Today it's held on the first weekend after the 4th, with the dance proper taking place on the Monday.
According to custom six pairs of ancient reindeer horns (or more accurately antlers) are collected from St Nicholas's Church just before 8am by a small entourage of dancers comprising - among others - a fool, a hobby horse, a bowman and Maid Marion. The first dance of the day is performed on the village green with music provided by a melodion (a small reed organ similar to an accordion). Then, a tour of the nearby villages, farms and pubs ensues with the final dance taking place back at the village green. In addition to the horn dance proper, this colourful procession also features displays of morris and clog dancing. Other attractions include exhibitions and craft stalls, plus the pleasures of no fewer than five pubs in Abbots Bromley alone. Each year the dance attracts hundreds of visitors from all over the world.
As well as the horn dance, Abbots Bromley also boasts a number of other notable legends. The Goat's Head pub was once patronised by infamous highwayman Dick Turpin, who is believed to have stayed the night there after stealing a horse from Rugeley fair. And then there is the story of the Bagot goats: these black-necked beasts used to roam Bagot Woods to the north of the village and were first given to Sir John Bagot by Richard II at the end of the 14th century, in return for the hunting he enjoyed here. Legend has it that as long as the herd is maintained the Bagot family shall survive.
The wooden Buttercross (opposite the Goat's Head pub and named after the produce once sold under it) would have been at the heart of the once-thriving market and is thought to have been built in 1339. However, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, in The Buildings of England, Staffordshire, gives a more likely date of the 17th century.
Blithfield Reservoir, just to the west of Abbots Bromley, has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) thanks to the significant part it plays as a refuge for wildfowl and immigrant waders such as yellow wagtails, Canada geese, great crested grebe and heron. The shoreline at the north end of the causeway makes a very pleasant spot for a picnic, and in the summer there is often a take-away food outlet selling snacks, hot and cold drinks and ice creams.
There are five different pubs to choose from in Abbots Bromley alone, and you can be sure of a warm welcome in all of them. The Goat's Head is arguably as friendly and welcoming as any, with timber beams throughout and excellent food served 12-2pm and 7-9pm daily. Bar snacks and a variety of traditional hot meals are available.