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Lichfield's Soaring Heaven on Earth

A short and relatively simple town walk exploring the impact of the county's most magnificent cathedral.

Distance 2.5 miles (4km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Roads, surfaced paths and dirt trails

Landscape Town centre and parkland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 232 Nuneaton & Tamworth;

Start/finish 244 Cannock Chase

Dog friendliness SK 118095 (on Explorer 232)

Parking Must be kept on lead near roads

Public toilets Ample paid parking in Lichfield town centre

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1 From the tourist information centre head right along Bore Street and then left along Conduit Street, leading to Market Square. Pass Market Square on your left and carry straight along Dam Street, past a series of tea shops and cafés, until you get to Pool Walk. Go left here, keeping the pool on your right-hand side, until you get to Beacon Street.

2 Go diagonally right over Beacon Street to the public toilets and the entrance to the park. Skirt around the left-hand edge of the park, keeping first the bowling lawn and then the tennis courts to your right. After the tennis courts follow a path round to the right and, at the next path junction, walk left, continuing around the edge of the park.

3 When you get to the car park bear slightly right, following the path to the far end of the playing fields. After the path has entered the narrow band of trees, and just before the A51, turn right along a narrow dirt trail and carry on to the golf course at the far end. Just before the golf course, turn right and follow the small brook back along the edge of the playing fields until you reach a little duck pond. In the summer it's possible to hire canoes here, for a quick half-hour potter on the water. Continue on past the pond before crossing over a footbridge to the left to reach Shaw Lane.

4 Follow Shaw Lane until you get to Beacon Street, then go right for 150yds (137m) and then left along The Close to reach the cathedral. If you're not in any rush, it's worth doing a quick circuit of the cathedral inside and out, before continuing. There's an excellent shop with leaflets and guides and a free leaflet is also available, which describes the cathedral's highlights. Bear to the right of the cathedral and, at the end of The Close, just after the Cathedral Coffee Shop, go right down Dam Street and then immediately left along a footpath to Stowe Pool. From the far end of Stowe Pool you can look back at the cathedral's towers and see right through the windows from one side to the other, giving the impression that they're lighter and more delicate than stone.

5 When the path divides into two parallel tracks, follow the cycle path sign. Continue around the pool and back to Dam Street, before retracing your steps to the tourist information centre at the start.

The story of Lichfield begins soon after the death of Christ. In about ad 300, during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian, 1,000 Christians were martyred in this area. The name Lichfield, which literally means 'field of the dead', commemorates the event. As a martyr shrine, it soon became a centre of Christianity and, in ad 669, the Bishop of Mercia, Chad, established his seat here. Although Chad was only a bishop for three years, such was his zeal and holiness that he converted many to Christianity.

When Chad died in ad 672, he was buried close to the existing Church of St Mary. It wasn't long before his shrine became known as a place for miracles and in 700, a new church dedicated to St Peter was built to receive his body. Later, a Norman cathedral was built on the same site, but a new Gothic cathedral was begun in 1085, this time dedicated to St Chad. Finally, after 150 years, the greatest cathedral in all the land was finished?

Imagine you're a peasant living near Lichfield when the cathedral is first completed. You might have a small wattle and daub (wood and mud) house, some leather jerkins and sackcloth shoes. You might have seen a small Saxon or Norman church before, but more likely, if you live out in the country, you've never seen a stone building in your life, let alone one higher than two storeys.

You hear people talking about a new church being built in nearby Lichfield. They say it's built of stone and reaches up the heavens, but nothing you've heard can prepare you for the sheer scale of what you find when you make your pilgrimage, on foot, to this new house of God. No fewer than three gigantic spires soar into the sky and when you get close, approaching the vast west façade, it's so big that it feels like it's falling on top of you (try this as you're walking up to it yourself).

The cathedral as we see it today has hardly changed from the one exalted by Christian pilgrims and peasants some 800 years ago. If anything, it would have probably been more impressive in those times. Much of the stonework would have been painted silver and gold and the interior would have been more foreboding, lit only by the much darker stained-glass windows of medieval times. Most of the stained glass in the cathedral today dates from the 19th century and is much lighter.

Where to eat and drink

The Cathedral Coffee Shop is the ideal spot to stop for morning coffee, Sunday lunch or afternoon tea. It has a wide variety of snacks, meals and traditional English desserts on offer, all served in a welcoming and relaxed setting right across from the cathedral.

While you're there

Lichfield is a very pretty market town with great shopping, eating and drinking, not to mention plenty to see. Among the highlights are the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum, commemorating the life and work of the celebrated writer who, along with a number of famous sayings, was responsible for the first comprehensive English dictionary. Also worth visiting is the house of Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), the grandfather of Charles Darwin, who was a brilliant doctor, scientist, inventor and poet.

What to look for

The Cathedral's chapter house boasts the so-called Lichfield Gospels, an illuminated Latin manuscript dating from the 8th century. The chapel itself is remarkable enough, but seeing the elaborately decorated pages of this ancient book, it's hard to imagine it was written, painted and bound over 1,200 years ago. Also worth seeking out is the Chapel of St Michael, where the campaigns of the Staffordshire Regiment are commemorated and which contains a book of remembrance with names of the men who fell in the world wars.

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