An easy walk gives you a chance to appreciate the architectural history of Staffordshire's greatest country house.
Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 180ft (55m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Gravel tracks, roads and tow paths
Landscape Forest, country park and canal
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 244 Cannock Chase
Start/finish SK 004205
Dog friendliness Must be kept on lead near main roads and in park
Parking Ample parking at start point
Public toilets None on route
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 Take the right-hand path at the end of Seven Springs car park and continue right at a fork shortly after. Follow a wide gravel track, ignoring all paths to the left or right, and continue as far as Stepping Stones. Ford the stream here and head right as far as the major T-junction.
2 Head right here, following the Staffordshire Way footpath sign. Continue along a wide gravel track, again ignoring less obvious paths to the left or right, as far as the A513. Cross the road carefully and follow it right for 400yds (366m) before turning left, again following Staffordshire Way footpath signs.
3 Follow the metalled road past the Staffordshire County Museum and Shugborough Park Farm. Shortly after Park Farm, continue along the Staffordshire Way, ignoring a more direct path left to the house itself. Follow the bridleway all the way to Essex Bridge. If you do want a closer look at the façade, head left instead and follow the path round past the front of the house; it's signed as a private drive but this is meant more for cars, and it is open to the public when the grounds are open. If you continue all the way round you'll eventually rejoin the main route just before Essex Bridge. From close range it's also interesting to note that the columns aren't made of stone at all, but are instead made of wood which has been clad with slate and painted to look like stone, a solution that would have been considerably cheaper.
4 By way of a short diversion, just 350yds (320m) to the north of Essex Bridge, heading left along the tow path, is the junction of the Trent and Mersey and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canals. The toll-keeper's cottage has disappeared, but a toll-house with arched windows and a kiosk still remain on the south side of the latter. Go across the bridge and head right along the canal (cross Essex Bridge and the canal to reach the Lockhouse Restaurant on the left). Follow the tow path for a mile (1.6km) and, at Navigation Farm, head right on the metalled road. Carry on over Weetman's Bridge, cross the A513 carefully, and continue up a short drive back to the car park.
Shugborough, a 900-acre (365ha) estate on the edge of Cannock Chase, is without doubt the grandest stately home in Staffordshire. As the ancestral pile of the Earls of Lichfield for over 300 years, it was home to Thomas Patrick Anson, Fifth Earl of Lichfield, better known as the world famous photographer Patrick Lichfield.
Originally built in 1693 as a small country manor, it has been altered and added to by successive generations of the Anson family, and by two people in particular: Thomas Anson (1695-1773) and his brother George (1697-1762). Thomas, well-travelled and well-educated, inherited the house in 1720, and made major changes over the next 50 years, while the most significant alteration, or at least the one most apparent from the outside, was the addition of a magnificent, eight-columned ionic portico designed by Samuel Wyatt in 1794. Much of this work was paid for out of George's own fortune: during his lifetime he had earned considerable fame and riches as a naval officer by capturing a Spanish treasure galleon. He later went on to become an Admiral.
As a well-travelled man, Thomas would have been very aware of what was considered good taste throughout his dealings with architects, and the house as we see it today is testimony to his ideals and what was considered the height of fashion for much of the 18th century. This, it's important to remember, was the age of reason, when industry and science were starting to take over the world; architects and their employers were keen to reflect this idea in their country piles, and the geometric simplicity of ancient Greek and Roman architecture seemed like a logical choice. It embodied the ideals of man being at the centre of the universe, taming nature with his new-found knowledge.
The gardens, too, were ordered and regimented, set out in a formal geometric pattern with the house at the centre of the estate, and, by implication, the universe. It was the same ideal that made classical motifs on Wedgwood pottery so enduring, and it's no surprise that Thomas Anson was a patron of the famous potter. Almost as a direct consequence of this insistence on law and order in gardens and architecture, the architects of the 19th century instigated a backlash against reason: romance was king, disorder was beauty, and the so-called 'Gothic' style enjoyed a revival in mansions and follies across England.
Today, from the outside, the mansion is much the same as it must have been during Thomas Anson's day. In 1966, following the death of the Fourth Earl of Lichfield, the estate was given to the National Trust; since then it has been managed jointly by the Trust and Staffordshire County Council; the house isn't open all year but as the route of the walk is on either a public bridleway or established rights of way it can be completed at any time of year.
In addition to the house itself, the estate features a working farm museum in a second building designed by Wyatt, with demonstrations of farmhouse cooking, milking, and bread, butter and cheese-making by guides in period dress. The old servants' quarters, meanwhile, house the County Museum where costumed actors recreate what life was like on the estate a hundred years ago.
The Lockhouse Restaurant is a convenient place to stop for a drink or a bite to eat. If the weather's warm you can sit out by the canal and watch the world drift by; there's also a wide choice of hot meals, not to mention the biggest toasted teacakes you've ever seen. Open daily 10:30am-4pm, and 7-9pm, Friday and Saturday in the summer.
There are no fewer than eight monuments of national importance to be seen in the 900 acres (365ha) of parkland around Shugborough, but the most obvious of these en route are the Dark Lantern and the Arch of Hadrian. These follies were designed by, among others, James 'Athenian' Stuart, a classicist whose popularity reflected the tastes of the time. Originally built by the Earl of Essex to gain access to Cannock Chase for hunting, the Essex Bridge is the longest packhorse bridge in England, and has never been widened.