After a summer of Olympic success, many Britons have been inspired to get active, including myself! And I’m especially passionate about getting active outdoors, surrounded by nature.
Studies have shown that both regular exercise and spending time outdoors can have a massive positive impact on a person’s mental health, and after such an active summer, I would definitely agree that I’ve been feeling an increase in my levels of happiness and contentment. (Even if a large portion of my happiness is just caused by all of the cute dogs I see while out and about)
Because I started my fitness journey back in Brazil, where there were plenty of beautiful places to run, I previously thought that moving back to Stafford would mean dragging myself out to run along boring roads, and slowly losing all enthusiasm. But it turns out even the little old town of Stafford has some picturesque places to visit…
In the hopes that I can inspire other people to not only get active outdoors, but also to embrace the beauty of our hometown, I have gathered my Top 5 favourite places in and around Staffordshire to go for a run, bike ride, or even a peaceful stroll and a picnic…
Our Autumn weather may not be the greatest, but that’s no excuse to let the Team GB Olympic spirit die out!
This just has to be number one; we can’t just have an Outstanding Area of Natural Beauty right on our doorstep and completely ignore it! Can we? …Well, the sad truth is that many residents of our area take Cannock Chase entirely for granted, never venturing more than a couple of its vast, 26 square miles. I say it’s about time we start taking advantage of this hidden treasure.
Cannock Chase is unbelievably versatile; you can run along the easy, flat passages of the old disused railways, or push yourself by taking a gruelling route up and down the notorious switchbacks. You can cycle along narrow tracks through tall pine trees, or stroll across open heathlands, breathing in the spectacular views. The Chase feels like so many different types of forest, all rolled into one!
And with this versatility comes a refreshing sense of freedom; spending some time just getting lost amongst the many shades of green, and feeling the fresh air fill your lungs really does clear your mind, and make you feel like you could achieve anything.
(To browse a few Cannock Chase trail maps, click here.)
Okay, so Birches Valley is technically still a part of Cannock chase, but with such a fun range of things to do there, I thought it needed its own little section.
It still has all the versatility of the chase with regards to things like running, walking and cycling trails, and so many species of tree that you feel like you’ve explored multiple places in one day. But it also has that little bit extra… obstacle course in the trees anyone?
That’s right; Birches Valley is home to Stafford’s Go Ape course, where visitors can spend some time monkeying around in the treetops. Perfect for someone looking for a new, fun, and exciting way to get active. And, although it’s not in keeping with the intentions of this article, I have to mention the lazy option too; there’s even an opportunity to have a go at travelling by Segway!
Staffordshire’s Canals & Rivers
If you live in or around Stafford and don’t think you live near to a canal or river, you’re probably wrong. Staffordshire seems to have a whole network of canals and rivers that hardly anyone knows about! They can take you almost anywhere, just look at the map below… (Map from www.canalcruising.co.uk/canal-boat-routes)
Running, walking, or cycling along the canal is a lovely alternative to taking a road; it feels so much more organic, and it’s undeniably more pleasant to have boats with smiley owners and rooftop gardens meandering past you when compared to having noisy cars whizz by.
Also a bonus, if you are fascinated by history like me, is to think that back in the late 1700s/early 1800s these canals were the most efficient way for traders to get into the town centre, so they really were like busy super-highways, constantly full with long boats being pulled along by the horses at their side, as was the only way back then. It is so interesting when trundling along them nowadays, so green and tranquil, to think that they were once so hectic and full of activity. And if you look closely, you can still see evidence of this history by the canals, such as the marks left by the ropes with which the horses would pull the barges along.
Plus, on one bike ride in Stafford a couple of weeks ago, we made a brilliant discovery; the candy boat. A lovely floating sweet shop that sails local rivers selling its handmade fudge!
The Shugborough Estate is a preserved Georgian mansion and grounds, complete with beautiful gardens, and staff dressed in period costume. The estate will soon be closing for a while, due to its transfer to the National Trust, who have big plans to improve the estate so that it can once again become the jewel in the crown of Staffordshire.
For now though, there is still time to make the most of Shugborough’s beautiful grounds. They are open to run, walk or cycle through until November. Then, when the Trust reopens the estate in March 2017, there will be many more walking routes that showcase some of the park’s key features and most lovely views.
So far, me and dad have had many bike rides through Shugborough park, but its not long now before it will be the setting for our next big race! A cross-county 10km run, both across grass and along paths, ‘with one big hill‘, in order to raise money for Katherine House Hospice. Wish us luck!
The Isabel Trail
The Isabel trail is only part of a long cycle route that stretches from Beaconside to Uttoxeter. It follows along part of an old disused railway line, and passes through the Doxey Marshes Nature Reserve, as well as many of Staffordshire’s little villages like Haughton and Gnosall.
The trail is super easy to access for anyone that lives in Stafford, and its nice knowing that the route stretches for miles without any hills or tough parts, so its perfect for a pleasant Sunday cycle or stroll.
A particularly nice picnic spot along the way is the Millenium Green, in Derrington. (See photos below)
I hope I have inspired one or two of you to make the most of the Autumn sunshine by getting outdoors and active. Also let it be an inspiration that we can find beauty in any place, don’t just take your hometown for granted because you’ve been there for so long, try to see it from a newcomers perspective- let yourself appreciate its good parts.
If you have enjoyed reading this or have any suggestions for me, please leave a comment– I always love to hear what you think! 🙂