Elephant Stone

At the end of a long week of exams, assignments and driving backwards and forwards to Wolverhampton, I needed to refresh my tired eyes and mind. Others in my situation may have headed for a spa but I headed for Lichfield bus station. The plan was to jump on the first bus that came, get off a certain number of stops later, and to explore wherever it was that I ended up.

Image (c) Central Buses

Image (c) Central Buses

The first bus to turn up was for Route 66 and, as I was in a fatalistic kind of mood, I took this as a good omen. However, the driver was reluctant to let me buy a day ticket, pointing out that not only did the bus only go as far as Burntwood, it stopped running about 4 o’clock. Not quite the epic journey I was hoping for, so I took his advice and decided to get my kicks on Route 62 instead. It winds from Lichfield to Cannock. More than eleven miles all the way. Well it goes past Sandyway, Pipehill and Boney Hay. And Cannock Wood looked oh so good.  Plus you can change at the bus station for Tamworth. All for £6.20.

I had planned to get off after an arbitrary ten stops but I was enjoying looking out of a window rather than at a screen so much, I stayed on the bus for an hour. As the clock struck two we arrived in Hednesford. On first sight, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d been miraculously transported to Lourdes instead.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Hednesford

Grotto hednesford

hednesford grotto mary

Hednesford’s first Roman Catholic priest, Dr Patrick Boyle, made frequent pilgrimages to the shrine in France.  Concious that many in the Diocese hadn’t a prayer of being able to visit themselves, he conceived the idea of bringing the experience of Lourdes to them but died long before the thirteenth century style church and replica grotto were completed in 1934.

Due to mining subsidence in the area, the concrete church is built on an adjustable concrete raft. Standing alone in the grotto, all I saw was an architectural curiosity, although the floral offerings hint at how much more this place is to others.  Perhaps, if I were to come back in July to join the nine hundred or so pilgrims from across the Archdiocese of Birmingham, or in August for the annual Polish rally, which at one point attracted almost ten thousand people (1), I too would see it in a different light.

For now though, back on the bus and to Cannock and something I feel much less guilty about labelling an architectural curiosity. Meet Khushi.

cannock elephant

Khushi the elephant is a replacement for the vandalised Canumbo (a.k.a Nocky), a fibreglass elephant  commissioned by WH Smith Do-it-All in 1989. No-one seems to know why.  Was it inspired by Walsall’s infamous hippo I wonder? A lady sitting nearby didn’t know either, but she said she thought she knew of a rhinoceros statue in Birmingham. It turned out she was in fact thinking of the Bullring Bull but she did make me wonder what other beasts are lurking out there? I’ve started to draw up a list, and it’s a work in progress, but so far, in Staffordshire alone, we have a surprised looking white cow on a flying carpet, a lion in a pensive mood,  a panther influenced by the geometric forms of Cubism and a bronze stag and hind, won by a woman from Cannock on the Price is Right and donated to the High Court shopping centre in Cannock. Forget the road trip, next time we’re going on safari (2).


1) The rally was established in August 1948 by Father Mieczyslaw Bossowski, who I believe came to England with the II Corps at the end of the Second World war and became the resident priest at the Wheaton Aston Polish Resettlement Camp.

(2) That one is especially for you Matt R.





Scheduled Visit

Sitting in the car park of a closed museum*, we pondered our next move. I remembered there was a sign for ‘Castle Ring’ a little way down the road, an Iron Age Hill Fort I’d always meant to visit, but hadn’t. Perfect. A short while later we pulled up in a much fuller car park that the one we had left.

Plan B

Ridge & Furrow I think. See edit below.

As Castle Ring is only about 6 miles away from Lichfield, this post is a nudge to get you to go and have a look for yourself if you possibly can, as descriptions and photos (especially the kind I take!) are no substitute for visiting the highest point of Cannock Chase (235m in fact), which also happens to be a site thought to have been occupied 2,500 years ago. For more information & directions, you can download the leaflet from here and read a much more detailed description on the Pastscape record.

On the subject of photos though, it is worth having a look at a photo of the site from above.

Now that I’ve been once, I shall definitely have to go back. There are the remains of a 12th century medieval hunting lodge I missed and as well as being a Scheduled Ancient Monument, it’s also been classified as a Site of Biological Importance. Adders and common lizards, damselflies and dragonflies are found in the grass and bogland habitats there.

Obviously, I am no expert, but it’s interesting to read the Management Plan  produced by Cannock Chase District Council (according to the plan, they purchased the site for £200 in 1933 at a sale at the Swan Hotel in Lichfield. It had previously belonged to the 6th Marquis of Anglesey). It must be a hard task to maintain a balance between public access to somewhere like this and protecting the site’s ecology and archaeology. 

I’ve mentioned the Scheduled Ancient Monument we have here in Lichfield before. Other than this listing, is there anything in place to protect, manage or inform about this site, as there is at Castle Ring? Should there be?

*My fault entirely. Considering I spend so much time on the internet, you’d think I’d use it for useful things like checking opening times!

Edit 25/1/2012. Doubt has crept in about when that ridge & furrow dates to. I originally said it dated back to early 20th century, based on something I’d read but ‘Born a Lichfeldian’s’ comment has made me rethink this. So if any knows any better (and I’m sure there are plenty that do!) please don’t hesitate to put me straight!