Decided this would be an ideal day to reconnoiter parts of the route for my car-assist on 17th May (hopefully there'd be quiet roads) so I drove to the Forest Centre on Cannock Chase, arriving just after 9am.
Could I find a parking space? With difficulty – the place was heaving with mountain-bikers, and even Swinnerton's Bike Hire shop had a queue (I'd forgotten my bottle!). However, I didn't stay – they'd imposed parking charges (£3 per day) since my last visit, so I drove back up the hill and used the free one at the side of the road.
Assembled the bike then headed off-road down into the Sherbrook Valley, passing a couple of mountain-bikers on the way. Riding was fairly easy, except for the occasional patches of loose pebbles, but the thing that nearly brought me off was a couple of deer running across my path only a few metres ahead.
Crossed the Shugborough estate (very quiet) and over the River Trent via the 16th century Essex (packhorse) Bridge, then over the Trent & Mersey Canal and under the West Coast mainline. On past Ingestre Hall and another crossing of the Trent, and the A51, and onto familiar roads (I used to live in Uttoxeter). I decided not to bother with the rest of the morning route, so headed toward Blithfield Reservoir to pick up the afternoon route just after the proposed lunch stop in Abbots Bromley.
The next few miles were relatively flat, including a bit of canal towpath, but I was soon reminded that I'd have to climb to get back to the car! By this time, the sun had poked through the clouds, so I really enjoyed a welcome pint at the pub by the Castle Ring near Beaudesert. Then back off-road (down then up) towards Wandon, site of the old Youth Hostel that some of you may remember.
Another down then up to cross the Rugeley-Hednesford road and rail-line took me past the site of RAF Hednesford – do any of you remember that from National Service days? This was followed by a long, swooping descent to the Forest Centre for a very welcome cuppa. Now where did I leave the car? Oh no, back up the hill!