OUR picture choice for September shows a very ordinary bench on a very ordinary path: but for those who love a good mystery, there’s nothing “ordinary” about Cannock Chase.
A former royal forest now managed by Forestry England, this area of outstanding natural beauty is a good two-hour drive from the Chilterns.
But although a sunny September evening is a perfect time to see the Chase at its best, this picturesque part of Staffordshire is perhaps best known for its folklore, and mysterious sightings of black dogs, big cats, werewolves, UFOs and even a British Bigfoot.
It also gained notoriety in the late 1960s for the horrifying “Babes in the Ditch” murders, when the remains of three young girls were found on the Chase after going missing from areas along the A34 road to Birmingham. (A motor engineer from Walsall died in prison after being convicted of one of the murders in 1968.)
Periodically since then, local newspaper headlines have seized on a range of mysterious sightings, from demonic ghost dogs to UFOs and a mysterious “black-eyed child”.
One man who’s been investigating the area’s ghostly goings-on for more than a decade is paranormal investigator and author Lee Brickley, who clearly believes there’s plenty of evidence to support his claims that the 26-mile-square forest is the UK’s most active supernatural hotspot.
A string of his short books detail tales of the area’s ghosts, werewolves and UFOs, drawing visits from ghost clubs, paranormal researchers and others determined to establish whether big cats and ‘werewolf-type creature’ really prowl around the woods.
Declassified Government documents have revealed Ministry of Defence concerns about the area being a hot-spot for reported UFO activity, with accounts of silent balls of light circling Pye Green Tower, cigar-shaped tubes flying over Burntwood, and a 10ft light hovering over the Stafford Road.
More recently, Lee embarked on a new line of inquiry, to establish whether documentaries that had enthralled him as a child about Bigfoot sightings in America had ever been matched by similar tales from the British Isles.
Predictably, almost all reports of a “British Bigfoot” come from the Cannock Chase area, and his 2021 book pulled together accounts of some of the most credible local sightings.
Back at the Iron Age hill fort at Castle Ring, looking out over Rugeley, the sunlight is fading but the chill in the air has no particular feel of foreboding about it.
This is a popular place for walkers because of the spectacular views on a clear day, along with a real sense of history: almost 2000 years ago, members of the Cornovii tribe may have looked out from this fort at the sight of Roman soldiers advancing across the land.
It’s also identified by Lee Brickley as hotspot for mysterious sightings and paranormal activity, but on the evening of our visit, there’s no indication of anything amiss.
It’s quite a view, though. And the beauty of the forest makes it worth a detour, even there aren’t any cryptids, werewolves or flying saucers around to add a frisson of excitement to the ramble.