Picture of the Month: September 2022

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.

Hostelry that’s haunted by history

THEY don’t do history by halves at the Royal Standard of England.

There aren’t too many British pubs boasting a 2,000-word explanation on the menu of their historic origins – but then there aren’t too many hostelries as old or as atmospheric as this Forty Green favourite.


“Bring the dog, come for a walk, bring the children” says the owner in a welcome video on the pub’s website and “welcome pilgrim” is the message to those lured into the Beaconsfield countryside by the promise of good food in quintessentially English surroundings.

The pub claims to be the oldest freehouse in England, but although that’s a pretty contested title, few pubs have done as much work on researching their history as the RSOE.

Curved walls, low beams, twinkling candles and an eclectic collection of helmets, weapons and other period paraphernalia hint at the pub’s long and intriguing past and an extensive menu of crispy whitebait, huge battered fish and much-vaunted Sunday roasts draws a large regular following and a good cross-section of excellent reviews.


Like all busy and large establishments, it’s not possible to keep everyone happy and the long process of extending the historic alehouse generated some testy comments about the surroundings looking like a building site.

But the extension is open for business now and they’ve done a pretty impressive job of recreating something of the same sense of history to be found in the other rooms.


Certainly on our visit the young staff were cheerful, chatty and helpful. On repeated subsequent visits the food has been outstanding – by 8pm at night on a busy Sunday evening it wasn’t perhaps as remarkable as usual.

But of more than 1100 reviews on TripAdvisor, 83% thought the food very good or excellent, so it looks as if standards are maintained pretty well, even if prices aren’t exactly cheap, with the popular pies, fish and chips and Sunday roast main dishes now setting you back more than £20 a head.

Forty Green is a small hamlet surrounded by ancient beech woodlands and quiet country lanes and the pub provides the starting point for a couple of invigorating rambles of between half a mile and two miles for those wanting to work up an appetite before they eat – or work off the calories afterwards.

It was a sleepy backwater until the coming of the railway to Beaconsfield in 1906 and home to only about 20 households in the mid-19th century, mostly employed in agriculture or lace-making.

The location of the inn is no longer on a major thoroughfare, yet in the early days it was an important trade route for transporting bricks and tiles from Penn and Tylers Green down to the River Thames at Hedsor Wharf and from there by barge to London.

Cattle were moved along the drovers’ roads to markets in Beaconsfield and High Wycombe and hospitality was also given to the medieval courts on their way to deer hunts in Knotty Green and Penn.


The pub’s menus regale visitors with a history lesson about Roman Britain, Iron Age hill forts and the 1400-year-old brick and tile kiln industry in the area. Drinkers with sufficient time on their hands are invited to recall the last Viking raids, when longboats travelling up the River Thames to Hedsor Wharf.

Then it’s on to the Norman conquest, Domesday Book (1086) and droving days, when the Ship Inn, as it was then called, was a lodging house for royalty travelling to Windsor and Woodstock Palace.

From Tudor travellers to highwaymen and kings, the pub claims to have been hosting visitors and sitting at the heart of local life across the centuries…gaining its current name after Charles II’s restoration to the throne in 1663, the only inn in the country bestowed the honour of the full title, allegedly in recognition of the loyalty and support given to the Royalists by the landlord (or possibly as a reward for the king being able to meet his mistresses in rooms above the inn).


How large a pinch of salt to take with these tales is a moot point, but the 900-year-old hostelry is sufficiently atmospheric not to really grudge any exaggerations to the stories of  cavaliers and roundheads, highwaymen and ghostly hauntings.

Could that drum beating the car park really be that of a 12-year-old drummer boy brutally slaughtered by the Roundhead soldiers? At the end of the day it maybe really matter too much whether Charles II actually hid in the roof or a shadowy figure disappearing through the wall is actually that of an unknown traveller crushed outside the inn by a speeding coach and four in 1788.

Immortalised in Midsomer Murders, The Theory of Everything and, perhaps most memorably in Hot Fuzz, this is a placed haunted by history, and it’s certainly not hard to imagine those figures from past centuries enjoying a cooling pint inside its hallowed walls.

For menus, prices, opening times and other information, see the pub’s website.