Considering that Cannock Chase is a relatively small forest, with its highest point being only 240m above sea level, you wouldn’t expect it to be an area that is synonymous with mountain biking. But with 14-miles of perfect singletrack trails, a dedicated downhill area with a dozen trails to choose from, and an expansive network of beginner-friendly trails to explore, you might just be surprised to discover that it’s a perfect place for your two-wheeled adventures.
In this post, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about mountain biking at Cannock Chase.
Follow the Dog
Follow the Dog is a red-graded cross-country mountain bike trail that runs for almost 7-miles through the forest. Featuring a variety of obstacles such as boardwalks and rock gardens, it’s not hard to see why this trail is so popular.
Follow the Dog was the first mountain bike trail to be built at Cannock Chase. Over 15 years ago, a group of volunteer trail builders set out to try and build a singletrack trail through the forest. They would meet on Sunday mornings to begin the mammoth task of crafting over six miles of fast-flowing trail. One of the trail builders would take his Jack Russel, Zak, along with him, and while the group were deciding which direction to take the trail in, they would often just follow the dog into the forest – and so the trail found its name.
Follow the Dog begins and ends at the Birches Valley Visitor Centre on the outskirts of Rugeley, Staffordshire. Here you will find a large car park, toilet facilities and a cafe. There is also a bike shop at Birches Valley where you can pick up any new gear that you need – or even a new bike. There are also hire facilities within the shop, so if you’re new to biking and want to try before you buy, this is a great option.
The trail classed as a red route, meaning it is aimed at riders of an intermediate skill level. Throughout the trail, there are features that are not suitable for beginners, such as rock gardens, narrow boardwalks and steep, technical descents. However, if you are a beginner, there are plenty of other options for you – more about those later.
For the more advanced riders, there are a few black-graded features thrown in to keep you on your toes. Rather than being complete black trails, these are just short detours to a more challenging line and they all return to the main trail after a short section.
The trails attract a lot of people from the local area and you’ll see a huge variety in the kinds of bikes being used too. From the expensive carbon, full-suspension bikes right through to the cheap and cheerful commuter bikes. A decent hard-tail mountain bike is perfect for Follow the Dog, but a full-suspension will help to smooth out some of the rougher sections too.
As an introduction to mountain biking at Cannock Chase, Follow the Dog is a great starting point for those of a good skill level. For the average rider, it will take between 1-2 hours to complete a lap, and then you can grab a coffee from the cafe and decide whether to go for another lap or go and explore a different trail.
The Monkey Trail
The Monkey Trail is a 7.5-mile extension to Follow the Dog and is usually tackled as part of one big figure of eight loop that takes in both trails.
The trail begins midway round Follow the Dog where you will see a signpost showing you the option to break off the main trail and join onto the Monkey. Although the Monkey Trail is a red-graded route, it feels like more of a challenge than Follow the Dog.
There are long, steep climbs to overcome, quickly followed by fast and technical descents. A good level of fitness and competence is needed to complete the trail. That said, this trail is a lot of fun and those climbs are rewarded with some perfectly crafted downhill sections and you’ll soon forget about the burning legs.
As the Monkey Trail is an extension to Follow the Dog, parking and facilities are in the same location at Birches Valley.
It is possible to just ride the Monkey Trail, but to do this you would need to park in a layby on the A460 between Rugeley and Hednesford, and you’d be well away from all of the useful facilities. It’s well worth making a longer day of it and taking in both routes in one 14-mile loop.
Green and Blue Trails
For the beginners, or those looking for a more leisurely ride, there are some great options with the green and blue routes at Cannock Chase.
These trails range in distance from 1 mile right up to 12.5 miles, and they usually utilise the shared, fire access roads that criss-cross the forest.
The pick of these trails is the blue-graded Sherbrook Valley Trail. There are two options with this trail, the shorter 7.5-mile route or a longer 12.5-mile circuit. For those visiting Cannock Chase for the first time, the Sherbrook Valley Trail is a great way to explore this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Expect a mixture of forest tracks and open heathland, with plenty of picturesque places to stop for a rest and enjoy the surroundings. If you’re quiet enough you might even spot some of the deer that live in the forest.
For the shorter version of this trail, parking is at the Marquis Drive Visitor Centre, and for the longer route park at Birches Valley.
Stile Cop Downhill Trails
For those that like fast downhill sections with big jumps and drop-offs, Stile Cop is the place for you.
Cannock Chase isn’t known for its big hills and the downhill area at Stile Cop only has an elevation drop of 65 metres, but don’t let that put you off. It might be small but it certainly packs a punch.
There are a dozen trails here, all of varying grades to suit different abilities. They’re short runs at around one-minute long, but that just means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to hone your skills and master each route. It goes without saying that you’ll need to be of an advanced skill level to start tackling these downhill routes, and a full-face helmet and body armour are recommended.
There’s a small car park at the top of Stile Cop Road, and access to the trails begins just down the hill on the opposite side of the road. There are no facilities at Stile Cop and the closest amenities are in the nearby town of Rugeley.