Coppice Hill and the Freda Memorial

A memorial grave for a much-loved dog is a reminder of Cannock Chase’s darker days

NEAREST LOCATION

Cannock Chase

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

4.25 miles (6kms)

ASCENT
246ft (75m)
TIME
2hrs
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Easy
STARTING POINT
SJ979192

About the walk

Near the start of the walk is a monument to Freda, canine mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade which was stationed on Cannock Chase during the First World War. Freda was a Dalmatian adopted by the brigade at this time and it’s said that she accompanied them to the Battle of the Somme in 1916. However, another story suggests that in fact she might have been found and brought back while the soldiers were in France. Certainly the warmth and companionship of their four legged friend must have been some comfort, or at the very least a distraction, from the horrors on the battlefield.

A lasting memorial

Over 70 New Zealand soldiers are buried at the Commonwealth Cemetery on Cannock Chase, which was also the last resting place for Freda who died in 1918. Her collar, bearing the inscription ‘Freda of the NZ Rifle Brigade’, is kept in the Army Museum at Waiouru, New Zealand. Freda’s grave continues to attract visitors, some out of curiosity and others on organised military history tours. In 2010 Freda featured in an Armistice Day ceremony when dogs and their owners were invited to gather at her grave to honour Freda and other working and service dogs like her.

The Tackeroo railway

From the start of the walk at Coppice Hill as far as point 2, above Mere Pool, you are walking along the trackbed of a one-time military railway, constructed during 1915 by the West Cannock Colliery Company to serve the huge Brocton and Rugeley military camps that were established on the Chase. It continued north to Milford and south all the way to Hednesford and was primarily used to move supplies and munitions, since the two camps were the size of small towns. The railway was sometimes called the ‘Tackeroo’ Express, and although no-one is quite sure of the origin of this unusual name it may have emanated from the New Zealand troops and have a Maori derivation. One suggestion is that it possibly comes from the Maori term ‘tutakarerewa’ meaning to be alert, unsettled and apprehensive. Although the line was dismantled soon after the war its embankments and cuttings can still be made out today. One of the embankments crosses high above Mere Pool (sometimes called Mere Pit), which once used to be the sewage works and sludge beds for the military camp. Today it’s a lovely, tree-lined pond that’s a valuable wildlife refuge, a far cry from a century ago when thousands of troops must have made Cannock Chase seem a far from peaceful place.

Walk directions

From the far car park by the metal barrier walk back down the road for 50yds (46m) and turn right before you reach the wooden sign for Freda’s Grave. Join a broad, sunken track and stay on the main road left of Brocton Coppice and ignoring all paths off. It swings right, the left above Mere Pool.

At the path junction on the far side go hard right for track downhill (signposted ‘Punchbowl’). When you reach the bend of a much wider track go right and follow this to a path junction by stepping stones.

Don’t cross the stepping stones but continue straight on, following the broad track along the foot of the Sherbrook Valley. The birch trees recede and the heath becomes more open. Near a picnic bench two tracks come in from the right.

Carry on along the main route, again keeping straight on at another junction. With the brook still on your left, follow the track as it kinks right and continue until you reach a 5-way junction of tracks.

Take the second right, a wide bridleway that climbs gently into the middle of the heath. Keep right at a fork as it curves right and continue along this main route over two path junctions. Go right on to a wider track to reach the Glacial Boulder, partly hidden by trees near a trig point over to the left.

Continue along this popular track northwards, with Sherbrook Valley now across to your right. Ignore all turnings off left and right and stay on this route all the way back to Coppice Hill. A short, signposted path leads to Freda’s Grave nearby.

Additional information

Form paths and gravel tracks, no stiles

Woods and heath

Very good, but be alert for bicycles and deer

OS Explorer 244 Cannock Chase

Coppice Hill

Milford Common

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WALKING IN SAFETY

Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.

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About the area

Discover Staffordshire

It was Staffordshire that bore the brunt of the largest non-nuclear explosion of World War II, when a munitions dump at RAF Fauld went up in 1944. It was also the county’s regiment that once boasted within its ranks the most decorated NCO of World War I, in the person of William Coltman (1891-1974). Going back a little further, George Handel penned his world-famous masterpiece The Messiah on Staffordshire soil. During another chapter of Staffordshire history, the county was home to the first canals and the first factory in Britain, and it had front-row seats for the drama surrounding one of the most notorious murder trials of the 19th century, that of Doctor William Palmer.

In outline, Staffordshire looks not unlike the profile of a man giving Leicestershire a big kiss. The man’s forehead is arguably the best region for hillwalking, as it comprises a significant chunk of the Peak District. This area is characterised by lofty moors, deep dales and tremendous views of both. Further south are the six sprawling towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, which historically have had such an impact on Staffordshire’s fortunes, not to mention its culture and countryside. This is pottery country, formerly at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and the driving force behind a network of canals that still criss-cross the county.

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