There is a great wealth of adventure to be had around Cannock Chase, but if you've ever looked at the chase on a map you may have just noticed a little outcropping of green on the southwest corner jutting down towards Cannock town centre - this is Shoal Hill Common. The landscape will very much remind you of the chase proper, with plenty of hilly terrain and a mixture of heathland and forestry, but this little corner of the Chase is a perfect getaway for dog walkers and ramblers alike. At the heart of the common is a beautiful lake that is really the icing on the cake, making for a great spot to relax or the perfect centrepiece for those amazing views atop the hill overlooking the common. I've cycled and walked here but no matter what brought I still had a wonderful time - so let us get you to the common!
Shoal Hill Common marks the southernmost area of Cannock Chase and is one of the most convenient areas to reach from Cannock town centre - the A34 Stafford Road runs right from the town and marks the northern edge of the common in the village of Huntington. There are several options to join walks around the common but the most convenient will be the main car park off of Cocksparrow Lane, this gravel car park has plenty of room and puts you right in the centre of today's attraction. The common's location near the heart of Cannock town means public transportation is a breeze - either grab a bus running the length of the A34 from Cannock or beyond and you will be well-positioned to hop out at the north edge of the greenery. With the nearby M6 and toll, major A-roads linking from Stafford, Wolverhampton and beyond plus Cannock's train links mean that this little snippet of the countryside has better connections than most towns!
You can divide Shoal Hill Common into several distinct areas, each having their own unique charm and feeling distinct from one another. Anyone who has spent time exploring Cannock Chase will be aware of the varied terrain, with plenty of hills and flat open areas mixed together with heathland, woods and everything in-between - the common is no exception in this regard. At the furthest south-western reaches are farmland but after crossing the B5012 you will enter a serene little wood, full of life and, during my spring visit, exceptionally muddy. The terrain begins to climb as you move north and the trees give way to open grassy heathland that is pretty iconic to the chase area - there are plenty of great views around here looking out to the South/West with potential views of the Long Mynd and into Wales so in the sun this can be a seriously beautiful walking space, plenty of stone and sand paths between the low-lying flora. The next zone will be clear in front of you, as the dense line of trees lines the far end of the heathland (if you have driven to the car park denoted above, you will arrive at this near this tree line). There are a few paths that will take you between the trees but the easiest to both find and follow will take you straight uphill towards the main attraction - Cannock Lake. The lake itself sits between heathland and a tall hillside/cliff-lined by fir trees and woodlands at the far end - beyond this last strip of woods, you will join the town of Huntington where you will likely start out if you take public transportation.
Cannock Lake sits at the heart of Shoal Hill Common and is a perfect slice of serenity and an amazing little escape spot - pick one of the many great spots along its shore for a perfect picnic away from the hustle and bustle of the midland's urban sprawl. If you have followed the walk detailed above, however, you will find yourself high above the lake along the fir trees looking over the lake. There are areas around here you can climb down should you want to, including one that leads to a little secluded beach-like area, but we recommend you follow the circular up and around - as you ascend the hill further and further the views will get more and more spectacular until you are eventually looking out over the lake and to the countryside beyond, complete with glimpses of mountains far in the distance! If you didn't fancy a picnic on the shore of the lake then finding a quiet spot on this hillside is an equally stunning option. Once at the top you also get some great views to the north too. There are plenty of routes here but we opted to circle down and around the lake, just be warned the shoreline can be really muddy in parts - the route we took got progressively muddier and muddier as we approached the lake, picking our route carefully we managed to avoid the worst of it but good boots are essential here.
Our visit was on a stunning day in spring, with plenty of sunshine to keep us in good spirits. The bees and butterflies were out in force, and the bird chorus kept us company as we explored - at least until things dropped rather quiet as a bird of prey passed over. The lake itself is a wonderful piece of Staffordshire landscape and a real highlight of the area, there are so many tucked away gems around Cannock Chase and its neighbouring reserves and commons, but Cannock Lake and its surrounding viewpoints are just something special. Considering you are in an extension of the Chase, I would have to recommend combining this with a day of deer spotting or an adventure around a National Trust wonder: Shugborough Hall. You're also a short drive from Stafford town, so if you want a dose of history then Stafford Castle is a great opportunity and really helps to drive home just how varied the area is and how many opportunities there are to make some memories. Shoal Hill Common is a surprise gem, and when I do a round-up of all my favourite places around the Chase this one will absolutely make the list - if you are in the area and looking for a touch of open space loaded with natural wonder then this is a great option.