The complete guide to the trails at Cannock Chase, including the Monkey Trail and Follow the Dog
- Follow the Dog/Monkey trail: 23km combines 70% singletrack and red-graded DH trail
- Short black DH trail: 100% singletrack and jump course and semi-official DH trails
It’s hard to believe the Midlands would be home to one of England’s best man-made trail developments, but Cannock Chase, just north of Birmingham, is exactly that — a bona fide brilliant trail centre, just a stone’s throw from England’s second city.
Although there are now two XC trails at Cannock Chase, the fact is that if you want to ride the Monkey Trail, you’re probably going to ride the Follow the Dog trail first.
Follow the Dog
Follow the Dog starts and finishes at Birches Valley Forest Centre, near Rugely, home of Swinnerton Cycles and Birches Valley Cafe. The trail is well waymarked from the off, and heavily armoured with stones to help cope with the assaults of heavy traffic.
The whole route is graded red, with the occasional black-graded deviation, but you’d be forgiven for thinking things are a bit tame on first impressions.
The surface, while well armoured, does feel a shade slippery even on a dry day, so lose a bit of tyre pressure to increase your contact patch.
After a brief fire-road climb you find yourself starting a sustained singletrack descent complete with rollers, berms and a couple of small drop-offs. It’s at the end of this section that you find yourself presented with the option of going left and taking the Monkey Trail, or going right and sticking with Follow the Dog.
Keep on Following that Dog and you’ll find yourself climbing a bit, still on singletrack, up to a road crossing. There’s a bit more flat and uphill from here, through a campsite, before the final descent begins, and boy is it a cracker. There are berms aplenty, plus a fair few blind bends that will have you hauling on the brakes. The last hurrah sports a series of rollers that had us scratching our heads — they look like jumps, and the speed you carry into them suggests you’re supposed to jump them, but if you do get your wheels off the ground, you’ll find yourself going face first into the next roller. Check your speed and make sure you roll them — you may be near the end but it’s still no place for heroics.
The Monkey Trail
The Monkey Trail starts at the end of the first sustained descent of Follow the Dog and is easily spotted due to the HUGE signs. The first section is much the same as Follow the Dog, being relatively smooth and pretty much what you’d expect from a red-graded trail. The descent to the railway line is a highlight and an easy addition to Follow the Dog if you’re pushed for time.
Upon crossing the railway line (now a lovely safe bridge over the line) and then crossing a main road (caution), things step up a gear or two and really start to get interesting. The descents on this side of the road are what sets the Monkey Trail apart from most English trails and what will keep progressive trail riders coming back for more. The surface on the monkey trail is less slippery than on FTD as there are fewer stones embedded in the surface, allowing you to carry more speed through the turns.
The whole Monkey Trail is a hard and technically demanding ride and not really appropriate for beginners — just because you found Follow the Dog easy doesn’t mean you’re qualified to ride the Monkey — owing to more sustained technical sections the whole way, be they up or downhill.
The final three descents are among the most varied we’ve ridden in the UK and should provide gravity addicts of all tastes with the fix to get them buzzing. You start on a narrow singletrack with blocks embedded in the ground on the steeper chutes to keep you on your toes. You then find yourself on fast, smooth forest singletrack before finally, as a last hurrah, you descend on one of the craziest descents we’ve found on UK shores. Steep, bermed and littered with ski-jump style take-offs, it’s the nearest thing we’ve found to a proper downhill track at a trail centre — and that extends to the braking bumps. Upon re-crossing the road you’ve got a big climb back up to FTD, then it’s a solid half-hour of singletrack back to base.
What to ride
Any bike will do on Follow the Dog, but if you’re going to ride the Monkey Trail you’ll have more fun on a full-sus than on a hardtail. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because you‘re in the Midlands the trail is going to be flat — Chase Trails has eked maximum elevation out of the hills and some of these descents go on forever. With the long descents and the braking bumps, a full-sus bike is our weapon of choice. Pack flat pedals and a full-face helmet if you’re going to session the DH trails.