A thin pall of grey smoke drifts from the heath land. It’s been a wet, miserable start to 2013, barbecues rained out and lawns left to grow clumpy and shaggy.
Later the fire takes hold and clouds of black-grey fumes rise into the perfect blue sky. The smoke is enough to rival the output of Rugeley power station beneath us.
We learn later on that the smoke was a fire deliberately set on Cannock Chase which took crews five hours to damp down. The return of the rain this week has been a mercy for the heather and bracken.
It’s easy to see why our vantage point was chosen for a hill fort. Castle Ring is the highest point on the Chase with clear views to the north and east stretching away towards mid-Staffordshire and Derbyshire.
When tribes sought refuge here the trees would have been cleared from these wooded slopes giving views to all points of the compass. The Cornovii would have defended Castle Ring. The Cornovii were a Celtic tribe that settled a territory spanning from Chester to the Wolverhampton area and taking in much of Staffordshire, Shropshire, Cheshire and parts of north-east Wales.
Little is known of the Cornovii, but there is a tantalising theory that they may have followed a horned God cult. This may have been passed onto us in the form of the famous Abbots Bromley horn dance.
Castle Ring is an incredible structure. Despite using the natural landscape to its best effect a huge amount of physical labour must have been needed to dig the ditches and prepare embankments.
The Cornovii needed to defend themselves from surrounding tribes, but of course a greater enemy soon arrived…from Rome.