Cycling Birmingham to London by canal- 2 days optimistic?

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  • Cycling Birmingham to London by canal- 2 days optimistic?
  • Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    I’m hatching a little plan to cycle to London on the Grand Union next week as I have three days off.
    Has anyone done it here?
    I’m thinking my plan for two days may be a little optimistic due to the relatively wet conditions and the short days in terms of light.
    Would plan to leave from Warwick area, and maybe bivy or more likely hotel by Milton Keynes (I don’t have panniers or owt)
    Can anyone offer up any thoughts or experiences?
    Cheers.

    There’s a Grand Union canal race for runners with a route map on the web site which may be of help http://www.gucr.co.uk/

    kristoff
    Member

    Depends how long you’re happy in the saddle for, average speed.. If its all canal paths then maintaining 10mph average you could do it in two days no problem averaging 7ish hours a day in the saddle.

    Premier Icon ononeorange
    Subscriber

    kayak – I use it a fair bit in the Watford area to link up trails etc and to be honest at this time of year it’s one of the least claggy things around – it makes a nice break from horse-chewed gunk.

    I have planned to ride it up to the Midlands one year, so please post up afterwards with your ride report.

    Have a good trip!

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    Thanks all. Not decided to go for it yet. Torn between that and a few days Welsh trails kipping in the van.
    I’ll certainly jot some ideas if I do though.

    stumpy_m4
    Member

    Wouldnt mind giving that a bash myself, over say 3 days and then getting the train back up to brum πŸ™‚

    monksie
    Member

    I’ve done the 100 mile Cheshire Ring a couple of times. It took around 11 hours both times but they were at either end of summer. Not the best time to do it because of the walkers.
    I’d say do it late Feb or early March and take lights. You can get a good pace going with a clear run. Especially early in the day. Nobondy seems to want toget the dog muddy before work but they’re not bothered after work. Take a radio or Ipod. Hells teeth it’s a boring bike ride. I can’t imagine any other canal has much to keep you occupied.

    saleem
    Member

    I’d be up for this,not next week though

    Premier Icon The Wrong Trousers
    Subscriber

    I’ve done that a couple of times over the years, although not in one long stretch. I’ve started at Wolverton, near MK, and gone North. A couple of times I went to Stratford and the other time to Birmingham. And then I’ve been south to London a few times.
    It’s an interesting ride, more so in and around towns, interesting industrial heritage to investigate, nice pubs and tea shops in the rural areas. Best done mid-week and outside of school holidays to avoid walkers, bored kids and very grumpy maggot danglers as much as possible. One of the times was on a Saturday and I ran (not literally) into a fishing match, mile after mile of (see above) all with tons and tons of kit spread over the towpath and those stupid rods that are longer than the canal is wide (WHY ?). For some reason they have a right to be there and you don’t ?!?!. Allegedly.
    A bit boring in between the towns, but you’re not between towns for long.
    There was one stretch that was hideously overgrown and virtually unrideable on all of the occasions, this was just to the North of Braunston and went on for about three miles up to around Napton Junction (I think) where the Oxford canal and GU mainline diverge.
    There are one or two sections that you aren’t supposed to cycle on, but they are few and far between and appear to be no different to the other parts. I ignored this and no-one challenged me.
    You’re supposed to have a permit to cycle along the towpath which you can get for free from Waterscape.com. I’ve never been asked for it by anyone so I gave up carrying it.
    Hope that helps.

    Premier Icon ononeorange
    Subscriber

    Hmmm. Might have a crack at this going north on singlespeed this year.

    That map on the link above is really helpful, does snyone know if a GU map exists in hard copy? I don’t fancy buying / carrying a million OS maps…..

    Premier Icon The Wrong Trousers
    Subscriber

    Yes, you can get a map of just the canal in paper form, they are (or were) produced by a company called geo Map. Have a blue cover, try Googling.

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    These are the maps I’ve been lent, by a girl who did the trip from Birmingham centre in two days, but that was in August and she is good on stamina, having ridden across the States…
    I’m not so sure on doing it with short light days, and not having great lights.

    I used to work on the canal at Napton junction So can confirm the towpath is pretty dire around there…
    I’ve had the misfortune of piloting a narrowboat through a fishing match before… Blummin moody gets… Moaning about canal boats…. On THE CANAL..
    I’ll just bunnyhop the rods πŸ™‚

    stumpy_m4
    Member

    Id be up for this in the better weather :)….

    MrTall
    Member

    I joined 3 non cycling friends for a section of this 2 years ago. They did it in 2 days althought they suffered on the 2nd day.

    2 of them did pretty much no cycling and the other did a bit so i’d think you’d not struggle too much, although daylight hours will be against you (they did it in summer).

    I use the guides you’ve shown and they are very good, i do a lot of miles around the Brum canal system in the summer months as it’s nice riding but some sections of the ‘towpath’ can get very muddy and unrideable in some sections.

    allthepies
    Member

    BTW you don’t need a permit any more to cycle on towpaths. Not that many people even bothered getting one πŸ™‚

    maxtorque
    Member

    Might be more interesting on one of these:

    ??

    Premier Icon ononeorange
    Subscriber

    Thanks on those guides.

    Anyone interested in say April in going north with me from the Watford area?

    PeterPoddy
    Member

    For some reason they have a right to be there and you don’t ?!?!. Allegedly.

    Well, the club or organisation paid to hire the canal as a ‘venue’ and each angler paid to enter the match, so you can sort of see the point there I think. And if it’s a National event, there could well be a lot of money riding on it.

    Premier Icon tmb467
    Subscriber

    Did the Liverpool – Leeds canal a few years back in 14 hrs (127 miles)

    We weren’t that fit but as long as you keep eating and can deal with the boredom it’s ok

    How long is the one you’re doing?

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    It’s about 120 miles I think.

    b r
    Member

    Thanks all. Not decided to go for it yet. Torn between that and a few days Welsh trails kipping in the van.

    Given the choice, go to Wales.

    Premier Icon tmb467
    Subscriber

    At 120 miles you could probably do it in one day…

    But personally, after doing Liverpool to Leeds, I’d opt for Wales EVERY time πŸ™‚

    saleem
    Member

    I’d go from Warwick later in the year if anyone wants to.

    brooess
    Member

    I did it a few years ago. Birmingham to Leighton Buzzard. Thinking a point to point journey would be a good experience. But tbh I would have rather done South Downs or another classic offroad ride.
    It basically gets pretty boring – largely flat and no interesting singletrack. Trying to pass anyone fishing is a pain and bits of it are virtually impassable with the mud.
    So a great concept but I was disappointed with the reality…

    Premier Icon flap_jack
    Subscriber

    I’ve done MK to London a few times. It can be a bit bleak and relentless at times Berkhamstead is a nice place to stop, good canalside pubs.

    I walked Watford to London once in a day. I won’t do that again, I can tell you…33 miles of tedium, and we had to break into the zoo to complete it (t’was dark by then). As it turned out, breaking in was easy, getting out was another story.

    Premier Icon rOcKeTdOg
    Subscriber

    I might be up for that trip, would be riding from the Brum-worcs canal. Conditions after warwick/leam are horrendously muddy at this time of year

    saleem
    Member

    Yes Rowington to Warwick isn’t good at the moment.

    I’ve done Paddington to where it joins the Wendover Arm, that section’s all good quality rideable towpath pretty much all year round. The scenery changes enough that it’s not too dull either.

    Premier Icon kayak23
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    Hotel booked, return train booked…
    Looks like I’m doing it… πŸ˜•

    djglover
    Member

    I used to run along the london stretch.

    Can’t think of anything more mindnumbing than completing the trip to Brum with my time off. So many more interesting multi day point to point trips in the UK…

    Premier Icon takisawa2
    Subscriber

    I quite fancy this.
    Done a few 50 – 60 milers in/around B’ham & Staffs.
    Admittedly, it can be quite boring, but at least its fairly easy.

    Ton was looking at doing the Liverpool – Leeds last year IIRC…

    Premier Icon ononeorange
    Subscriber

    djglover – my reasons for considering doing it now is that it is accessible for me and is one of the few places (southern section at least) that isn’t an unrideable bog at the moment. A chance to get some miles in rather than walking the bike.

    Kayak – good man! Report back please

    ndthornton
    Member

    Take 50 innertubes with you. My experiance of canals around the Warwick area is of stopping every 100 yards to remove thorns!

    Whats all this about Maps aswell? Its a canal isnt it? – Make sure you set off in the right direction and follow the -err- canal.

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    Yeah I fully realise it’ll be boring, though not entirely. I love the canal and the industrial sights and points of interest.
    It’s more about trying to make myself stay in the sadlle for a long time. Got a trip I’m training for to Peru in the Summer so am trying to get more time in the saddle.
    I think this will be more the style of riding I can expect out there, rough track and gravel road type stuff, rather than nice floaty doubles, berms and step-downs… πŸ™‚

    I was thinking the same with the map actually, but there are several junctions and so it’s concievable that I could take the wrong turn I guess. It’s also just about knowing where you are and how long you have left I suppose.

    I’m off to the bike shop after work and see if they have any of that puncture-resistant strip you can get, or slime, or something like that..
    I don’t have much option for tyre choice, so Ardents it is!

    The thing I’m most worried about to be honest is my behind. I’m frankly not used to spending so long in the saddle so I know I’ll suffer. I have a cycling chamois thing, padded and stuff but never really found them any more comfortable after about 2 hours than just regular underwear, so we’ll see I guess. Might try them with a dollop of Vas… 8)

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    I survived!!! πŸ˜€

    For those interested, set off from Leamington Spa at 6am. First stop 5 minutes later when batteries died on front light (thought they were pretty new)

    Towpath from about Radford bottom lock to Braunston I would estimate is 90% hell on earth. Rough, muddy as hell(at this time of year) and incredibly hard going.

    A small section of surfaced towpath, probably from Bascote to here, at Stockton.

    Finally coming to Braunstone and the first junction.

    A mile or so after Braunstone you have your first tunnel. A diversion up and over the top is straight but sections through fields again are muddy and hard going.

    After the tunnel it’s more slog of which has all melded into one slogfest in my mind, until you hit Blisworth tunnel.

    Up and over the top again, for a short section of road.. BLISS!!! πŸ˜€

    Eventually, after a lifetime, you start getting near Milton Keynes.
    The towpath gets better around here. However, while it gets harder surfaced, it’s still really hard on a sore backside on a hardtail.
    Anyway, I reckon I got to MK at about 3.45. I had to search the mahoosive town layout for a jetwash as I knew Id have to take my bike into my accommodation. I was directed to one a couple of miles away from my hotel. When I’d done all that I found my hotel and lo and behold, a garage right next door! Doh!!

    A night in beautiful Milton Keynes was had. Shower was awesome, as was the beer and pizza… πŸ˜€

    Left MK at a leisurely 7.45…

    Then more slog..

    …and more slog, until a nice Veggie cafe in Hemel Hempstead.

    Sometime later and a little uplift as I hit the Mason Dixon line (the M25…at least I think it was the M25..)

    More grassy bits with several hideous mud bits thrown in here and there…

    Every few miles you had one of these markers. They started to annoy me as all I wanted was to get away from Braunstone. I had by here obviously but the numbers seemed to notch up incredibly slowly.

    At some point I happened to see a roadsign off the canal which said ‘London 7 Miles’ This made me very happy…until.. I checked my canal maps and by canal it was still 25! Gutted.

    This last 25 miles I really struggled with to be honest. These sort of distances on such hard going ground take it out of you. The worst though was probably the saddle sore. I had to keep getting off and walking every now and then to get some relief from it. Eventually, I hit the Paddington arm, surprisingly the towpath was dire for quite a while, lots of mudddy ruts.

    Got some pavement after a while and crossed the North Circular! πŸ˜€

    Very uplifting.
    Little Venice

    ..and finally, I made it. It was starting to get dark but I had lost so much time in that last bit especially from sore ar5e disease so I was really happy anyway.

    Quick photo with the Boris bikes.

    Couple of very welcome pints!

    And finally the train back to Leamington Spa…

    So, would I do it again? Possibly, in Winter? Hell no!
    This is a trip for good weather. The towpath from those two points has to be at least 85% grass/mud and so you want it dried out.
    I think it would have been great if I’d had a suspension seatpost and maybe quicker rolling tyres than the Ardents. Also, panniers would be great to take some weight off your back for a while.
    But yes, as I said before the trip, its more about a lesson in endurance rather than anything exciting. It would be great to do it with bivi kit etc, but definitely panniers etc needed.
    Glad to be sat in bed now, walking about like the lovechild of John Wayne and Clyde out of ‘Every which way but Loose’…

    Premier Icon tmb467
    Subscriber

    congratulations!

    now you know why a weekend in Wales is more preferable!

    makkag
    Member

    Good stuff Living a mile north on the canal from the M25 Photo I know all to well the mud you had to face. Often fancied this as a little challenge done MK to home before – perhaps when the weather dries up you will inspire me to ge that bit further !

    ndthornton
    Member

    Well done – amd you didnt get any punctures?
    I bet those tyre strips have about 100 thorns in!
    I would like this but – like you said – def not in winter. Mind you summer can be just as wet – perhapse spring?

    ndthornton
    Member

    How many miles all together?

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Subscriber

    I think all in it is about 125 miles. I felt a bit of a fraud at first not going from Birmingham centre, but in reality, the first half was such heavy going that adding another 30 miles or something onto it would have meant probably not making MK on the first day.

    In the end I used slime in the tyres. Not a single puncture! Mind you, maybe I have about a million punctures but the tyres just stayed inflated.

    Yup, weekend in Wales next time! πŸ˜€

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