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  • Stafford to London by bike by canal
  • Premier Icon Dogsby
    Full Member

    This trip has been on the cards for some time and next week we are on. Its about 160 miles down the Trent and Mersey, Oxford canal and then the Grand Union. A pub for B&B and a 3 course meal at about 80 miles and then into London and the train home on day 2. The plan is to use CX bikes with saddle and handlebar bags to carry sufficient kit to not cause a stir in the pub!

    Clearly there are some great bits of gravel and tarmac but I suspect there will be some more testing sections especially if it rains in the meantime. I have watched a few videos but it is difficult to tell what the terrain will be like so I would be keen to hear if anyone has done this route or parts of it.

    Anyone got any tales to tell?

    Dogsby

    Premier Icon towpathman
    Full Member

    Kayak23 did a similar trip from Leamington to London some years ago I seem to remember

    Premier Icon onewheelgood
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    I’ve done Warwick to London in a day. We were going to do it on rigid singlespeeds but a couple of test rides convinced us that we were going to get seriously beaten up, so in the end we used short travel full sussers. Ride time was 10 hours, 12 hours including stops. It was only the first 30 odd miles that were rough, the rest was pretty well surfaced. We chose to do it in August, to get a decent length of day and because the grass would have been cut – some of the unsurfaced sections can be quite overgrown. Being flat you expect it to be easy, but we found the lack of variation to be very wearing. It was a great day!

    Premier Icon markrh
    Free Member

    I’ve done Stafford to Chirk and back via canals which is no help route wise but found like Onewheelgood that a lot of towpaths can be quite rough so used a short travel fullsus’ bike with tyres that roll well.
    Always fancied doing a ride down to London on towpaths myself but never got around to it, interested to hear how it goes.

    Premier Icon trumpton
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    Be careful as you get one near london.i think there are some dodgy areas you go through.this may well be true of other bits too.

    Premier Icon benman
    Free Member

    I rode from Derby to Birmingham on a CX bike once via the canals – some of the towpaths were like riding on a ploughed field for several miles. I’d definitely use a hardtail if I did it again.

    Premier Icon sl80
    Free Member

    I did Birmingham > Tamworth > Stafford a couple of years ago at a similar time of year. The stretch around Whittington/Hopwas was the worst part of the route, very muddy and lumpy from what I remember.
    Interested to hear how it goes too as I’ve considered riding back to Stafford from relatives in London and having an overnight stop on the way.

    Premier Icon onewheelgood
    Full Member

    Be careful as you get one near london.i think there are some dodgy areas you go through.this may well be true of other bits too.

    He’s coming from Stafford, he’s got nothing to worry about!

    We didn’t feel unsafe at any point. We were passing through west London mid-afternoon, there were quite a few people about, mostly families, and the towpath was wide and well surfaced. What did surprise us was just how far you still have to go once you get under the M25. Because you have to go via Uxbridge and Brentford it’s a really long way round.

    Premier Icon trailwagger
    Free Member

    Check these guys out

    Premier Icon scruff
    Free Member

    I’ve got to the outskirts of Wolvo from Stafford on the Staffs & Worcs and that was enough, I’d definitely use a full susser even if its long travel. And not do it in wet weather. And stop at every pub possible.

    Premier Icon Houns
    Full Member

    Be interested in hearing how it went after as I’ve thought about doing this (Stourbridge – London – Thames Path – Oxford – Brum) a couple of weeks ago but decided to do it next year when I’m hopefully fit

    Premier Icon Dogsby
    Full Member

    Thanks for all the replies and the experience. Having watched the video (thanks Trailwagger) it looks like the first half to Blisworth will be the most testing but the second half into London looks a lot easier. However it looks like the weather might be a little tasty between now and then so still open to a bike change but I think the CX is still a goer!

    Dogsby

    Premier Icon kayak23
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    Kayak23 did a similar trip from Leamington to London some years ago I seem to remember

    True dat. I did it over two days. About 60 miles a day if I recall. Stayed halfway in Milton Keynes.

    A lot of it is rough. It tires you out but lots of it is nicely surfaced.

    If I did it again I reckon I’d bikepack it and kip in a hedge. I won’t though. It was well boring! 😉😂

    Stafford to London in two days is going some, but then some folks manage that sort of distance and terrain fine.

    Get a bell. Walkers, joggers and dogs can really slow things down.

    Premier Icon furryaardvark
    Free Member

    I’m reliably informed by my secret source that as you get into London you will find boats on all moorings, slowing things down. The tattier the barge the more druggy its likely to be, with associated low life hanging around deelin innit. A lot of nonces live on boats as they are of no fixed abode so cant report their address to the police as they dont have one. I cant see anyone doing 80 miles a day on towpaths, they are narrow in places and lots of other people use them. Have a great trip and let us all know what its like.

    Premier Icon onewheelgood
    Full Member

    I cant see anyone doing 80 miles a day on towpaths

    As I said above, I’ve done Warwick-London in a day, 123 miles. Everyone said the anglers would be a real problem, but they weren’t. Neither was anyone else. It was a fantastic day out which we look back on fondly. Not doing it again though.

    Premier Icon stripeysocks
    Free Member

    I remember doing a bit of the Oxford canal, Tackley->Oxford iirc, a few years ago and some bits were narrow & rutted and I felt lucky to not have fallen in – was on a Birdy tho!

    Premier Icon Malvern Rider
    Free Member

    Been looking at Stourport to Llangollen loaded tour for a few years now. May have to just get on with it and see what happens. Can’t be risking trains though at the minute, so it’s the ride straight back putting me off (one night planned stay in Denbighshire) Could possibly park the car up roughly half way I suppose. Anyone know a good resource for measuring the length of the route?

    OP I grew up, lived, played and worked around canals for a good part of life. Used to ride home 6 miles along unlit towpaths drunk on a weekend often with mates, none of us having or using bike lights! We’d rely on the night sky reflected in the water to guide our path. That, and a ‘sense’ that only comes from Batham’s Bitter and feel sound of mud/earth/gravel on tyres. If the sound/feel changed to either brick or grass then you knew you were deviating off the towpath. Mentalism. Have always fancied the Midlands – London run but not as much as Midlands- Llangollen tbh.

    Premier Icon sl80
    Free Member

    Don’t know any resources but I’ve rode the Staffs & Worcester from the Llangollen junction to Gnosall, that was 27 miles. A quick google says Llangollen canal is 46 miles.
    You’re looking at 73 miles plus Stourport to Gnosall on top.

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Full Member

    Anyone know a good resource for measuring the length of the route?

    https://canalplan.org.uk/cgi-bin/canal.cgi

    Canal route planner. Obviously it’s for boats but it’ll give you the mileage.

    Premier Icon Dogsby
    Full Member

    I cant see anyone doing 80 miles a day on towpaths, they are narrow in places and lots of other people use them. Have a great trip and let us all know what its like.

    So I am riding the canal from home to work every week so am quite used to it and feel pretty confident we can get 80 miles in on one day. There are bits that are more populated there are plenty of quick sections. We will have at least 10 hours to do the 80 miles so even with a few difficult bits I reckon we will make it.

    I actually rode from home to Birmingham and back all along the canal paths through Rugeley, Tamworth, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and back which was about 120km and managed it in about 6 hours so we are hoping to make similar progress.

    Now it is just a case of watching the weather forecast and panicking!!

    Dogsby

    Premier Icon damascus
    Free Member

    My experience of canal tow paths is they range from perfect black top, gravel to compacted mud thats bobbled and horrendous to ride on to deep wet mud.

    Its ranged from Enjoyable to hateful and I’d rather cycle on a main road.

    I’d try and find out where the bad sections are and if your taking a gravel bike consider plotting a nice back road alternative route just in case your fillings are about to fall out so you have a plan rather than riding a main road.

    Good luck and take some pictures to share with us when you get back.

    Premier Icon kayak23
    Full Member

    Thudbuster seatpost ftw.

    Premier Icon Dogsby
    Full Member

    So we made it.

    It was properly hard work with about 76 miles on day 1 and about 88 on day 2. The track varies hugely from super quick gravel and tarmac to really tough bits that are pretty much grass as was predicted by several folk on here. Day 1 was tough due to a couple of mechanicals, the terrain and it was a huge relief to make it to the Walnut Tree for an outstanding supper and comfy bed. Day 2 dawned with rain and ended with rain with some rain in the middle. The trail was much easier with some really lovely stretches but – as was the theme throughout – the bits in between conurbations were really tough in places, overgrown and hard to pedal along. We had about 4 punctures, ran out of tubes, slashed my sidewall which wouldn’t seal even with a plug, discovered that Park glueless patches don’t work in the rain(!) and then had a complete brake failure as pads disintegrated. All of this meant that we were 4 hours behind schedule as we arrived in London, in the honking rain, through Friday night traffic with no brakes and the ‘low battery’ warning on my Garmin. Luckily in lasted until we arrived at Waterloo and it turns out that SPDs are ‘workable’ as an alternative braking method!!

    Starbucks saved us as we dripped and shivered on the platform by providing tea and cakes that staved off hypothermia and I have rarely been more pleased to get on a train.

    Thinking we were safe we eventually made it to the car, loaded the bikes on the roof and then promptly drove into the car-park height restriction barrier! Not our best work but amazingly we came out pretty unscathed as the barrier was only down on one side and not anchored so save for new bar tape being required.

    In summary; hard work over 2 days, much more difficult in the wet and more preparation required. It was a real challenge even though it was pretty flat and we were getting towards the raggedy edge by the end and I think that is me done for long distance canal path riding. Next is the Badger Trail and the King Alfred Way.

    Thanks for all of the advice and happy to answer any questions now or in the future.

    Dogsby

    Premier Icon scruff
    Free Member

    So, glad you did it but never again 🙂

    Premier Icon markrh
    Free Member

    What bike did you end up doing it on in the end?

    Premier Icon Dogsby
    Full Member

    We both went on CX bikes. Mine a PlanetX and my mates a Specialised. They were quick on the good stuff but there were bits where a full suss would have been very welcome!!

    Dogsby

    Premier Icon Toasty
    Full Member

    I rode from (a village a few miles outside) Leamington to Birmingham and back yesterday, only 67 miles total but far more fatiguing than I’d expected. Most of it was speedy with the odd draining section. Riding a rigid Swift, with 2.2 Ardent Race 29.

    Keen to go the other way and head to London next time.

    Premier Icon epicyclo
    Full Member

    Looking at the canal map, it looks like it’s possible to rice virtually the length of England by canal.

    Has anyone done it?

    Premier Icon mrchrispy
    Full Member

    Good work Dogsby.
    I did the cheshire loop earlier in the week.
    Starting in Manchester, along the Ashton canal onto the Macc canal, then the Trent/Mersey before joining up with the bridgewater back to Manchester. 100 miles off road.

    pissed down all day, going was fine until Macc and then its was 95% muddy gloop through Middlewich and Nantwich, had to bail on the canal at 70miles in and rejoin closer to Manchester. the going was getting tough, the bike was making noises no bike should make and we were running short on day light. 30 odd miles of mud on a cross bike took its toll.

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