It’s been a yearly tradition I’ve accidentally kept with a small well shaped group of guys to travel on canals via foot, scooter or bike. In 2015 we did Liverpool – Leeds canal, 2016 saw us cover Avon & Kennett. So 2017, as all good stories start I’d met a good friend Paul in a local establishment around St Paul’s area to catch up. Beverages were consumed and ideas bounced around the table between Paul, me and his work colleague “Irish Mark”.
Roll on a few weeks and we’re boarding the train on a sunny Friday evening to Bletchley, just outside Milton Keynes, our plan to visit a quick food outlet, grab some beers and head down the canal in the darkness until we reached a secluded spot to bed down for the night…
Luck was on our side, as with most things wild camping wise doing it in the dark is always a gamble. Our location and was between a river and canal, and our sunrise whilst not breathtaking was as always humbling. The guys with their various states of equipment may not have enjoyed the night, as with March it tends to get cool in the evening; even our water had frozen!
With planning a trip like this I tend to try and pitch up 5-8 miles from a shop/Cafe to be able to get breakfast the next morning and luckily for us our route along the Grand Union canal is south facing, so our morning pictures had been turned up to a full 10 on the epic scale….
As the canal opened up from the wild to clear country our view continued to show off & grace us with heart warming views…
As I took these photos I thought I don’t care if I’m on a canal path 60 miles outside London, I’m so damn lucky to be enjoying these views and sharing them with amazing friends! Our stop at the shop was fruitless in providing suitable caffeine intake, however being guys we struggled on. Now, I’m usually pretty well prepared and on this occasion had brought a spare inner tube, it’s sixty miles on a canal, what could go wrong. WELL, I can tell you two hours in and well ahead of our target time our local farmer decided he would give his thorn bushes a good old trim, this resulted in not one, or even two but six punctures on two of the bikes in a one mile stretch! AARRGGHHH, it turned out I was the designated tire changer/repairer. Not so cool when you’ve no repair kits with you.
With my bravery and cleverness we managed to stumble on not only a cafe, but a cafe that welcomes cyclists with open arms. We managed to befriend some cyclists of the road persuasion and “borrowed” 8 spare repair patches: WINNING!!
However, with all good cafes a brew or three and a bit of cake tied in with fixing a bunch of tires and pumping them back up by hand (welcome to the gun show!!) took our 9.30 am time to 1 ish! I took the time to teach the guys some much needed tire fixing & placement skills too!
After a few hours of burning down the canal path at a steady 22kph we soon started to hit the beverage outlets, the sun came out and a cheeky ploughman’s may have been consumed! Which in this case was just bread and cheese SO GOOD!
With our lost time we had no choice but to cut the day slightly shorter than planned, our goal of Paddington Basin ended up with being West Drayton and the 105km turned into 70, but with us heading south and into the sun we all caught an early spring suntan!
I love these little journeys, just the simple idea of getting the train out of your city or town to a river or canal and follow it back or set yourself another location to head to where you can return back home, It’s so simple yet rewarding. You get to delve into how other people live, the life on the water.
You’ll always stumble across a lovely pub or cafe, you’ll have history at your finger tips and if you’re lucky, some fantastic views. There’s a place in everyones adventure plans to follow a canal or waterway whether it be the 9 mile regents canal, Liverpool – Leeds 130 mile adventure or even looking further afield in europe at the Rhine Source to Sea trip, all 1200 km of it!