Piccadilly to Piccadilly: An Off-Road Odyssey Down England's Backbone

Cycle tours need to grab your imagination right from moment they pop into your head. It was like that in 2012 when I decided to cycle across the USA. This time it was about cycling between two destinations I often do by train, with the added bonus of being almost entirely off road.

A 7 a.m. start at Manchester Piccadilly Station is fairly normal for me, but rather than loading the bike on a train as part of my commute, today it was out the back to pick up the Ashton Canal. It was fairly easy to exit the Manchester conurbation via a range of Sustrans cycle paths.

The first day saw me end up in Stafford after a final stint on the Trent Mersey Canal towpath. I hitched up with my Warm Showers host and, after a couple of pints and a tour of Stafford, I retired to the sofa for the night.

Will, my host in Stafford, treated me to a tour of the town last night and a couple of pints.

My host joined me for the first hour the next morning on my push through the West Midlands to Warwick. It was a day entirely on canal towpaths, sampling battered chips in Wolverhampton for lunch, and being amazed at the long, straight canal paths going into Birmingham centre. Most people you meet on tour are genuinely interested in what you are doing, but think you are a bit mad. The thing is you tend to stumble across people madder than you. I thought the pair trying to kayak from Solihull to London in a single stint were bonkers.

An overnight stay in Warwick was followed by a very early start in order to reach Watford before it got dark. It was a long haul along some extremely variable surfaced sections of the Grand Union Canal. Catching a canal festival at Stoke Bruerne after a short road stretch was the highlight, along with a shortcut through Milton Keynes on their famous segregated bike paths called Redways.

It was all beer and cake tents and Morris Dancers everywhere in Stoke Bruerne.

After 14 hours I reached my sister’s house in Watford just before nightfall.

Watford trumps Milton Keynes on the bike underpass.

The final day was a relatively short run into London on the Grand Union Canal. It was apparent there are a great number of people permanently living in barges as a way of overcoming high property prices in the capital.

The final canal section into Paddington Basin was extremely busy. Then it was a short road section to Hyde Park, and traffic-free again through Green Park, past Buckingham Palace, and along The Mall before hitting traffic for the final few hundred yards to Piccadilly Circus.

The return trip to Piccadilly Manchester via train from Euston was a damn sight quicker, but nowhere near such an enriching experience.

Tip for this adventure: Check out the Oatcake Barge near Stoke on Trent. 

Favorite local bike shop: Popupbikes, Manchester.

 

Get more information about bike overnights.

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