Cycling, Microadventures

Fourteen Mile Cycle Along the Grand Union Canal Towpath

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Two weeks after my first hiking trip with Wayne and Martin I decided to go out on my first solo-escape, which was a fourteen mile bike ride along the Grand Union Canal Towpath between Lode Lane, Solihull and the King’s Arms Bridge just south of Knowle.

The Route Along The grand Union Canal Towpath

MAP: Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 220 – Birmingham

The route I’d planned for this trip was quite simple. A 14 mile circular route, the majority of which was on the Grand Union Canal Towpath between Lode Lane, Solihull and the King’s Arms Bridge at Knowle. The 14 miles also includes portions of the route that took place on road as not all 14 miles were along the Towpath itself.

I cycled into Solihull Town Centre and then out again along Lode Lane. I joined the Grand Union Canal Towpath near the Jaguar Land Rover plant and headed south along the Canal towards Catherine-De-Barnes. I planned on cycling along the Canal for a number of miles until I reached Knowle Locks where I would stop and have a cup of coffee out of my thermal flask and enjoy the sound of the water rushing through the lock.

The idea for this trip came to mind when our last hiking route took us onto the Towpath for a few miles south of Catherine-De-Barnes, just before we made it to the Boat Inn. I remember thinking then the Towpath would be a good entry level cycling route for me to try as it was straight, flat and went on for over a hundred miles down to London.

Getting Out On My Bike

It was a nice enough morning. I had my lightweight raincoat on as there was a morning chill. I’d left the house at about 6.30am with the intention of cramming some adventure in before everyone else got up. There was no sign of rain though I was pleased to see.

I really like the sense of freedom you get when out on a bike. I used to do a lot of cycling when I was younger and remember really enjoying it then too. I’ve never cycled a route like this before though so this was new to me. When I was a kid it was always just cycling around the area I lived to get from point A to point B. Now, I was planning on getting outside and exploring a whole new part of the Country.

As with my previous escape with Wayne and Martin, I felt that sense of freedom and the easing of symptoms related to my mental health issues – even if just for a while. There was also a sense of adventure as I explored places I’d never (or only briefly) been.

Onto The Towpath

The Grand Union Canal Towpath is flat and the quality of the surface varies from mile to mile. Sometimes it can be quite bumpy and others it is relatively smooth. This all seems to depend on whether you are passing through a built up area (where the path is better maintained) or the open country with fields and woods on either side.

My bike, which I purchased with part of this year’s employment bonus, is a hybrid bike which can cope with both road and some off-road terrain. This was the first time I’d taken it out on a proper journey since I purchased it in July (a month before). I absolutely love this bike. I know it is an entry level bike and other people spend thousands on theirs but for me this is a perfect bike to get me started.

Carrera Crossfire 2 Men’s Hybrid Bike

One thing I love about the Towpath is the fact you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, even when passing through a housing or industrial state. Tall trees loom up on either side, shading you with mighty limbs and their translucent green canopy. My kids would call this a “tree-tunnel”. The water is still and reflective of the green radiance above. And, it is largely silent.

On three occasions on this trip I came upon a heron standing on the path ahead looking out at the water. They would wait until I was very close before they spread their wings and either flew to the opposite bank or along the length of the Canal itself. They really are beautiful birds and I love how big their wingspans are.

In contrast to the beauty of the Canal Towpath, were patches of graffiti on the underside of various bridges that carried roads overhead. On a couple of occasions I passed piles of rusted metal objects someone had fished out of the water with magnets and left there. But overall, this stretch of the route was well looked after.

Catherine-De-Barnes

After a time I came to Catherine-De-Barnes and the point where Wayne, Martin and I had left the Towpath a week or so before to head for the Boat Inn. This time, I dismounted and leaned my bike against a post while had a short breather. Up until this point I’d passed just one couple walking a dog and (as mentioned) a couple of herons. This added to the sense that I was away from it all.

I got back on my bike and cycled on along the Towpath; following the same route (although travelling in the opposite direction) that Martin, Wayne and I hiked a few weeks before. I at last came to where the barges were tied up. The windows were typically steamed up and not a sound could be heard as I passed by. The people within still fast asleep no doubt.

These barges really do look great. They are painted nice colours and most of them look really comfortable and well maintained. I’ve never been on one myself and am quite curious about what it would be like to hire one and travel around the Country on the canal network.

I pushed on further along the Grand Union Canal Towpath, passing some early morning fisherman who waved good morning at me along the way. This stretch of the Towpath was out in the countryside with fields on either side. The trees melted away some time back. I eventually passed under the motorway bridge and then the footbridge that led us onto the canal a few weeks before. Passing that bridge, I was again in unfamiliar territory.

Knowle Locks

When I finally arrived at Knowle Locks I was surprised I was there so soon. You can tell how poor my map reading skills are because I thought I was a mile further back when I arrived at the Lock. Still, I’m still quite new to all of this so there’s plenty of time to practice my map reading and navigation as I spend more time out in the open.

Knowle Locks are fantastic. There are five locks here and the sound of rushing water I find really relaxing. I dismounted, leaned my bike against a post and sat on the floor at the top of the first lock where I watched the water rushing down. I poured myself a coffee from my flask and spent some time there resting and enjoying just being there. I really liked Knowle Locks. It made the trip worthwhile for me. I wouldn’t mind returning there to watch some barges pass through at some point but unfortunately, at that time of the morning I saw none.

So, after a while I decided I’d better get back home and then rode my bike along the Towpath that followed the descent of the five Locks and then continued further into the countryside. It was more overgrown beyond this point so I had to be careful not fall off my bike and into the canal as a result of an unprovoked bramble attack. Luckily I made it through unscathed and eventually turned off the Towpath when I reached a pub, on the opposite side of the water, called the King’s Arms. The last part of my journey involved a 5 mile stretch back to Solihull on the roads, through Dorridge and home.

The Overall Experience

My experience of this little outing on my bike was a welcome escape from the pressures of work and business and life in general. Just an hour or two out on my bike exploring some places I’d not been before really had a calming effect on me. One of the things I particularly liked about being out on my bike rather than on foot was the fact I could cover much bigger distances in shorter times.

I know many people out there who are into cycling can cycle much greater distances and at much greater speeds; but my purpose here is not to see how far I can get or how quickly I can get there but simply to get outside into the open and escape – and I achieved that.

The Gear

Here is the gear I used on this little microadventure. Again, nothing high-tech. I’ve gone for entry level cycling equipment because that’s the level I’m at right now.

Carerra Crossfire Hybrid Bike -I love my new hybrid bike. It feels a lot smoother than any of the mountain bikes I had when I was younger. I can’t wait to get out on it again.

Trespass Crankster Bike Helmet – I got this with my bike as part of the deal and it’s really comfortable. Would definitely recommend this if you’re looking to pick up a cheap bike helmet.

Trespass Albus Casual Backpack – This has been my day pack for the last few trips and so far I like it. It feels pretty robust and is comfortable on my back. I suspect I will have to upgrade to a much better pack for my long distance hikes as this might be too small. However, it is good for a short trip out I think.

In addition to the above specific bits of kit I also took a solid D-Lock for my bike, a puncture repair kit, bike pump and a cheap flask of coffee. I didn’t think it would be worth providing links for them as you can pick these items up from anywhere.

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