Sometime ago I thought it would be a good idea to ride from Wolverhampton to Lancaster, on my Trek Cobia 29er, completing the whole ride as much as possible along the canal towpaths. Realising that this ride would be well over 200km I put it on hold, but then my fiancee booked a taster session at the Manchester Velodrome so an alternative plan was hatched. I could cycle from Wolverhampton to Manchester and get a lift home. I created a route for my Garmin, just in case, finding it to be approximately 140km. Easy, I thought to myself. I booked a place on the train for me and the bike, cheapest option leaving Lancaster at 7am, arriving in Wolves at 8.30. I was worried that this would leave me too much time in Manchester waiting for Helen to arrive. To spice the ride up a bit, I wasn’t feeling great with a temperature and general flu like symptoms, but I expected the ride to be nice and gentle with smooth paths and plenty of cafes the whole way, much like it was near my starting point.
This photo was taken only a couple of miles north of Wolverhampton, and you can see how hard it is raining, but also how smooth the surface is. This is the Birmingham Main Line canal which I stayed on until it joined the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. This was where the smooth surface petered out, gradually getting worse and worse until I was cycling on uneven wet grass. I could barely keep my speed up to 10mph. Not too much of a problem, I thought, because as soon as I join the Trent and Mersey Canal the path will improve again. It didn’t, and it was all uphill as well.
To cope with the poor surface I had unlocked my front suspension, unfortunately the Rock Shox must have a leak as the pressure dropped and dropped until the was no air in them at all. I pulled them back up and locked them again. When I reached the town of Stone the surface did improve a little, not as good as at the start, but better than rough grass. I tried to lift my pace to make up for lost time as I skirted Stoke and reached Kidsgrove, where I had to detour onto the road as the canal went into the Harecastle tunnel, which is 2.8km long.
Once I had found the canal again I was alarmed to see that my Garmin was telling me that I was off course. How could I be off course, I’m cycling alongside the canal. My Garmin was telling me that I was getting further and further off course, when I remembered that there was a junction with the Macclesfield Canal that I should have taken. I back tracked half a km and joined the correct canal, which inevitably was grass once again.
The Macclesfield Canal is one of the only canals to have snake bridges, which allow horse to cross from one side of the canal to the other without having to be un-hitched, which is very clever, but the wet cobbles were not much fun for me. I would have liked to have taken a photo, but my phone wasn’t happy with the rain. I also had the Waterways Guide from here so I knew that the numbers on the bridges would count down to 1 over the 28 miles of this section of canal. The first bridge I came to was number 95. Long way to go.
When I reached Macclesfied I stopped to refuel, chocolate and Vimto. Only another ten miles to the next canal, the Ashton Canal. This canal started off brilliantly with a whole series of downhill locks with a good surface before crossing the Marple Aqueduct.
I couldn’t believe that I was only a few miles from Manchester, it was so picturesque. It had also stopped raining, although I looked a complete mess.
I was caked in mud, soaking wet, tired and hungry, and my new mountain bike style shorts with a padded liner were giving me some serious grief. My wrists were also sore due to the complete lack of front suspension, probably should have checked the pressure before I set off. After the aqueduct there was a short tunnel and then just ten more bridges until I would join the Huddersfield Canal, although I would stay on the Ashton Canal for the last few downhill miles to the Velodrome.
The Velodrome is situated alongside the canal, so apart from a couple of miles to avoid a tunnel in Kidsgrove, the whole 145.6km ride was done off road, taking ten and a half hours. I arrived moments after my fiancee had who kindly told me that I looked terrible, although I did have a change of clothes and some food in the car.
I can honestly say that this was one of the hardest rides I have ever done, although if I hadn’t felt so rough to begin with it would have been a lot easier. Upside is that I added another 114 explorer tiles from Veloviewer and increased my metric Eddington score up to 139km.