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Cavcanal

Chester-London by bike?

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Hi, everyone, newcomer here!

Does anyone know if it's possible to cycle from Chester-London on the towpaths? From just outside Chester to Barbridge (near Nantwich) is a bit of a nightmare as the towpath is not paved, so the ride isn't the most comfortable. I can handle that for a short while to be honest, but over a few days or a week I reckon it'd be a 'mare, though my bike can stand the pace, I might not!

 

I'd like to take the shortest route (ha!) and stop in B&Bs or pubs along route, possibly packing a tent and camping out if I have to. I'm aware of the (potential) hazards and I'm not one of these flat out everywhere riders, but I'd be interested to hear of the state of the towpaths and whether there's a sort of canal route planner I could use in advance to at least weigh the journey up.

Thanks in advance, great forum you have here.

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Welcome to the forum. Canalplan gives a distance of 231 miles from Chester's Tower wharf to the Houses of Parliament.

 

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

 

I never go far south so can't advise on most towpath state but a lot I see in the NW is like that you describe. You won't be speeding along (well you shouldn't anyway) and you won't want to be in the saddle for hours on end each day. However, with a comfy saddle and relaxed pace, it sounds a great journey.

Edited by BilgePump

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What kind of bike are you taking? I'd recommend front suspension and fat tyres so a mountain bike would be ideal. Some of the towpaths have a stony surface which is quite unpleasant without suspension.

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I have never done the route discussed, but have cycled on a few towpaths between the North and South. A lot of the towpaths are quite hard going, and I agree a mountain type bike with suspension would be best. Small wheeled bikes are a definitely not suitable on some towpaths, especially for sustained riding. Usually towpaths towards towns and cities are easier going, but there are exceptions.

Should be a good journey, and good luck with it.

Edited by catweasel

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It's definitely possible, there's towpath all the way except through the longer tunnels, where there will be a path over the top which was originally provided for horses. In general you'll find that most towpaths are not paved, especially outside towns. A lot of the way it'll be a rather bumpy track with the occasional stony bit, and depending on the season and weather you may meet some serious mud and puddles. For example the stretch approaching the west entrance of Braunston tunnel is usually a quagmire.

 

I've only ridden short distances on towpaths, but having done cycle touring on roads when younger I'd endorse what Senor Chris says; for a long distance you need a mountain bike. It depends a bit on what sort of hours in the saddle you're looking to do per day. I think it'll be hard to average more than about 6mph without annoying people and/or putting yourself in a bit of danger, bearing in mind that at some bridge holes and locks you pretty much need to get off and walk through, but if you're fit for cycling and keen to reach London quickly, it could be done in as little as four days. If it all gets a bit much you may be able to blag a lift off a passing boat!

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I have never done the route discussed, but have cycled on a few towpaths between the North and South. A lot of the towpaths are quite hard going, and I agree a mountain type bike with suspension would be best. Small wheeled bikes are a definitely not suitable on some towpaths, especially for sustained riding. Usually towpaths towards towns and cities are easier going, but there are exceptions.

Should be a good journey, and good luck with it.

 

Very little of the towpath is 'paved' outside of the urban areas but most towpaths are cycleable. Am not an experienced towpath cyclist but have walked many of them. The only ones that spring to mind as difficult/unsuitable are the Leicester summit and the bits of the Shropshire union in cuttings.

 

Tim

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Not sure but I believe one of the cuttings on the Shroppie is so boggy/muddy it was closed for a time, but has been resurfaced (might still be doing it) recently to make it passable and its been reopened. Even so, there's about 3 deep cuttings on the canal and its going to be very muddy and narrow for a bike in there. Might be worth doing a detour around these areas.

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Very little of the towpath is 'paved' outside of the urban areas but most towpaths are cycleable. Am not an experienced towpath cyclist but have walked many of them. The only ones that spring to mind as difficult/unsuitable are the Leicester summit and the bits of the Shropshire union in cuttings.

 

Tim

 

 

 

Very little of the towpath is 'paved' outside of the urban areas but most towpaths are cycleable. Am not an experienced towpath cyclist but have walked many of them. The only ones that spring to mind as difficult/unsuitable are the Leicester summit and the bits of the Shropshire union in cuttings.

 

Tim

I largely agree and of course age comes into the equation. Towpaths that would have been easy on a bike when I was 20, tend to be harder these days.

Edited by catweasel

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Many thanks for the replies, much appreciated. I can avoid some of the bits from Waverton to Bunbury locally (and more if I want) but it's the appeal of riding along the towpaths that does it for me!

I've got a good mountain bike and I reckon I could do 70 miles a day on paved paths, 50 at a push on the unpaved ones. What I may do is cop out a bit and get the train to say Birmingham, then ride the rest. The most I've done so far is 75 miles on the road on a nice road bike, but that's a different ball game altogether!

Thanks once again, much appreciated.

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Take a puncture repair kit [or two] with you.

I would suggest several spare inner tubes & repair punctured one/s when convieniant

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So long as you bring a flexible approach it can be done. Some of the more remote rural stretches require walking in my experience, even with a mountain bike, and I'd be doubly careful cycling under low bridges, especially with panniers. Mudguards with plenty of clearance are a good idea as you'll roll over hundreds, possibly thousands of unseen turds in the process and a face full of faeces is unpleasant and potentially dangerous.

 

Uneven stretches can be hard on the hands after many miles, I'd go for a hardtail bike if there's an option. There'll be places where slavishly following the canal will be harder than a bit of road to join up the dots. If you feel daunted, remember people have ridden the Pennine Way on a road bike.

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The bit of towpath you are familiar with between Chester and Barbridge is probably typical of about 90% of the route. Some will be surfaced and some will be much worse. Much, much worse. It can be done, but it is quite a challenge.

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Thanks once again, my bike is a hardtail, full sussers are hopeless for me, especially with my weight :( That said, I don't know if I fancy taking my new bike as it's probably over-kill and I'd be gutted if I rode it into the canal or something! I think security (as well as warmth and comfort) is one reason I'd rather stick to B&Bs than messing about with a tent.

 

Oddly enough some of us weighed up the Penine Way on road bikes a couple of years back, but given I wouldn't ride the local paved towpaths on one, there's no way I'd do the PW on those thin wheels!

I'd like to do as much canal paths as I can, I like the quietness and the fact you see things you wouldn't in a car, but obviously if it's really rough in places then the roads will have to do in places. I suppose the best thing to do to start with would be to get the train to Stoke or something and ride back, not exactly a massive mission but enough to get an idea of times, surfaces etc.

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Personally I would say you're nuts if you try to cycle from Chester to London by towpath!

 

There are lots of lovely country lanes, NCN routes, and the like which will give a more enjoyable cycling experience. If you choose to plough your way through Grub Street Cutting or along the muddy bits of the Grand Union in preference to quiet, smooth back-roads, that's your choice but it's not how I'd spend my leisure time. Yes, by all means use the towpaths when they're suitable - sections around Chester and Nantwich, Bilbrook through Wolverhampton to Birmingham, the bit round Leighton Buzzard - but don't be hoodwinked by those into thinking that all towpaths are suitable for cycling, because they're not.

 

Use a proper bike route-planner, not a canal one, and it should give you a decent route weighing up all the variables. Here's one option, but there are many more.

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Thanks once again, my bike is a hardtail, full sussers are hopeless for me, especially with my weight :( That said, I don't know if I fancy taking my new bike as it's probably over-kill and I'd be gutted if I rode it into the canal or something! I think security (as well as warmth and comfort) is one reason I'd rather stick to B&Bs than messing about with a tent.

 

Oddly enough some of us weighed up the Penine Way on road bikes a couple of years back, but given I wouldn't ride the local paved towpaths on one, there's no way I'd do the PW on those thin wheels!

I'd like to do as much canal paths as I can, I like the quietness and the fact you see things you wouldn't in a car, but obviously if it's really rough in places then the roads will have to do in places. I suppose the best thing to do to start with would be to get the train to Stoke or something and ride back, not exactly a massive mission but enough to get an idea of times, surfaces etc.

. I,m waiting for an op on my spine at the mo but next year in the summer I intend to cycle the K and A from the river Kennet back to my house at the mouth of the river Avon about 120 miles, I will be taking a rucksack with all my cooking gear, a sleeping bag and bed roll and just crashing at the edge of the tow path at night,will take a train also to my start point, it's something I've always wanted to do but have to except it's now or never as the body is slowly heading south, good luck on your journey,let us know how it goes

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. I,m waiting for an op on my spine at the mo but next year in the summer I intend to cycle the K and A from the river Kennet back to my house at the mouth of the river Avon about 120 miles, I will be taking a rucksack with all my cooking gear, a sleeping bag and bed roll and just crashing at the edge of the tow path at night,will take a train also to my start point, it's something I've always wanted to do but have to except it's now or never as the body is slowly heading south, good luck on your journey,let us know how it goes

Crafty could I suggest that for your trip you try to get some panniers for the bike. I rode home from work once (6 miles) with a rucsac of shopping on my back. I couldn't get out of bed for 3 days due to what in my youth was called lumbago.

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I have done Windsor Chester Windsor in s weekend but that was by using roads (600km) so no help really.

Phil

 

I've never done WCW but plenty of Chepstow Menai Chepstows!

 

Longest tow path ride would be Doctor Fosters taking in River Wye path, Monmouth-Brecon Canal Towpath and Glos- Sharpness Tow path, plus lots of rough stuff between Newport and Chepstow. That was 210Kms and I'd say over half is rough and muddy. It's not something I'd do every day (or about 9 hours as is this case). It just reminds me why I don't cycle any distance on towpaths biggrin.png

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