We failed. Failure tasted sweet: a bag of M&S Percy Pigs consumed on the floor of the train to London Euston from Milton Keynes Central (with zero guilt).
Royal Leamington Spa was the ambitious destination for our Grand Union Canal based cycling adventure – because it sounded grand – by Sunday lunchtime, somewhere between Tring and Leighton Buzzard we’d settled for Milton Keynes (by then not caring that it sounded crap).
Brentford to Milton Keynes by the Grand Union Canal Towpath.
115km barely scratched below the surface of the canal and its mystique – I can’t do it justice in just one post. Nor its humble towpath, the supporting act to the main event of the dead calm canal waters, that transported us from urban to rural, through town and country, through industrial wastelands and into open fields.
There was no need for complicated navigation, minimal turns, few junctions, no competing vehicles or traffic lights, it guided us all the way. Not quite an autopilot but close, leaving us to enjoy a journey through Autumn’s clear skied, golden leaved explosion of colours; doubled up in sublime reflections in the canal waters.
Canal towpaths are flat. Easy then? Not exactly. You’re pushing on all the time. No coasting as the terrain is too rough, no drafting as you need to see the obstacles on the path ahead, no relaxing either as a frozen puzzle or greasy cobble could pitch you into the November-cold canal waters.
Hunger was a constant, gnawing at our stomachs – the result of constant unrelenting calorie burning on the ever-changing surface, morphing through smooth-ish tarmac, squirming gravel, rutted track, smooth mud, sumptuous leaf carpet (hiding tree roots), thick grass. We all complained that our chamois cream hadn’t lasted the distance. Mine had barely made it to Watford (and I was double-shorting!) We weren’t in control. This was the antithesis to road biking.
The bike did well. Nothing fell off. Not even a puncture. Clearance was an issue at the end. It’s ‘steel is real’ frame clunked over any terrain the towpath could throw its way. It’s weight probably an advantage as it soaked up and ironed out the unrelenting ruts and bumps, not bucking up and down but ploughing onwards stoically, without drama. What more could I want?
I want a proper adventure bike like the other 2!
To the contrary, this felt like the start of something new, fathoming out the canal, its history, secrets and ways of life. France by Gravel Bike may have to wait for Little England by Canal Towpath.