Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

General cycling advice ( NOT technical ! )
Michael Skinner
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Joined: 5 Aug 2019, 11:23am

Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby Michael Skinner » 5 Aug 2019, 11:32am

Hi all,

I'd like to do a touring holidays exclusively on the canal towpaths. Is there a map of all the canals that have towpaths that are passable on bikes?

Also I'd like it to be a camping holiday, so is there such a thing as a campsites guide book for all the campsites that are near the canals?

Thanks in advance.

simonhill
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Joined: 13 Jan 2007, 11:28am
Location: Essex

Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby simonhill » 5 Aug 2019, 1:02pm

Here is a recent post that may help. viewtopic.php?f=16&t=131043&hilit=canal

Many years ago, I cycle toured quite a few canals, not sure I'd want to do more than a few days at a time as they can be a bit tedious after a while.

The towpaths I have cycled range from well surfaced to muddy bogs. Type of bike and time of year will be prime considerations.

There are 2 Nicholson Guides to the UK Canals (N & S), which are aimed at boaters, but have lots of useful info.

You can use google earth to see what a path is like.

jgurney
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby jgurney » 5 Aug 2019, 3:10pm

Michael Skinner wrote:Is there a map of all the canals that have towpaths that are passable on bikes?


Not to my knowledge, and it seems unlikely, not least because of debates over what counts as reasonably passable, and because a path passable in one season may not be in another.

Practically all the canals still in use have towpaths, but their quality as cycle routes is very varied, and connections with the road network may involve steps, gates and stiles.

is there such a thing as a campsites guide book for all the campsites that are near the canals?


Again I doubt it, as most canal travellers are in boats and don't need camping sites. It might be worth seeking a guide or website aimed at canoe campers, who sometimes use the canals.

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TrevA
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Location: Nottingham

Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby TrevA » 5 Aug 2019, 6:00pm

Most Canal towpaths are passable in my experience, certainly on an MTB, unless it’s really wet and muddy. Surfaces vary from gravel to grass to rutted mud to cobbles. I recently cycled the length of the Grantham Canal on my winter road bike with 28mm smooth tyres, but it was bone dry and I was glad of a low gear for the grass parts. It does make a pleasant change from riding on roads, but can get a bit frustrating if there are lots of fishermen, dog walkers and families out for a stroll.

pwa
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby pwa » 5 Aug 2019, 6:28pm

Canal bridges, beneath which towpaths mostly pass, tend to be a bit dodgy for cyclists. The path is going to be narrow, the bridge wall angled in towards your head, and you are often not well sighted for oncoming pedestrians and other cyclists. Adding camping gear to your bike is going to make that lot even trickier to deal with.

Witterings
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Joined: 8 Jun 2018, 10:17am

Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby Witterings » 5 Aug 2019, 7:51pm

Cycletravel is a useful tool for looking for accommodation / campsites.

If you want a suggestion for one ride that takes in quite a lot of canal which I've literally just done is the Kennet & Avon although the middle section is about 32 miles of road through quiet country lanes but provides a bit of a break from the canals and the end from Bath to Bristol is a disused railway line that's been paved.

There's a link to the overview here on cycletravel here
https://cycle.travel/route/kennet_and_avon

If you click on the stage by stage guide tab it gives some useful info and click on the plan a ride trip and it shows accommodation all along the route including campsites

I think if you create or import other routes it does the same although I've not actually tried it for that .... yet :)

Witterings
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby Witterings » 5 Aug 2019, 7:57pm

This made me just go and look at cycletravel again as I thought it'd be great if you could select suggested routes such as you're looking for, if at the top of the page you hit the route guides tab one of the options that comes up in the drop down is canal cycling although I haven't looked at it in detail.

Pneumant
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby Pneumant » 5 Aug 2019, 8:13pm

Michael Skinner wrote:Hi all,

I'd like to do a touring holidays exclusively on the canal towpaths. Is there a map of all the canals that have towpaths that are passable on bikes?

Also I'd like it to be a camping holiday, so is there such a thing as a campsites guide book for all the campsites that are near the canals?

Thanks in advance.



Most canals have variable towpath surfaces and even within a short length the towpath can change from good to appalling. The Shropshire Union between Chirk and Ellesmere is a case in point. Don't underestimate the energy needed to pedal through quagmires and battle through overgrown/ overhanging vegetation. Not sure where you plan to explore but I can recommend the Pearson Canal Companion guides, easy to follow and very well written with wry commentary regarding the state of the towpath for cycling and towns and facilities off the canal. Good overview canal maps are available from Heron Maps. Do not underestimate the getting lost factor as it is easy to deviate down an obscure arm without realising! A few years ago I undertook a 50-mile day ride on the 'complicated' Birmingham Canal network (the Venice of the north no less) and even with a good map (Heron Maps) it still took a very keen eye to keep on route. In fact on that day we were riding south down the New Main Line near Tipton and had to re-direct two riders, both heading north, who thought they were riding southwards towards their ultimate destination of Milton Keynes...
http://heronmaps.com/bcn.htm
http://jmpearson.co.uk

gazza_d
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby gazza_d » 5 Aug 2019, 9:32pm

I don;t know about a map, but it's possible that Opencyclemap or cyclestreets (uses OCM data) has information about cycling on those paths.

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Sweep
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby Sweep » 6 Aug 2019, 5:06am

pwa wrote:Canal bridges, beneath which towpaths mostly pass, tend to be a bit dodgy for cyclists. The path is going to be narrow, the bridge wall angled in towards your head, and you are often not well sighted for oncoming pedestrians and other cyclists. Adding camping gear to your bike is going to make that lot even trickier to deal with.

You forgot to mention the heritage retained cobbles you often get in such spots :)
Have seen folk almost end up in the drink.
Sometimes there are railings between the towpath and water in such spots. But very often not.
Not a deal breaker at all, but take care OP.
I have ridden a fair lot of canals - one of my favourites for pretty speedy progress is Manchester's Bridgewater.
Sweep

pwa
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby pwa » 6 Aug 2019, 7:18am

Sweep wrote:
pwa wrote:Canal bridges, beneath which towpaths mostly pass, tend to be a bit dodgy for cyclists. The path is going to be narrow, the bridge wall angled in towards your head, and you are often not well sighted for oncoming pedestrians and other cyclists. Adding camping gear to your bike is going to make that lot even trickier to deal with.

You forgot to mention the heritage retained cobbles you often get in such spots :)
Have seen folk almost end up in the drink.
Sometimes there are railings between the towpath and water in such spots. But very often not.
Not a deal breaker at all, but take care OP.
I have ridden a fair lot of canals - one of my favourites for pretty speedy progress is Manchester's Bridgewater.

The Bridgewater was one of the first canals, and I have a feeling that there is something untypical about its administration. Not under the control of the CRT perhaps.

You have to remember on towpaths that they were not designed or intended as cycle ways. Their more natural traffic is slow moving horses (now rarely seen there) and pedestrians, including boaters tying up (watch out for the metal spikes and ropes). So we have to watch out for others and don't require them to get out of our way. Cycling is there as an afterthought and some boaters who have had experience of close calls with the more inconsiderate cyclists are a bit wary.

HobbesOnTour
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby HobbesOnTour » 6 Aug 2019, 7:37am

Have to agree with those pointing out the potential pitfalls of canal path cycling.
Last year I crossed England for the first time, sometimes on canal paths. My converted MTB with big tyres handled the surfaces fine, but some of the bridges were terrifying on a loaded bike! One time I had to "miss" my turnoff because it was a large set of stairs. Rather than go on for an indeterminate distance I decided to turn back and take the previous exit. Not an easy thing to do with a trailer! :D

Plus one on cycle.travel for looking for campsites.

If you like water (And I do!) can I suggest thinking a little further afield to the likes of Holland & Belgium for fantastic canal cycling (and all the facilities to go with it) or even the Rhine or Danube. Far superior infrastructure.

If you're not in a hurry, have a bike that will take dodgy surfaces and are reasonably confident it's doable.

Good luck!

nirakaro
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby nirakaro » 6 Aug 2019, 7:53am

Pneumant wrote: the Venice of the north no less

Nobody - neither Brummies nor northerners - is going to thank you for suggesting that Birmingham is in the north!

Witterings
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby Witterings » 6 Aug 2019, 8:04am

nirakaro wrote:
Pneumant wrote: the Venice of the north no less

Nobody - neither Brummies nor northerners - is going to thank you for suggesting that Birmingham is in the north!


For those that live "South Of The River" ... in can certainly seem like it is .... especially as they speak a different language :lol: :D
Last edited by Witterings on 6 Aug 2019, 8:23am, edited 2 times in total.

pwa
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Re: Touring on Canal Towpaths (UK)

Postby pwa » 6 Aug 2019, 8:13am

nirakaro wrote:
Pneumant wrote: the Venice of the north no less

Nobody - neither Brummies nor northerners - is going to thank you for suggesting that Birmingham is in the north!

"North" starts somewhere north of Stoke, I've always thought.