The astute of you will realise that Ride #6 of my 100km ride a month challenge I called my Resolution Rides should have been done two months ago in June. Unfortunately work got in the way, stressed me out and killed my mojo for it. Now I’m in a new job I enjoy. I’m commuting again, getting fitter and I’ve even planned a little mini-tour next month which will bag another couple of 100km rides on consecutive days. The mojo has been awoken! That said, I still want to play the game so I’ve set myself a target of getting 12 in by the end of the year. Today I picked off No#6 but it was a bit different.
Seeing the weather forecast for gale force winds and rain for Tues & Wed, two things came to mind. #1. How will Dan (my son) get on as he’s currently on holiday in Cornwall, sleeping in the awning of a campervan lol and #2. I need to get a ride in today as I probably won’t be doing anything for a couple of days.
I’d cleaned both my bikes yesterday so they were gleaming. Which one do I take? I told myself I could do a loop of Bredon Hill and back on the road bike or ride the canal to Hatton Locks on my gravel bike. As I’m riding it next month on my little touring adventure I opted for the gravel bike for practice.
So as much canal or offroad as possible. That was the plan.
I set off about 10.30am and spent a couple of miles on the road to get over to Barnt Green and join the Birmingham to Worcester canal. The legs felt good. Bonus. Its nice to start with a decent towpath. I dialled in the effort and just trundled along admiring the view and enjoying the peace and quiet canals give you. Sadly the first section isn’t very long as the canal enters Wast Hills tunnel just after Hopwood so you have to climb up a steep bank off the towpath and rejoin the road which kicks up again. Through a housing estate and you pick up the towpath on the other side. It was destination Hatton now and I would be on the canal for another 35km or so. After a few hundred yards you turn right over a bridge and pick up the start of the Stratford-upon-Avon canal.
The first section isn’t bad. A nice long section of tarmac towpath. It wasn’t too busy either. At Brandwood there is another very short tunnel that requires a quick diversion over the top and crossing a major road with a set of lights but no drama and then its back onto the decent surface again which does eventually run out around Warstock though.
The section through Solihull Lodge was a bit bumpy with pockets of muddy puddles to splash through but when you get to Dickens Heath the surface improves again and you can get a lick on.
It was still all familiar, I’ve done this part of the route a few times now but I was surprised how quick the time passes when you’re just locked in your own bubble concentrating on your line without a care in the world. Its great. I do love canals for that. A bit of escapism.
Out the other side of Hockley Heath and I was on the towpath I haven’t ridden for about 5 or 6 years. Not since I lived there and had my shop down the road. There is a great little section of locks which are a bit of a sun trap when its out and today didn’t disappoint.
When I got to Kingswood junction I had to dismount and carry the bike over a bridge (steps) to pick up the Grand Union canal. The big long one, the one that connects Birmingham and London. Maybe I’ll do it one day but not this year eh.
On the right path now, I got going again but after being spoilt by a few km of nice easy, dry gravel, this path was grassy, lumpy, bumpy and bloody narrow in places. Then the path was peppered with cut grass and the odd bramble. I don’t know how I didn’t puncture to be honest. I could see the thorns they were that big and I just rode over them but luckily my tyres held out.
At Shrewley I got MY first tunnel of the ride as the canal dips into its own. It kicks up but ends in stairs so you have to carry your bike and the little track upto the main road was in a terrible state, all eroded and broken up. To rejoin you cross the road, head down a nice gravel track and pick up the path again on the otherside of the tunnel.
I didn’t know how far Hatton Locks was now but I got there sooner than I expected to be honest. It’s a lovely place too. I’d never been before. I’d planned to stop and get a drink and possibly some food but there was a queue so I had a quick look around and carried on.
I could have just turned and gone the same way back but I wanted to make a loop of it and get over to Kenilworth and onto the greenway there. I’d been looking at the maps and also saw the gravel route for the Mad Hatton gravel event which took place yesterday so I decided to go and find that bit of offroad. Out of the locks and onto the road I dropped down Hatton bank and turned left into Hatton Park. A posh little self-contained housing estate. I found the path through the open space in the middle of it and found it’s kind of ring road on the other side after I’d popped out literally between the houses. Through a gate and it was gravel heaven. A wide gravel path as far as you could see!
The Mad Hatton signs were still out which helped confirm I was going the right way. The bridleway is peppered with a few gates but you could open them on your bike, scoot through and they all self closed so not much faff.
Half way across a field I got stung under my right ear. Fucker.
The nicest bit was a ride around the outside of the ruins of Kenilworth Castle. That topped that section of gravel off nicely and by far was the best few km of the ride.
I was back on the road now and wanted to pick up the Kenilworth Greenway from town but I had no idea where it was so I just used my nose and rode in its general direction. Eventually I found a lane off the Coventry Road I recognised and I knew the greenway was couple of km down there. I missed the towny but I didn’t want to get anymore lost than I was.
Onto the greenway and I was a bit disappointed again. The last time I rode it, it was dirt track but it had been tarmaced and was nice and smooth. Traffic-free though so not so bad. The greenway is an old railway line that has been converted but the Berkswell end is literally a dead-end but I’d found a short footpath which I hoped to use to get back onto a road when I got there.
As I rode along I noticed a lot of building works to the right. Its all heavily fenced off with a lot of personnel in head-to-toe orange hi-viz and hard hats. HS2 and security I guessed.
At Burton Green you can leave the trail but I carried on only to be met by 3 guards, a bridge and a massive green fence blocking the way. I asked them whether it was because of HS2 but they said no, the bridge was unsafe and shedding bricks so the council had cordoned it off. They said I could go around it but the banks up to the bridge were super steep so I gave up and turned around instead. I found some steps to a footpath at another bridge shortly after. I climbed up and a had a look around but I couldn’t work out where they were going so I just got back on the greenway and got off at Burton Green further back and rode on the road back to Balsall Common and back towards Knowle.
On the outskirts of Knowle you cross the Grand Union canal again. I rode past it but I had to have a look. Was the path any good? It looked decent so, on impulse, I decided to ride into Brum on it. It was going to be a long day now.
As I joined the towpath I saw a signpost. Birmingham Gas St Basin – 13 miles. Woof! Bring it on.
The one thing I noticed about this canal, all the way into Birmingham was how quieter it was to the rest I’d ridden so far. I hardly saw anyone. I didn’t really have a clue where I was at any particular time either. At Catherine-de-Barnes though there was a great section of brand new gravel towpath. Wide and soft too.
With that nice section done, I knew I was out Small Heath way as I rode past the big, towering chimneys of the incinerator and I saw signs for the Ackers Activity place too. I was aware of reports of crime on remote parts of canals like this so I was becoming pretty wary of anyone I came across. Then in the distance I saw a couple of guys loitering under a low, dark bridge. They may have been fine but I didn’t fancy it so my canal journey into Brum centre suddenly ended and I popped out in the heart of shitsville, politely known as Small Heath. A god-forsaken, horrible place. A traffic sewer where driving and parking seems to be like the wild west and litter everywhere. I mean everywhere. Its disgusting. I wanted to stop and take a pic of the litter it was so bad but I genuinely didn’t feel safe so I just kept riding following cars until I popped out on the ring road and I knew where I was.
I rode down some random streets and got to Digbeth. I crossed the A45 and decided to get into the Gay quarter and find the end of the A38 cycleway and ride that back to Selly Oak, jump on the canal there then pick up the Rea Valley route back to Longbridge. The A38 cycleway and Rea Valley were new to me. I’v never ridden them before.
Despite a lot of debris, the A38 route was great. The best ride out of town I think I’ve ever experienced. The lights took a while to change and a couple of cars tried to jump a red light early on when it was the cyclists right of way but overall I was impressed. Shame there isn’t much more, it makes so much sense to build them.
Selly Oak is a joke when the blue route ends. The ‘infrastructure’ just becomes riding on a path with a painted line rather than something dedicated to the purpose. It’s shit and I couldn’t wait to get back on the canal for piece and quiet again away from the traffic sewer that engulfs Selly Oak retail park.
Canals done I peeled off in Kings Norton and joined the Rea Valley route back to Longbridge. My first impression was how shit and bumpy the surface was. Overall its not a bad route despite a couple of sections where you have to join the traffic but it could be so much better with just lighting. It would be dodgy at night and I’ve heard it is.
Into Longbridge I was nearly home. My drink had run out and I needed one ASAP. I opted to ride through the new retail car park and pop out further up the hill to Lickey Hills. My last bit of offroad was going to be a climb to Monument Lane via the golf course but I just needed a drink I was so thirsty so I stopped at the cafe at the bottom and took five gulping cold bottle of Pepsi.
I’d actually had to restart my Garmin in Knowle so I didn’t actually know how far or how long I’d been going but I reckoned I was over 4hrs in and it was telling. My neck and shoulders were pretty sore from all the offroad and the bloody Rea Valley route lol
One last effort needed I climbed past a couple of walkers and was relieved when I got to the top. It was all downhill now and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The view to the Malverns and Clee Hill was awesome. I should have took a pic really but I just wanted to get home now and be done. So I did.
I joined the .gpx files and managed to post the whole ride as one to Strava. 111km and nearly 5 hrs of riding. The distance and time wern’t the problem, its hours of offraod. Its take its toll and I feel like I’ve ridden for 8hrs now.
Anyway, adios and thanks for reading