Cycling from Birmingham to London

Like all good ideas the possibility of cycling the Grand Union Canal came to us at the pub. I remember it was after a long and hard day of doing nothing and we were unwinding with a few drinks when we began to debate the idea more seriously. Our first thought was… is it possible? Well, yes. The distance is approximately 120 miles so if we cycled at 10 mph we would be there in no time.

pubmat

Of course our optimistic slightly inebriated minds did not consider the possibility of rough terrain mixed with frequent stopping. Also we were both out of shape. I had just finished a long delicious summer in Greece and Mat was.. well.. Mat.

Anyway, the plan was made and a suitable date was found. On that date we set off early, at 7am and in no time found ourselves in Warwick. The canal path was well maintained, we basically had it to ourselves and we were making great progress.

Things started to go wrong after Napton Junction. Before this junction we had been cycling on grass for a while. This is tiring and slow to say the least but not a problem. However once you get past Napton Junction the path gets very basic and is badly maintained. This is where I got my puncture. “No problem” I thought, “I’ll grab the pump”.  A quick rummage around my bag revealed that the pump was not in-fact here with me but instead was around 40 miles away in Birmingham.

This meant my next 2 hours involved a slow uphill climb to Daventry with my friends bike while he pushed my bike along the canal path. There I purchased a pump and I rejoined my friend after the Braunston Tunnel.

The rest of the journey was without mishaps and I thoroughly enjoyed it but this delay did slow us down a lot. Below are some pictures from the trip:

How to: Birmingham to London along the Grand Union Canal

Right, so you have heard from my experience and you want to give it a go. I don’t blame you – there is plenty of picturesque British scenery, beautifully decorated canal boats and empty flat land to tempt me back any day.

The Birmingham to London canal route map

Birmingham to Milton Keynes

The first thing you need to do is work out a route. I found a good route from Birmingham to Milton Keynes on Bikely which I have also uploaded to EveryTrail.

Birmingham to Milton Keynes Via Grand Union Canal at EveryTrail

This gave me the coordinates I needed to input onto my iPhone using the Trails App which I have discussed previously on the iPhone bike apps post.

If there is one part of the route I would alter its from Napton on Hill to after Braunston Tunnel. Here the towpath is of a bad quality and you will struggle.

Milton Keynes to London

I couldn’t find any routes from Milton Keynes to London so I put together the below one:

Milton Keynes to London via Grand Union Canal at EveryTrail

The second half of the Grand Union takes you past Watford and via the west end of London to Paddington. It’s up to you to decide what you consider the “centre of London” I would say it was Trafalgar Square others would say it is Charing Cross, Westminster. Chances are you won’t care very much by the time you have cycled all that way.

What to take with you?

  • Inner tube spare x2 that fit your bike. If you have a bit of spare cash then splash out on the slime tube ones as they self heal and only cost a few pounds more – the best price I found was on Amazon.
  • Allen Key
  • Puncture repair kit
  • Pump
  • Waterproofs
  • Map – there are two ways to go about it. If you have a GPS device then that’s great you can download the direction I have listed above. Alternatively if you prefer you could buy an Ordnance Survey map.
  • Water – you can on occasions fill up using the narrowboat facilities by the side of the canal.
  • Bike lock
  • Snack food – there are large stretches of the canal where there is nowhere nearby to get food.
  • Cycle permit – no one will ask you but it can’t hurt.

Where to stay?

Halfway and at the end your going to need somewhere to stay. The cheapest option is Hostels. I always book through Hostel World. Alternatively if you fancy a bit more comfort go for a hotel. The best choice of course is if you have a friends house somewhere along the route and they will let you stay.

When to go on the Grand Union Canal?

I would recommend cycling during the summer as obviously you have more daylight and better weather. When it rains the trail can get muddy and you risk taking a dip.

Who is it for?

I cycled there with a Hybrid bike and had not cycled for over a month before setting off. I would recommend a bit more cycling than that before hand and also if you have a mountain bike it is better suited. Other than that if you cycle daily then this is a challenge you can do. If you don’t want to push yourself just plan for three days instead of two.

How long will it take to get to London?

This will largely depend on the person but it took me two days, setting off at 7am. Cycling about 12 hours a day.

Anything else I need to know?

As long as you know how to repair a puncture you will be fine. If I missed out any useful information please leave a comment below.

Part of the Breaking out of London seriesThis is the first post is a new London Cyclist monthly series that inspires London’s cyclists to break out of their city and explore the many gorgeous destinations available in the UK. The series provides all the information you will need to make such a trip.

Join 9,241 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

,

36 Responses to Cycling from Birmingham to London

  1. Craig 27/08/2009 at 7:39 am #

    So what is the terrain like from Milton Keynes to London?

    The whole trip sounds appealing though but I might make it a MK to London trip.

  2. raffazizzi 27/08/2009 at 8:13 am #

    Great job guys! It sounds like an amazing ride! I sometimes travel from London to Leighton Buzzard and back to visit my sis and I always wanted to try to get there cycling along the Grand Union. Now that someone survived a 120miles ride along the canal I have no excuse!!
    Thumbs up

  3. traveling always 27/08/2009 at 9:21 am #

    Great articles and well planned

  4. Andreas 27/08/2009 at 4:44 pm #

    Raffazizzi – hope you do it, I would really recommend it.
    Craig – Milton Keynes and London the terrain is much easier than the first half. There was still parts with grass but that will only slow you down not stop you.
    If you want try the MK to London trip first and then see how that goes.

  5. Amanda Meek 27/08/2009 at 5:01 pm #

    Cyclists (& walkers) have chosen to stayover in Milton Keynes at Number 68 Bed and Breakfast. Secure overnight storage in garage available for bikes. It’s literally a couple of minutes ride from the towpath.

    Although dinner is available, Stony Stratford is a great place nearby to eat & drink for the evening. Call 01908 221090 to find out more.

  6. Craig 29/08/2009 at 12:27 pm #

    Andreas my old flabby legs will only do 60 miles and then they need a long rest :). Gone are the days of Bristol-Plymouth

  7. Robert Seaton 15/09/2010 at 3:55 pm #

    I am planning on heading up to Birmingham from London this weekend although my eyes are fixed on the weather report so I can leave a couple of days later if I have to.
    Just wanted to say that I have pretty much used this page as a bible. I don think I would has planned this trip if I haddent stumbled upon this site.
    cheers for all the advice and I will let you know if I make it lol.

  8. RICHARD 22/09/2010 at 11:09 am #

    Hi

    I am doing the Brum-London ride by the Grand Union Canal on Friday week.

    I am a bit worried about this matter of the towpath round Napton…..just how bad is it?

    I dont have an iphone or any such gadget so any route would be great

  9. Tim 29/09/2010 at 9:57 am #

    Completed london – Birmingham first week september this year – apart for tunnels did the whole journey follwing the towpath – no gadgets – just old fashioned mark 1 eyeball and maps. the best for the journey are

    GEo Projects –
    Grand Union Canal Map 1 – Birmingham to Fenny Stratford
    Gran Union Canal Map 3 – Fenny Stratfor to the Thames
    The towpath is well marked on the map showing when it swiutches from one side of the canal to the other

    Pubs are marked on or near the canal as well as going through towns – tescos…..

    the maps are £4.95 each

    trip was great – though took longer than two days but I was planning to camp and take my time so was carrying all the camping gear etc – I averaged between 40 to 50 miles a day – cycling for 8-9 hours a day.

    My bike is a hybrid – but will next time put some more “off road” tyoe of tyres on – watch out for punctures – had 5 in total mostly due to thorns and briars – also recomend long sleaves and trousers as – I looked like I been thrown into a pit of angry cats – from scratches.

    Now planning next trip – London to Kendal………

  10. RICHARD 29/09/2010 at 10:09 pm #

    Great stuff.

    On the occasions when the towpath switches from one side to the other, is there usually a bridge that you can cross at such points?

    How did you find the path around Braunston? Is it as bad as reported?

    • Tim 30/09/2010 at 9:20 am #

      always a crossing point where the towpath switches – on the maps I mentioned the towpath clearly marked and the crossing points.

      Braunston Tunnel- was the most brambly/nettle laiden part – the first 100 yards or so then it opens out – there was as mentioned by a walker a dodge around that part – but the description of go aroud to the kleft then follow the track towards the house on the hill….. well, I put up with the track….

      I will ssa that the most challing part are two crossing point are steps – one at buckly top lock where the “leciester line” branches the other If i remember correctly where the towpath “bridges” pver the braunstom Marina….

  11. RICHARD 06/10/2010 at 11:05 pm #

    I have just completed the Brum to London ride.

    The Grand Union starts (for me) underneath Spaghetti Junction.

    The towpath from there through Birmingham is reasonable.

    Through Solihull it gets muddy and worn. Beyond Hatton Locks parts of it are basically are/were a mud path.

    Past Leamington parts of it are really quite difficult if you encounter the rain and mud that we did.

    It was practically impassable by bike in many places towards Braunston Tunnel because of the mud.

    From Weedon to Stoke Bruerne was either grass or decentish towpath.

    The area around Milton Keynes is superb…..wide and flat with looked-after surfaces. Safe in nay weather. Through to Leighton Buzzard is similar….either concrete or similar with very few problems.

    Hemel Hempstead onwards was OKish, although mud was again an issue.

    Large stretches from Batchworth onwards were excellent, and pretty much all of the Paddington Arm into Central London was excellent too.

    It’s no coincidence that most of our 9 punctures were in the earlier rural stretches where the thorns were most prevalent. Inner tubes and puncture repair kits are a must, and/or the best tyres you can afford.

    We did it in 3 days and that would have been 2 and a half without punctures.

    A really nice ride though…but definitely one best left til Spring or Summer!!

    Recommended – the Narrowboat at Weedon. Really welcoming staff, superb location alongside the canal, good food, real ales, decent rooms and manager was happy to lend tools for bike repairs. I would definitely go back.

  12. Matt 18/11/2010 at 9:49 pm #

    hi im going to Peru next year for 1 year and im trying to raise money. Im fifteen and do alot of biking do you think this is a suitable ride for me and my mates to do as a charity ride?

    • Andreas 18/11/2010 at 10:14 pm #

      Hi Matt – sure I don’t see why not. It’s a nice little challenge and definitely doable.

  13. Matt 27/11/2010 at 9:12 pm #

    thanks

  14. Amy Trollope 16/03/2011 at 11:24 am #

    Hi Andreas,

    My brother and I are wanting to do a sponsored walk along the canal from Birmingham to London this summer, hopefully with our dog too!
    Problem is, I’ve never done a big planned walk like this before, and don’t know how to go about working out how far we need to walk in a day, and then liaising that with ending up where we need to stay for the night; and I’m not sure how to work out where we’d end up (or need to end up) so that I could book somewhere to stay the night.

    How did you work out how far you needed to go in a day, and where to stay?
    Did you book the hostel in advance, or just find somewhere to stay on the night?
    Ideally I would like to have everything booked beforehand, but just don’t know how to work it all out!
    Any tips?

    Thanks a lot! :)

    Amy

    • Andreas 16/03/2011 at 2:35 pm #

      I’ve replied to this via e-mail so hope my tips helped!

  15. Tim Maskell 21/03/2011 at 2:28 pm #

    A lot of good info here, thanks to every one that has left comments. I plan to try Birmingham to Hemel Hempstead in the height of the Summer, but I was planning to do it in one day. I’ve done distances of around 90 miles easily enough in a day but thats always heading into London then along the Thames Path and out on the River Lee and the paths are always fairly good. I was going to get an early start leaving Birmingham about 5 a.m. but having read some of the comments about the state of the path in some places I’m starting to wonder if I’ll make it in a day. I’ll leave a post in a few months and let you know if I did or not.

  16. Andy 23/03/2011 at 7:54 pm #

    Hi all, I am organising a ride from Birm to London. Looking at the maps of the origin of the GU it appears to be quite industrial, is it easy to access around Bordseley area (I have been looking to start at Lawden road)….Thanks

  17. RSK 30/04/2011 at 1:28 am #

    “I would say it was Trafalgar Square others would say it is Charing Cross, Westminster.”
    Does it make much difference? Seeing as they’re only thirty seconds walk from each other…
    I’d have thought the finish point was the end of the Grand Union Canal myself.

  18. tim 11/06/2011 at 2:22 pm #

    hi, further to my post in september last year – as promised did Kendal to London in april this year – took 8 days fantastic weather and amazingly no punctures – best bit the macclesfield canal – worst bit for towpath the Oxford canal.

    Camped varity of “wild”camping and at marinas who kindly let me pitch for the night.

    now what next……

    • Lionel 24/10/2013 at 8:32 pm #

      Hi Tim

      Great story and well done on completing your Kendal to London cycle. I’m would like to do a similar trip but in the reverse, from South West London to Kendal. Do you have some pointers for me please about the route you used. Were you offroad most of the time? Thanks

  19. Matt Jones 05/03/2012 at 9:52 pm #

    Hi, it seems a lot of you haven’t commented for a while.

    I’ve been looking at doing this Brum – London cycle road and possibly back too, is is manageable in 4 days with a stop halfway on both legs? And a stop in London?

    I’d be starting from Brum as I live next to a canal which goes towards the spagetti junction, so quite possibly could start from there.

    If people don’t think its practical to cycle back from London, how did you get back to Brum?

    Matt

  20. Andy 06/03/2012 at 7:05 pm #

    Matt

    I think 4 days would be achievable, there are some stretches where the pace is somewhat slower, particularly the grass stages (depends on how recently it has been cut!).

    How far into London are you planning to go? We did Birmingham to London in 2 days with an overnight stay in Milton Keynes, finishing at Batchworth. We did not go all the way into London.

    We did have some members of the team (10 of us) who were fairly novice riders, this caused the pace to be somewhat slower than the 7mph average over the 125 miles (including breaks) that I had planned!

    What sort of level rider are you?

    I have thought about doing the route again starting at London and coming back down again but haven’t got round to it yet!

    Good luck!

    Andy

  21. Martin 31/05/2012 at 1:32 am #

    I cycled from London to Birmingham last year. I started from the Lea navigation in East London around 5am and reached Stoke Bruern around 9pm. It had started to rain and it was getting dark. I had a bit of a panic finding a hotel but luckily i did. I settled down feeling well pleased with myself as i had done about 100 miles and estimated that i only had half as much to do the next day. It turned out that the remainder of the journey was much more difficult. First i got delayed by the Stoke bruern tunnel. I wasted over an hour trying to find where to rejoin the canal. Then when i got to the Oxford canal i found it was quite overgrown and difficult to cycle on. I had to walk the bike for a while then ride and so on. Then i got a series of punctures due to thorns. If i had just cycled from Stoke bruern and back to London it would have been an easier ride even though it would have been about 50 miles more. I am going to do it again in a few weeks time. I will reinforce my tyres and try to plan my hotel stops rather than take a chance. I want to circle Birmingham then return to London. I will give myself 7 days which will include 1 days rest in Brum. Last year i diddnt cycle back.

    • Afi 09/07/2012 at 5:37 pm #

      Hi, I will be cycling from London to Birmingham also. We plan to do this in September; however, I’m starting to become a little worried about grass! lol
      I have tried to look for a (really/ semi) good map, however, they are not as good as I had hoped. I don’t own an iphone, and the other cyclers, like me have a blackberry (the apps differ to that on the iphone)..

      Any advice????

      Also where (exactly) should I stop in Birmingham?

  22. j palmer 02/06/2012 at 3:58 pm #

    i was planning to ride from milton keynes to birmingham.i’m was sure i could do it in a single day….am i wrong?

    • Martin 02/06/2012 at 4:38 pm #

      You can do it in a day if you start early and are prepared to keep going until you get there but the oxford canal section is overgrown and hard to cycle on so it will slow you down.

  23. Jacob 26/07/2012 at 3:29 pm #

    Hey guys, some useful information here. I was planning on cycling from London to Leeds, following the Grand Union Canal up to Langley Mill, and then making my way from there. Is this the best/nicest way to get to Leeds, or has anyone got any suggestions? Looking at the map, it’s probably not the quickest route. I was also looking at following the Sustrans cyclin network, but I’m having a hard time finding any useful information about using that trail.
    Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

  24. Jim 26/04/2013 at 6:13 pm #

    Birmingham to London via Grand Union Canal – Useful Info.
    Hi cyclists! Me and a friend cycled a good chunk of this last year in September.
    We did it over 4 days. I recommend pre booking your digs as there’s not a lot close to the canal.

    Day 1 – Birmingham, Gas Street Basin – Long Itchington, 35 miles.
    The towpaths here are reasonable, muddy in places but no real trouble. Great fun going downhill through Hatton Locks. After a few miles cycling through Warwick and Leamington Spa we reached a pub at Long Itchington called the Two Boats. We stayed at a b&b called Marton Farm at £60 per night with 2 beds. Thoroughly recommend this, lovely hosts and great breakfast. There are a few pubs in the village and a co op near the church.

    Day 2 – Long Itchington – Milton Keynes, 36 Miles
    Now here, you could say we copped out a bit. Reading the forums, I got the feeling that this stretch of the canal wasn’t too good and I was correct. We cycled on the road to Stoke Bruerne and got back on the canal here. From here to Milton Keynes the towpaths were mostly overgrown, bumpy, full of bramble thorns and puncture paradise. I had 2 within half an hour. Top tips – get a strip of Kevlar lining in each tyre(Halfords £6.99), or a self repairing inner tube if you plan going anywhere on the canal on this stretch.
    Stayed at the Roman Rooms Hotel in north Milton Keynes near the canal £50 per night/room with 2 beds.

    Day 3 – Milton Keynes To Watford 43 Miles
    The towpaths here are really good through Milton Keynes and onwards. Got as far as far as Leighton Buzzard and unfortunately due to my friend being knackered and unable to cycle much more (it didn’t help he was riding my girlfriends £100 special offer ladies bike) we got the train to Watford.
    Stayed at The Southern Cross in Watford near to the station at £60.00 per night, room with 2 beds.

    Day 3 – Watford – London Centre 32 Miles
    A surprisingly scenic route here. Just remember to turn off at the Bulls Bridge near Southall otherwise you will end up going down to the Thames. Towpaths are good.
    Finished and got lost somewhere near Regents Park, which is pretty much the end or the start of the Grand Union canal.
    Stayed at LSE Carr-Saunders students hall of residence next to the Telecom Tower in Fitzroy Street, £59.00. They do a fab self serve breakfast here in the canteen and I even went back and sneaked a few more sausages in when the dinner lady had her back turned!

    Day 4 – London – Birmingham by train.
    No problem getting the bikes on the train, provided you let the ticket people know in advance.

    We planned the routes using http://www.daftlogic.com/projects-advanced-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm#loginbox
    Its a really useful tool enabling you to calculate distances along the route. I printed all these maps out and my friend had a sat nav on the phone so there was no excuse for getting lost(although we did in London, cycling with the double decker buses and black cabs).

  25. Louey 13/07/2013 at 5:40 pm #

    I’m planning London to Birmingham in September. Someone was after a useful book/map –
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Oxford-Collins-Nicholson-Waterways-Guides/dp/000745256X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1373733098&sr=8-1&keywords=grand+union+canal I’ve managed to get the 2010 edition from the library. Has anyone camped at the Old Diary Farm just south of Milton Keynes http://campsiteheaven.com/uk-campsite-directory/undefined/the-old-dairy-farm I hoping I can get my wife to drive our campervan to there for the overnight stop :-) From the advice given I shall be getting my self some decent slime or Dr Sludge inner tubes too. I have a friend at work who did the journey approx 18 years ago in one day (19hrs)!!!! And to think the towpaths where probably in a worst state back then. I hoping to ride for about 7-8hrs per day so should complete it within the planned two days.

  26. Glyn 29/07/2013 at 10:29 pm #

    Have done this ride from Coventry (oxford canal, path is over grown a lot) down to London in 3 days and its a great ride, stayed at Weedon and Leighton Buzzard you join the grand union at Braunston junction, if you get the Nicholson guides they are the best as they are OS maps but just the bit that the canal concerns, they also have 1 mile markers so you can work out your route down to the last mile. I rode it on an old fixed frame mountain bike and that was an error, you don’t realy need a mountain bike and have since done the Birmingham loop 120miles on a hybrid with no probs no need for all the hi tech there is only 4junctions and they are marked.
    We are going up from bulls bridge to the end this September and plan to camp up on the canal side, theres plenty of deserted spaces you wont be seen, and lets face it that’s what the fishermen do!
    I have ridden from Windsor where I live to Guildford on the Wey, up to B,ham across to Stratford, and most of the Thames path, you cant go wrong with Nicholson guides and a hybred is fine take plenty of spare inner tubes as those hawthorns are unforgiving

  27. kevkell 10/08/2013 at 7:06 am #

    hello everyone, i am planning to cycle paddington basin (london) to manchester using the grand union, trent and mersey. my challenge is to cycle non stop for 24 hours, i doubt i will reach manchester but i am going to attempt it. last year i cycled on road london (farringdon) to macclesfield in 18 hours. does anybody know which points i have to exit and is it well signposted to return back onto the canal. thanks

  28. Fraggle 24/09/2014 at 9:03 pm #

    Hey, I’m looking for some guidance…

    I’m a relatively newbie cyclist but want to set myself a goal for next year and cycle the grand union canal, onto Birmingham and finally reaching Nottingham. Has anyone ever done this along the towpaths only? As I’m a newbie, I prefer to keep off the roads but I’m finding it difficult to work out a route!! Thank in advance for any help!!!

    • Andreas 26/09/2014 at 3:43 pm #

      I don’t know about all the way in to Nottingham, but if the route to London is anything to go by then this can be a really great experience. You should definitely be able to accomplish this goal – it’s a really pleasurable ride and as long as you take it slow, anyone could achieve it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Starting Out/Sizing Up: Definitive Mountain Biking Kit Lists / SportPursuit | SportPursuit.com - 09/07/2013

    […] recreational, some take it more seriously – for a challenge, try cycling the 120 miles of the Grand Union Canal. As the most relaxed form of mountain biking, the equipment required is equally laid back, although […]

Leave a Reply