Canal tour taking in the :
Tame Valley , Rushall , Anglesey branch ,Trent and Mersey , Staffs Worcester , Old Main line, Bradley arm , Bradley branch , and finally the Walsall canal.
Of course there were bits of highway and cross country (rough stuff) thrown in, a total journey of 61 miles or 98 km for the younger riders. It was bright morning when I set off for a lone ride partially cloudy but warm none the less. I quickly joined the Tame Valley canal which is only 5 minutes from home and being an urban one the tow path was tarmac. 10 minutes later I was onto the Rushall canal where tarmac gave way to the traditional dirt and the odd stone sticking up. After 30 minutes the scenery changed from urban sprawl to countryside and the straight lines of the Tame Valley and start of the Rushall gave way to the gentle curves of the older part of the canal.
At Catshill junction it was a right turn onto the Wryley Essington / Anglesey branch and another surface change to a smoother Breedon gravel, another ten minutes saw me reach National cycle route 5 at Chasewater reservoir. Following the cycle route north on the shared cycle provision alongside the A5190 it is a short ten minutes to Burntwood town centre which I passed straight through on the Rugely road, later turning right onto Chorley road and a nice freewheel downhill to the junction with Ogley Hay road on the right. Here it was a left turn onto Gentleshaw common, typical heathland of gravel and sand - so the climbing began 15 minutes in the lowest gears available, slogging through the gullies worn by rain and foot both of man and horse. The area is maintained by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.
So after arriving at the top of the common and Gentleshaw village I re-joined the highway for the short ride to Castle Ring on the edge of Cannock Chase. The Ring is the site of an ancient Iron Age fortress, with the remains of a medieval hunting lodge. Travelling anti clockwise around the Ring I followed a trail of rough stuff marked on the map and shown on the Garmin - well that was adventurous to say the least. Not so much a trail more a forgotten pathway that nature had reclaimed with a vengeance. At one point crossing the bright orange quagmire of iron coloured water seeping from the hillside was a challenge, keeping the bike to the left and using it as prop whilst very carefully stepping from exposed tree root to tree root was to say the least interesting. Once out in open onto the fire trails it was quick blast down loose gravel to the next section of highway, despite a couple of wrong turns quickly realised.
The village of Upper Longdon is made up of a few quaint older properties but a lot of new builds. After emerging from the ‘jungle’ there is trail 100 meters on the left which drops down through an ancient tree lined gully of worn sandstone which forms the walls and floor on which I rode, the carpet of fallen leaves yet to rot away from the autumn shows how protected this little valley is but they hide the drop offs in the sandstone.
Once out the valley there is quiet lane that runs to the main road at Brereton, a quick 50 meter to the traffic signals and a right turn onto Armitage lane which leads under the A51 and joins the A513, here another short 50 meters to the junction with the A51 and the shared cycle provision to travel north. Around a 100 meters sees the crossing point just before the roundabout and the canal access path which is in need of cutting back.
Once on the Trent and Mersey canal it is once again Breedon gravel giving a smooth ride bypassing Rugeley. Once out the town it’s back to the rough stuff of grass and tree roots as you cross the river Trent. Pressing on until reaching the junction with the Staffs Worcester canal just after Haywood lock number 22. The ride became a battle of not getting stung by giant patches of nettles - fortunately I had brought my leg and arm warmers, not the most ideal items of clothing on a hot day but better than a thousand nettle stings. And so after thrashing through head high vegetation hoping I was at least somewhere near to following the towpath I finally emerged at Park Gate lock which gave brief rest bite from the ‘jungle’ conditions.
Pressing on and under the M6 and now battling the mass of cow parsley, is this really a bike ride or safari I thought! Conditions improved as I approached Hatherton marina but nature was leading me into a false sense of joy for as I rounded the corner I was faced with yet more jungle!
When finally reaching the water treatment works, a strange joy you might think, but despite the smell I could finally remove the arm and leg warmers which were by now totally soaked as I had just missed a passing heavy shower so the grass was sodden and now were my legs and feet. Passing under the M54 I reached the junction with the Shropshire Union canal and five minutes later I reached the Aldersley junction and the left turn onto the Old Main line. Climbing the 21 locks into Wolverhampton at a steady pace on now tarmacked towpath again was no chore, passing through the city on National cycle route 81 and through the junction with the Wryley Essington canal I rode under the towering bridge that carries the Black Country route before turning left onto the Bradley Arm. The Bradley ends abruptly but the route of the former Wednesbury Oak loop canal is rideable across a rough track then down the now covered lock flight on Weddell Wynd open space. Crossing Great Bridge Road and re-joining the canal remnants can be seen, a small trickle of water opens into what you would expect the canal to be, clearly pipework runs under the buried lock flight just waiting to be rejuvenated. Passing Moorcroft nature reserve on the left I joined the Walsall canal and turned right ridding the half mile to where I left the canal for the 15-minute road ride home.
Is there much to see on the ride, well not really, it is a ride for those looking for a trail ride with distance, Gentleshaw common offers effort to climb as do the locks when arriving at Wolverhampton albeit not so much if you pace yourself.
The must haves, definitely leg and arm cover, gloves or mitts too, and any serious canal rider always have their key to access the water points to refill your bottles. Water points are clearly marked on the Canal and River Trust map if you zoom in on the particular stretch of canal you’re on, or better still check them out before hand and add them to your route before loading onto your device. It’s much easier to drink the last 100 ml in your bottle at the tap than try and hold out because you don’t know where the nearest shop is.
Distance: 61 miles
Time: 6 hrs 51 mins
Av speed: 9.0mph
Max speed: 25mph
Total Ascent: 1132ft
Total descent: 1135ft
Min elevation: 223ft
Max elevation: 788ft
Temp: 14 Celsius
Start time: 7:40 am