Jon and I have covered many parts of the canal on many occasions and had often talked about paying homage to this magnificent engineering wonder, by exploring its entire length in one go!
We hadn’t got access to a narrowboat … but we sure did have bikes, and were forever up for an adventure! This is an incredibly simple idea and, with only a minimal amount of organising, was easy to put together … in May 2015 we executed our plan, it turned out to be a phenomenal success.
History ~ The Leeds & Liverpool Canal was the last of the three trans-Pennine canals. It has a mainline of 127.25 miles long, making it easily the longest canal built by one company in the country! It links the Aire & Calder Navigation at Leeds with the northwest seaport of Liverpool, forming a through route between the North Sea and the Irish Sea. Although the last 1/4 mile (Liverpool end) has been filled in, it is still possible to complete the route via Eldonian Village.
Cycling The Route ~ The conventional way to travel by bike would be to go west to east, to take advantage of probable prevailing winds … so let’s defy logic and tackle it the other way. I have reckoned that, although canals can get rather exposed to headwinds, the latter stage of the route is the more gentle. Also, it would seem more natural for us to head westwards and towards ‘home’.
It is possible to cycle the towpath along the whole canal, the only exceptions are two tunnels at Foulridge and Gannow. Navigation is not an issue and there aren’t any major junctions to confuse you (it is well signposted anyway). That said, a 1:50000 set of maps is required to pinpoint your position in relation to the daily section you are travelling on, to locate facilities and for any necessary diversions due to unexpected towpath maintenance.
To get to and from our start/finish points we used the train … taking us into and out of the mighty cities of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.
DAY ONE ~ Leeds to Earby = 42.6 miles / 2100 feet ascent / 1700 feet descent / 5:20 hours:mins + breaks
DAY TWO ~ Earby to Wigan = 50.7 miles / 2100 feet ascent / 2500 feet descent / 6:20 hours:mins + breaks
DAY THREE ~ Wigan to Liverpool = 37.9 miles / 650 feet ascent / 700 feet descent / 4:44 h:m + breaks
Based on a blanket 8mph
Costings ~ an INCREDIBLE £101pp: this includes train fares/accommodation/meals (breakfast, packed lunch, evening meal) … you need to book well in advance to get the best deals.
Full map details (the route, places to eat, toilets, cycle repair shops, food stores etc) and suggested accommodation details are available on request … it’ll cost ya a pint! … VA
TIPS & HINTS …
Here are some pointers for anyone considering following in our tyre tracks:
- Cycle – mountain bike/ensure that it is well maintained and in good working order/anti-puncture road tyres / comprehensive tool kit/bell … it will get well used!
- Luggage – travel extremely lightly/35-litre rucksacks as opposed to panniers/clothes and gear in separate waterproof bags/first-aid kit
- Duration – we did this in 2 nights & 3 days/you may wish to consider 3 nights & 4 days(?)
- Timing – from May to September/mid-week is strongly advised … although you will have large swathes of the canal to yourself, you will be competing with many walkers in built-up areas (ESP. weekends)
- Accommodation – range enormously; limited hostels, motels ideal/ensure that your choice has cycle storage facilities
- Direction – I categorically defend my decision to do this east to west/you are probably going to do this in the summer and will be unlucky for strong winds to be a factor/see the above elevation guide (ie a flat ending)/Liverpool’s waterfront makes for a majestic finale
- Navigation – the beauty of this route is that it is extremely easy to follow/you will need however to come off the towpath on occasions … there are two tunnels where you will need to go ‘over the top’/there could be sections closed where work on the towpath is being carried out/you will need to exit for your accommodation or for facilities
- Maps – although we did use an array of gizmos … gps, I-Pad and smartphones .. the bedrock of my navigation came from good old RELIABLE paper maps/I used 1:50,000 O/S digital mapping, segregated into 3 sections/in addition, I used 1:10,000 (Streetmap) for locating our accommodation/I have devised a simple and highly effective method of quickly pin-pointing your position while travelling on canals (Copyright: ME!!! ???)
- Trains – we booked a set outward journey and an open inward journey (via ‘Trainline’) / I highly recommend you reserve your bikes (via ‘Trans-Pennine Express’)/officially only 2 are permitted on each train, 3 can be stowed in reality/you will have to take your chances if you choose not to use your reserved (bike) train from Liverpool/the train service is extremely frequent and fast/ensure you book well in advance to take advantage of cheaper fares
- Towpaths – the disparity in towpath surface is vast! … ranging from silky smooth ribbons of tarmac ~ to ~ narrow stoney strips of quagmire (ie prone to mud is another seasonal consideration)!