Bridgewater Canal Cycleventure

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who used to cycle on the paths around her house, commentating her clearly race-winning cycling. Then she grew up, and once she had outgrown that childhood bike, she didn’t cycle again… until, one day, in a land far away, she decided to go on a new kind of adventure, with a new trusty steed.

The little girl is me (obviously).

The trusty steed is my delightful folding bike, a Tern Link B7, which is midnight blue and has mudguards and a bell.

He’s called Prongs.

My sister has a new bike too, and hers is called Padfoot.

So, one day, the little girl who was no longer so little wanted to take her trusty steed on its first big adventure. She picked a path away from the traffic, packed her suncream, some water and an apple, and set off. Nothing too scary, except a bit of an ambitious destination, all the way to Altrincham. (Insert Top Gear-esque voice: “how hard can it be?”)

Bridgewater Canal: What’s its story?

My route for the day, away from the traffic, was a section of the Bridgewater Canal. It runs between Runcorn, Manchester and Leigh, and was one of the first canals of the Industrial Revolution (this source says it was the first true canal in England). It was built to transport coal cheaply around the area to fuel industrial activity, in the beating heart of Industrial England in the 1800s.

The canal today is not used for transporting coal, but still features some reminders of its industrial past, such as cranes over the waterway, and big warehouses that might once have held cotton at some point in their careers.

The canal is home to several narrowboats, moored along its walls. One of my favourite parts of narrowboat culture is people who give their boats funny names – the one I noticed on this trip was Leddit B, with the Abbey Road silhouette below the sign.

Aim: Make the most of my leave

So I set out on the well-maintained towpath along the canal, a route we had run part of the way down before. Shared with other cyclists, walkers, runners and fishermen, it’s a friendly loop. I joined the canal path just over the Trafford Road Bridge into Salford, and rode the loop past Old Trafford, through Stretford, and then hanging right towards the south.

I passed the Watch House Cruising Club, which was the turning point on our run down the canal, and struck out into uncharted territory. One of the things I thought was that at some point, I want to do this starting from Altrincham, and stopping at all the pubs along the riverside for a drink – a canal crawl if you will… or would that be a canal dredge? Either way, I’d better take that version of the adventure slowly, and preferably with a companion.

I really had an excellent day, and it was a very satisfying way to get more used to my bike. I took a break or two along the way, past Sale. My break was at some picnic tables in the shade (hiding from the sun, reapplying the suncream to avoid English sunburn. It’ll happen to me at some point). There is a gentleness to sitting in the shade near a tennis court and bowling green, with a boathouse just beyond. Delightful. The peace of being slightly further out of the business of the slice of urban jungle we live in was magnificent.

Ah! Too adventurous!

After my quiet break, I decided to keep going to Altrincham – it was going to be just a bit further, and I told myself I could get there. I jumped back on my bike, and headed off as the sun rose towards its zenith.

I may have ignored a signpost.

Or two.

After another fifteen minutes in the saddle (knowing that I was about an hour away from home, and becoming ever-more aware that my butt was not used to a bike saddle), I took another pause to send a photo and pindrop to the family. Then I checked the map. GASP! I had entirely overshot Altrincham by remaining on the canal. At some point, I was supposed to leave the canal path and go back onto the real roads into the town centre.

You just have to laugh though, right?

I turned around, planning to cycle home slowly and take some pictures along the way. It was not exactly smooth cycling, however: about six minutes into the homeward trip, I went over a set of murder-cobbles under a bridge.

Chain off.

Totally didn’t panic at all. (lies!)

I was pretty far from home, and I had to get back somehow. Eventually, a nice lady stopped her own bike, and helped me figure out how to get it back on. She chastised me for not having an adequate amount of grease on the chain – which I have at last remedied. More bike adventures soon!

Unfortunately, the chain off incident put a damper on my desire to stop every five minutes for a photo opportunity, so I only have a few shots of my adventure. I pedaled hard, and got home about two hours after setting out.

It really was a fabulous adventure.


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