In a summer of 2015 I got an idea to walk from London to Birmingham along the Grand Union canal. Most of my friends were laughing of the idea and called me crazy that I wanted to walk 230km/142mi. Still, I calculated how long would it take for me to walk such distance. When I realised it would take me almost two weeks to walk from London to Birmingham, I started to question my capabilities too.
Months were passing by and I’ve been walking on some weekends, as well as walking 6.5km/4mi to work in the mornings (let’s face it, no one likes to be on a tube in a rush morning hours). I haven’t walked that much in winter, although I needed to be outside at least once a week, you know, to get some fresh air. So on those days, I would just walk around my area in North London or walk couple circles in a nearby park. Even on a rainy day. However, that winter was pretty good and had quite a few sunny days. On one of those bright days I couldn’t resist to go on a bit longer walk than usual. I’ve chosen a canal walk, called the New River Path. Although this path had really nice spots, but the route itself was a bit annoying as I had to cross a road every 15 minutes or so. However, this canal walk reminded my idea to walk from London to Birmingham along the canal. So I started to plan my Grand Union canal walk all over again.
I’ve decided to walk only on weekends and come back home each evening. I’ve checked possibility to stay overnight at Airbnb but that would cost me more than travel back to London. Plus, going home each evening means that I won’t need to carry extra clothes and food for 2-3 days.
The new plan was to walk from London to Birmingham in 8 days by walking about 30km/18mi a day. I couldn’t wait for spring so I’ve started my personal walking challenge on 19 February, 2016.
DAY ONE. Little Venice to Uxbridge (30.5km/18.9mi) – February, 2016
The day started beautifully sunny. I’m starting my walk from the Little Venice in London and after just a couple of hours of a brisk walking my legs feels heavy. Yes, I’m not that prepared for a long distance brisk walking but I am not going to give up just yet! So, I bought a cup of coffee to warm up – it’s winter after all – and continued my walk. After a little while, dark clouds start passing by and I got caught in a 5-minutes rain – just in time when I approached a wet and slippery bit of the path. All good – I haven’t fell over but after these few minutes of walking and trying to keep my balance, I feel exhausted. It’s good that only 2 hours left to go. On the other hand, I feel a bit anxious about tomorrow’s walk and all other planned walks to which I bought train tickets in advance already.
After I’ve passed Slough Arm, a short canal branch from the Grand Union main line to Slough, canal surroundings have changed a bit. The Packet Boat Marina looks like a little village of boats – such a lovely view.
It’s only 4 o’clock in the afternoon and already dusk came on. I started to walk even faster and so almost missed an exit to Oxford Road leading to the Uxbridge Tube station. It’s good to be sitting on a train.
DAY TWO. Uxbridge to Hemel Hampstead (27.6km/17.2mi) – February, 2016
Morning. My legs are still tired. It looks gloomy outside. I’m glad I’m walking with my friend today.
Even though the distance is shorter today but it took us 2 hours longer to walk than yesterday. That’s what happens when you walk with a company – you walk slower and you stop for a lunch and coffee breaks. Also, a towpath was a bit muddy and that have dropped out pace as well. Finally, it got dark pretty early because of the cloudy sky and we started thinking if we should stop our walk unfinished. However, we have decided to turn torches on our phones on and continue walking to Hemel Hampstead. Interestingly, my leg muscles are not in pain today and the tiredness I felt in the morning has gone as well.
Probably the most memorable thing today was swan fight with the pair kicking, beating the other with their wings, snapping their beaks and even trying to push the other below the water. It was brutal and hard to watch.
DAY THREE. Hemel Hampstead to Leighton Buzzard (29.5km/18.3mi) – March, 2016
It’s been two weeks since my last walk and so I’m so excited to grab my backpack and hit the road again – well, a towpath along the canal. My morning starts with stopping by at a narrow boat in Hemel Hampstead to say hello to a friend I haven’t seen for ages.
Up until Tring town, walking along the canal feels like walking through an alley – unbelievably tall trees on the both sides of the canal, chirping birds, a rabbit in his hole and a feeling of tranquillity. It’s warm and sunny Spring day, so I start unconsciously looking around for violets – one of the first sign of Spring in Lithuania – just to find out that they are not as common in England.
When I saw the “Bluebell” café in Marsworth on a map, I’ve started dreaming about a coffee. Finally, I’m at the café! I don’t have cash though and a minimum spend on a card is £8. Well, thanks but no thanks.
Soon after I’ve passed the café, the views have changed becoming never ending monotony with bushes on a right and the canal on a left. In 1.5 hours of walking I saw only two narrow boats and zero human beings. I like seeing people on a towpath or on narrow boats as they always look happy, smile and say hello – it feels like you belong to some sort of a canal community.
Finally, I reached my destination – Leighton Buzzard train station. I bought a cuppa tea and a sandwich and got on a train to London Euston station.
DAY FOUR. Leighton Buzzard to Wolverton (28.6km/17.8mi) – March, 2016
It’s Saturday and that means I’m walking with my friend again. We arrive to Leighton Buzzard and what a surprise – the towpath along the canal is frosty. Although, yesterday I was so happy that Spring is here, today I’m excited seeing at least a little bit of snow – that’s not something you see that often in London!
If I walk on my own, I usually walk quite fast and don’t stop for lunch but eat whilst walking. However, today I’m with my friend so we’ve decided to stop for a lunch at “Cross Keys” pub in Great Woolstone village, Milton Keynes. Food was amazing, of course. I’m not so keen on pub food in London but outer London pubs rarely disappoint me.
An interesting spot today was a motorway below the canal. Sounds strange, I know, so look at the picture on the bottom left corner. Also, I am half way from London to Birmingham – how crazy is that?! On a sad note, I have a strange pain in my ankle after today’s walk. That makes me worry a bit because next week I’m going to walk 3 days in a row…