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Birmingham, Oxford, Bletchley Park, Cambridge, Norwich, England (5Ĺ  day bike ride)
(5Ĺ  day bike-pack)
Sat 09 Jun - Thu 14 Jun 2018

Sat 09 Jun 2018

Sat 09 Jun 2018
Sun 10 Jun 2018
Mon 11 Jun 2018
Tue 12 Jun 2018
Wed 13 Jun 2018
Thu 14 Jun 2018
Heading out on my bike again but this time a slightly earlier start as I needed to ride to Preston Railway Station to catch the 6:17am Virgin train to Birmingham. I left the house at 5:10 and it was light enough to cycle without lights. I reached Preston Railway Station in plenty of time and was surprised how quiet it was. There were very few people around and my train was leaving from platform 6 and when I got there the train was waiting but not yet open to passengers. The bike compartment was at the rear of the train and the train guard let me on well in advance.

Empty carriage at Preston
It was one of the carriages where I didnít have to hang my bike from the roof and I was able to wheel it into the compartment and tie it to the wall. In the main carriage I was the only person there and as we left exactly on time at 6:17 I was still the only person in the carriage. It was only when we reached Wigan that people started to get on. We had a few stops and I was surprised at the length of time we waited at some stations, in particular Crewe and Wolverhampton. As we approached Birmingham New Street Station I asked the cleaner was it always this quiet on a Saturday morning. She said it was but the next trains get extremely busy. I had to wait for the guard to open the door from the outside and the cleaner suggested I get off through the normal pedestrian exits and go back to the bike compartment and if nobody arrives to open the door all I have to do is stand with my hand on the train and they are not allowed to move it. I got my bike off OK shortly after 8am.
Birmingham New Street is not a station I am familiar with and I had to get the lift up a level with the bike and follow the exit signs to get out onto the main street. As it is such a large station there is more than one exit and I was at the wrong end for the start of my ride. I cycled around the streets to find the correct road south and followed it to where I got off for the Grand Union Canal.
Leaving Birmingham
I was glad to see the back of the Birmingham roads. I cycled this length of the canal last year and cycled along it easily with the exception of a couple of causeways where the surface was bricks which had been placed to assist horses but they were they were very rough for riding the bike. I continued along the towpath but didnít go as far as I did last year and left the canal north of Solihull to follow the road.
Grand Union Canal
The first part was rather busy but it wasnít long before I turn left to a quieter road and after crossing the M40 to reach the delightful town of Knowle.
Here I left the main road and took a quieter road through the distinctive buildings of the town. I stopped to photograph an impressive date stone on a house to commemorate Queen Victoriaís Jubilee in 1897. On the approach to Warwick I saw the sign to the right that took me down to the Grand Union Canal again.
Queen Victoria's Jubilee
I followed it and started to ride along the towpath which was fine for a while but it started to get narrow with thick undergrowth and encroaching. At one point the undergrowth had grown so far across there was only a narrow gap to ride on with the canal on my right. I decided to leave the towpath when I saw a private drive that took me up to a road. I join the canal again when the towpath widened and it took me in to Royal Leamington Spa. I left the canal here and joined the main road that headed south. I stopped at a small shop to buy something to eat and find a small pack of coconut and jam tarts which were very tasty and helped recharge my energy batteries.
Dirty Lane
A left turn up ahead took me on to a quieter road but as the tarmac began to disintegrate I was on a rough track. Iíd seen this on the map when planning the route and was suspicious about the cycle track heading crossing fields. When I left the track and started on the path my suspicions were correct and it was a narrow rough path with thick undergrowth either side which was very difficult to get through in places.

Grand Union Canal
I had the main line railway on my left and rode on with difficulty until I eventually emerged at the main road. I joined a minor road which was a pleasant ride through the villages and countryside. The earlier cloud and mist hard now lifted and I was riding in pleasant sunshine with a very slight headwind at times.
Grand Union Canal
I approached old tractor up ahead and in front of it a steam roller but going very slow on the climb and I was able to overtake it with ease. I rode ahead with the intention of stopping to photograph it but it kept stopping and then starting again. The vintage tractor stayed with the steamroller and they must have been part of the same team. I took some photos as they entered a village (I think Harbury) and as I rode ahead I noticed many people in fancy dress so there must have been an event on.
Steam roller
I continued through the lanes and on the approach to Fenny Compton saw a village fete sign which said it started this afternoon. Various signs pointed to parking in fields and when I came to the entrance I stopped and had a quick word with the man on the gate. It was only £1 to get in but I didnít really have time to check it out. I continued up the hill which became steeper meaning near the top I got off to push the bike. A left turn at the summit took be on a much easier road to negotiate and I rode through open countryside until I met the main A423 road to Banbury. Unfortunately this was an extremely busy road with fast traffic and there was no cycle track for refuge. I followed it to the outskirts of Banbury where a cycle track is shown following the canal I wheeled my bike onto the bridge and look down to see the cycle track was very narrow with thick undergrowth so I decided to avoid it. I returned to the main road and continued in to the centre of Banbury Town. I followed the road through the shopping centre area to re-join the canal again which had been very well landscaped into its surroundings. A footbridge bridge over it took me to the east towpath which I joined for a while. The nice weather had brought many people out and the towpath was full of pedestrians enjoying themselves. I wasnít on it for long and left to join a road and back to the south end of Banbury Town. Here there was a large Morrisons superstore where I stopped to buy water. They didnít have any cheap 2lt bottles so I bought a 5lt for £1.09. I continued south on a fairly busy road which I soon left to ride uphill past a Park area. My plan was to camp somewhere in this area and the cycle track eventually left the road and followed a cinder track by a farm. It was a steep climb for a while so once again I pushed the bike. I was then on a long straight Lane running directly due west towards Bloxham and this is where my planned finish for the day was.
I could see some useful areas to camp but signs said no unauthorised access. I reasoned that the only place I could camp was on the wide verge by the lane. There were occasional vehicles and a few walkers and cyclists as it is a designated cycle route. I had to flatten a large area of weeds and nettles to get my ground sheet down and put up the tent in the shade of a tree.
Canal through Banbury