Follow my progress as I attempt to walk the length of the UK, from Dover to Cape Wrath, wild camping every night. In this chapter, I walk from Slough along the Grand Union Canal to just north of Daventry. Here I will join the Oxford Canal to carry on heading north to Cape Wrath. You can read about my preparations for this walk here, chapter one here and my full gear list here.
Day 6 continued: Byfleet to Uxbridge
I had been walking since 5.30am, having started in Byfleet by the M25. I joined the Grand Union Canal at about 10am, already worn out. Finding an open cafe cheered me up, even though the only thing I could order was fish and chips! My next errand was to find a new pen – writing all these diary notes had exhausted the one I’d brought with me. I managed to get one for free thanks to the nice couple running the shop in Datchet. They only sold packs of 10 pens, I didn’t really want that extra weight – but the lady took pity on me and gave me her pen instead. She was so kind I felt I had to buy something! So picked up a drink and some snacks that I didn’t really need.
I headed out of Slough on the canal footpath by 1.30pm, feeling fairly confident that I would be out of the built-up areas by the time I needed to camp.
By 4pm I was ready for a break, so I stopped on a bench in the sunshine. I sent some pictures for the blog and phoned home , which made me feel a bit homesick. I’m looking forward to meeting up at the weekend. The rest also made me realise how hungry I was. I had passed a pub earlier, but I didn’t go in as I had to leave my number for test and trace. I didn’t want to risk having to stop the walk and self-isolate, so I decided against it.
Someone must have been looking down on me as a little further on I found a local shop. I stocked up on some lunch and a bottle of wine for tomorrow, then found a kebab shop. Life was good again! That will definitely help me get the miles in before I camp.
Following the Grand Union Canal into Uxbridge was easy walking, and really interesting with boats zig-zagging about all over the place. A lot of the boats were lived in, and the footpath was quite busy with people walking and cycling.
About 7pm I stopped for some wine and chocolate – purely for the calories, of course. It was still very busy, helped no doubt by the fact that the weather was warm and sunny. The Grand Union Canal was lined with boats all the way out of Uxbridge, many of them being worked on, others really smart.
I carried on for another hour then stopped for the night, a little earlier than I normally would. My legs ached and I have developed blisters on my little toes. I need to give my body a rest before something gives up! I’d been covering too high a mileages each day, because the walking was so easy and I hadn’t been resting and airing my feet enough.
I found a camp spot in the woods, but in full view of the path. There were still a few walkers and cyclists going past, but no-one seemed bothered by me. Perhaps they are used to seeing fishermen’s tents beside the canal. It was a great flat spot with no mosquitoes and a lovely cool breeze.
Day 7: Uxbridge to Berkhamsted
I slept extremely well last night, and woke late (7am) to a clear blue sky and light breeze. This I couldn’t help thinking that this was the life – still in my sleeping bag, drinking coffee and eating porridge for breakfast. I had the tent door open as there were no mozzies – well, apart from the one I had just murdered. It thought it was OK to fly around inside my tent.
My meths is getting low. The stove seems to use a lot more fuel (seems less efficient) in warmer weather. It could also be because it has been windy, and the wind shield for my stove is not very tall.
Using the Ordnance Survey mapping on my phone has saved me the weight of paper maps and has been working well, except that I can’t see large areas. This makes it hard to plan the next section – for example, how far it is until I can resupply, or a tricky area that I wouldn’t be able to wild camp in.
I packed up and started walking at 7.45am. It was a lovely walk along the tree-lined Grand Union Canal. I passed a man complaining about not being able to walk about because of the HS2 building works. Interestingly, he was the second person I had heard in two days talking about how HS2 is ruining the area.
The sight of a Tesco’s delivery van driving down the towpath brought me back to myself. I had come into an area of nice houses built by the canal, which must mean I was approaching a town. I do enjoy the fact that I don’t have to route-find very often on the canals, or check my mapping. However, I must take a bit of an interest in where I am, or who knows where I’ll end up.
I finally managed to do some laundry today, as I found a river clean enough to wash my shirt in, The Grand Union Canal has a surprising number of rivers flowing into it, and quite a flow on the water too.
A little later on I passed a big Tesco’s, but couldn’t be bothered to go in. I later regretted this, as I was starving and couldn’t find anywhere. I really must try harder when food shopping. In Watford I tried to find a cafe, but the ones I passed were all closed. I then started walking into the town centre but quickly realised it was too far. Once back on the Grand Union Canal I realised there was a Harvester Pub n Grill in the other direction that opened in 20 mins. So after a quick change of shirt and a sort out, I was outside the door before it opened. They had only just re-opened after lockdown, and were tyring out their new systems. The food and service were excellent.
The walk today was fairly built up – factories and housing had replaced the trees I had got used to.
I walked to the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead and still hadn’t found anywhere I could camp. I carried on to Berkhamsted and at 8pm finally collapsed in a corner of a field just off the canal path. I’d walked too far today!
Day 8: Berkhamsted to Milton Keynes
It was not a good night’s sleep last night. It was the first time on this walk that I’d been worried about people being around, and there was a lot of road and train noise. There was no wind at all during the night and I’d forgotten to open any vents on my Notch Li tent. There was lots of condensation on the inside of the flysheet, but there was none on the inner, thank goodness.
I got up at 6.30am as the sun hit my tent. The tent, sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner aired in the sun while I made coffee and breakfast on a bench near the canal.
At 7.35am I was packed up and on my way again. There were no people, and the weather was completely still. I could just hear the road noise in the distance. The canal path was good again, and looked well used (mainly by cyclists). There were loads of locks to keep my interest, and I had started to notice the direction the water was flowing in the canal. Yesterday I was walking uphill all day against the flow of water. Today, after a still section, I was walking with the flow. I find it really interesting how each section of the canal is fed with water.
I also kept walking past canal boats on the move. It looks like it might be quicker to walk to Birmingham rather than take a boat, especially with all the locks to negotiate! I am jealous, though – it looks a lovely way to travel.
Later in the morning I passed the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union Canal, and was careful to take the main North / Birmingham canal. There were plenty of locks and well-placed benches to sit on, and the canal passed through lovely open countryside. It was quiet apart from the noisy wildlife.
I felt much better today, and enjoyed walking in the sunshine. Soon I was at Leighton Buzzard, which wasn’t as built up as I’d expected looking at the map. I was hoping for a pub for dinner but thought Tesco’s was a better option. Here I bought some tea and food for tomorrow, plus a new notepad. I did try to buy healthy food, but it was so much heavier.
I sat and had some wine and a snack under a tree as a shower passed over. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I tried to eat some of the food I’d bought to get the weight in my pack down a bit. Watching the boats passing through the locks was really enjoyable, and I especially liked watching couples working together (or not!) to negotiate their boat through the lock.
By 5pm I stopped to camp in a field hidden behind trees and crops on a set-aside field. I needed to camp here as I was approaching Milton Keynes, which I had worked out was a day’s walk to get through. That meant I had a chance to find somewhere to camp the next night.
Just as I got my tent up, the rain started. The forecast was for rain all of the next day, so I was glad I’d be on a good surface all day. I have been walking for over a week and hadn’t worn my waterproof at all. I wanted to phone my family but I still had a few days to go before I met my wife for re-supply (and the battery pack to re-charge my phone), so I saved the power. There had been more photo opportunities than I expected, too.
It was good to give my body a rest by camping early; I was concerned I was developing issues with my knees and feet if I kept pushing on. Although it was comfortable in the tent with the rain coming down, it was really early and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. It wouldn’t get dark for another 3 hours. That’s the bonus of staying in accommodation, as you can sit in the bar or lounge and chat or watch TV.
Day 9: Milton Keynes to Blisworth
It rained all night and I had to put my ear plugs in to cut out the noise. I did appreciate my tent though, as I had plenty of room in the proch to make breakfast and there was hardly any condensation inside the flysheet. Everything inside the tent was bone dry.
After the obligatory coffee and breakfast (a rehydrated meal), I was off at 7.30am. Walking through Milton Keynes was much nicer than I expected. On the map it looked really built-up, but it was green almost all the way through. The buildings were hidden behind all the greenery.
Once I reached the northern edge of Milton Keynes (New Bradwell) the canal was not so well maintained. The grafitti was more obvious and there were some pretty rough lived-in boats. But I soon passed through the built up area and was in the countryside again.
I stopped at a pub across the canal from Castlethorpe, as yet again I hadn’t eaten enough. The pub turned out to be a bit posh, so I ordered an extra portion of chips to make sure I wasn’t still hungry when I left. I didn’t really need a fresh rose on my table, or maybe I did – I didn’t bother changing my shirt before entering here. They sat me by myself on a table for four, away from everybody else.
I think I am beginning to become a bit of a rebel to posh. It felt a bit like when I was walking LEJOG and went shopping in Monmouth Waitrose with my spare socks airing on the top of my rucksack.
The meal in Castlethorpe kept me going all the way through Milton Keynes, and I carried on walking until 7pm. I reached Blisford and camped by the edge of the footpath. I ate dinner (the Tesco’s food) but didn’t make a coffee as I was running low on fuel.
Day 10: Blisworth to the Oxford Canal
I slept well last night, and had to force myself to stay in bed until 6.30am. Otherwise it’s a really long day’s walking! The weather was damp so no more laying in the sun for an hour or so.
I was glad I’d used the guy ropes on my tent last night, as they were definitely needed this morning. The wind was blowing straight across the fields and catching the tent. Most nights I have been sheltered in the woods.
Things you can get away with when long-distance walking part one: adding M&Ms to your breakfast porridge. I was bored of the plain flavour and needed the extra calories! I wouldn’t do this at home though, it just wouldn’t be the same. You have to be away from home for a while before you appreciate such delicacies.
The Grand Union Canal passed through open country again today, broken by the odd road, and it roughly followed the railway line. There was some train noise but otherwise it was a lovely walk again. The tow path was grassy, only occasionally muddy, and easy walking. I didn’t pass many wild camping spots though.
As I approached Whilton, I saw a flashing ‘cafe open’ sign and finally managed to get my first cooked breakfast of the trip. It was Whilton Cafe Marina and I highly recommend it. Service with a genuine smile and a proper mug of tea. There was even a linked shop that sold meths, solving my fuel problem.
The drizzle started again as I left the cafe. The weather was quite muggy, so it was a waterproof and no shirt situation. I had to follow a slight diversion due to building work, and walked over the Braunston Tunnel.
At the pub in Braunston, it was time to leave the Grand Union Canal and join the Oxford Canal. Even at this stage, I was departing whether it was the right move. I was sorry to leave the Grand Union Canal as it had treated me well, but my journey to Cape Wrath continues! Read the next section of my travels here: Dover to Cape Wrath: Chapter 4
The Grand Union Canal walk – Cicerone guide
Land’s End to John O’Groats, including the three peaks
Wildwalkinguk is a blog run by myself in spare time, and I pay for its running costs myself. I do have some Amazon affiliate links and adverts on the site. If you click on these adverts or links and buy what you need (it doesn’t have to be the item I’ve linked to), the company will pay a small commission to us. This money goes towards the costs of hosting the blog. I would be extremely grateful if you could consider using our links when you next need to buy something from our advertisers. Alternatively, you can buy me a coffee here. Thank you so much for your support. Mark.
6 Replies to “Dover to Cape Wrath Chapter 3: The Grand Union Canal walk”
Backpacking in a semi-urban environment throws up all sorts of problems. I’m with you all the way.
You seem to have no difficulties with finding eating establishments open in this stage of Covid.
Another thoroughly enjoyable read. You’re doing well despite those blisters.
I tried an Amazon purchase today using one of your links (I realise that I don’t need to buy the linked item but anything for you to be rewarded). The problem is that I have to use the German store as I live in Austria and it didn’t seem to like the change of country. Maybe this is A
something you should look into – my guess is that your readership is surprisingly international.
Keep it up!
Thank you very much for supporting us. My wife is looking into it. Thanks. Mark
Great stuff Mark. A really interesting, well illustrated blog – well up to the standard of your Lejog one. Having once lived in the south-east of England I already new how easy it is to escape the urban and what a good job the planners of walking paths and trails do in putting a screen of green between you and the town. However, you bring this out particularly well and also how interesting the built environment can be if we view without too much ‘outdoorsy’ prejudice. Really enjoying your journey.
Thanks very much for your message John.
Enjoying following your adventure. Interesting blog with great photos. Very much hope you achieve your aims. Careful with those blisters.