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 the Oxford and Coventry Canals. I join the Oxford Canal from the Grand Union Canal just north of Daventry. At Exhall I join the Coventry Canal and follow this to my first meet-up with my family at Fradley Junction. You can read about my preparations for this walk here, chapter one here and my full gear list here.
If you’d like to see an overview map of my whole route from Dover to Cape Wrath, it’s here.
Day 10 continued: Blisworth to Rugby
I had started walking on the Grand Union Canal at Blisworth this morning, and joined the Oxford Canal at Braunston. Immediately it was obvious that the Oxford Canal is smaller and quieter than the Grand Union Canal. The towpath was fine, but I had the feeling that it could get overgrown further on.
It was still raining when I reached the outskirts of Rugby. I stopped earlier than I ordinarily would as I was concerned I needed time to get through town before I would find anywhere to camp. Also, I try to avoid walking through built-up areas in the evening. I haven’t had any trouble this trip, but there’s no point inviting it. The muscle in my heel also felt like it was pulling tight, just like it did the day before. Stopping before I did any lasting damage seemed like the best option.
I found a good spot to camp on the opposite side of the canal, so I climbed over the lock gate. It was 8pm and there were still quite a few people about, especially given that it was raining. Luckily I now had plenty of meths so I could cook a meal as well as the leftover Tesco’s food.
Wild camping on the canals (not just the Oxford and Coventry canals) has been more difficult than I expected. They have often been busy and there have been fewer places than I thought there would be. Water has been tricky at times too, as I won’t filter canal water. Boat tap points have mostly been unlocked so I have been able to fill up from them at times, or I have bought water from the shops I’ve passed.
Day 11: Rugby to Whittington
I woke at 5am to the sound of rain on my tent. Eventually I managed to drag myself out of my sleeping bag to make porridge and coffee (cranberry and raisin porridge this morning, so I couldn’t justify the added M&Ms). Putting yesterday’s wet clothes on is definitely NOT one of the highlights of wild camping. It was quite chilly (not helped by the wet clothes), so I added my down jacket over my shirt.
The rain stopped before I packed away, and I left at 6.15am. It was a grassy path and very wet, so my feet got soaking straight away. This is the down side of wearing breathable, non-waterproof footwear.
The Oxford Canal offered some lovely remote walking and I enjoyed it very much, even though the path was little used and muddy in places.
As I reached the outskirts of Coventry, I reached the junction of the Oxford and Coventry canals. I joined the Coventry Canal heading north to Nuneaton. The towpath was good, but Nuneaton was a bit uninspiring. I did resupply with water and lunch in a local shop, but I didn’t pass any open pubs or cafes to eat in.
Once I was through Nuneaton, I stopped on a nice patch of grass and ate some lunch in the sunshine.
The Coventry Canal was very quiet and quite scenic. The area was getting hillier so the canal twists and turns a bit to follow the contour line.
At Atherstone Locks I sat and watched a younger couple take their narrow boat through all the locks. They had obviously done it a lot before and made it look so easy. It was a pleasure to watch them, especially as my feet were hurting and I needed a rest.
When I was planning my Dover to Cape Wrath walk, I intended to cut across to join the Heart of England Way, and follow that north around Birmingham. This was because on the map, there is no footpath marked along the Coventry Canal. However, now I realised it was walkable, I decided that I would stay on the Coventry Canal as long as possible.
I camped at about 6.30pm in the trees near Whittington. This was a lovely spot, and I enjoyed watching the boats moving about. There was a fresh breeze which meant I could dry everything off after yesterday’s rain.
Day 12: Whittington to Fradley Junction
I had a very peaceful night’s sleep last night, apart from the usual road and rail noise in the distance. Tamworth is still miles away, but I could hear boy racers revving their engines and skidding about as the wind was blowing in that direction. I was glad I stuck to my rule of not walking through built-up areas in the late evening.
I had packed away and set off by 7.30am. A bit later than normal, but I don’t have so far to walk today before I meet up with my family for the first time since they dropped me off in Dover 12 days ago.
It was a fair walk into Tamworth. I really fancied a cooked breakfast, but I never saw a cafe (I didn’t really look very hard though – I should have gone up each bridge to check). This made it seem a long walk through Tamworth. It looked really built up on the map, but it was, as usual, green all the way through.
The walk through Tamworth felt a bit harder as I knew I was heading south for some of it – not the fastest way to Scotland.
Once I left Tamworth, the canal got decidedly smaller and more scenic. I stopped in the Hopwas pub for a full English breakfast, tea and a pint or two – you can’t do that in a cafe. Sometimes things do work out for the best!
From Hopwas it was a lovely stroll to Fradley Junction and the end of the Coventry Canal, where I met my wife and two youngest children.
After a picnic in the sun and a catch-up on the news from home, we camped near the lock with three tents (my wife flatly refused to share with me – I have no idea why). It was a lovely evening spent chatting and drinking wine.
Tomorrow I will be heading off for the last few miles of canal walking. The Oxford and Coventry Canals have been much more enjoyable than I thought. I now also realise that it is possible to walk the length of the Coventry Canal, despite the map suggesting otherwise. I will soon join the Staffordshire Way into the Peak District and the start of the Pennine Way.
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