Raven on a Bike | Full Circle Along the British Waterways


Raven on a Bike

Cycle Journey: Full Circle Along the British Waterways.

by Emily500cc, content writer.

The UK's iconic 2,000-mile canal and river network is like a hidden thread woven into the fabric of its landscape, quietly telling the story of the nation's industrial past and providing a tranquil escape from the bustle of modern life. Imagine tracing the path of these waterways, snaking their way through bustling cities and serene countryside teeming with wildlife.

Well, there is one guy who is doing just that. It is a glorious sunny day in May, and I am in the garden of travel writer and photographer, Chris Raven. Known for his work with twin brother, Simon, aka The Raven Brothers, they have written a number of epic overland adventure books like Driving the Trans-Siberian, Black Sea Circuit and Carnival Express. Chris dusts down his mountain bike, which has been in the shed and under a bed sheet since last summer. It looks to be rather worse for wear, and I immediately notice a flat tire and a rusty chain. Nevertheless, Chris merrily taps the handle bars and beams a smile; he appears to be extremely upbeat and positive about his squeaky bicycle. 

The UK's canal network, which flourished during the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, thanks to engineer James Brindley, played a pivotal role in the country's economic development. Built to transport goods and raw materials between industrial hubs, these waterways transformed the landscape and revolutionised transportation. 

I ask Chris why he wants to cycle along the canals. "It's a journey through time. Cycling along these historic routes allows us all to follow in the footsteps of the bargemen and boat women, who once navigated these waterways, carrying coal, textiles, and other goods essential to the nation's economy. The canals themselves are living monuments, the locks and aqueducts are a testament to the industrial prowess of the past. The Oxford Canal especially is a great one, because it hasn’t changed for over two hundred years. Plus, it’s beautiful out there and car-free and flat; no hills!"

Launching off from Braunston Marina on the border of Warwickshire, Chris will start his cycle journey following the Oxford Canal all the way through tranquil rural countryside to Cropredy, Banbury and beyond to the city of Oxford. From there, the journey will turn east and take him on the 57 cycle route to Thame. Here, he will join the old disused railway line known as the Phoenix Trail to Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire, with its enchanting views of the Chiltern Hills. From Princes Risbourough, it is a little skip and a cycle to Wendover and the newly finished towpath which connects to the mighty Grand Union Canal. A lovely cycle ride up through the longest canal in the UK, will pass Leighton Buzzard, Milton Keynes, Northampton, and then full circle back to the Braunston Marina. 

"The landscape and culture of Britain are fundamentally shaped by its rivers and canals," Chris explains, as he sprays WD40 on the rusty chain. "They are a haven for diverse wildlife, and also play a huge part in tourism. I co-own a tour company with my brother, so to research a new cycle route along the canals for small tour groups will be fun."

Tourism is a huge part of the inland waterways, managed by the Canal & River Trust. In fact, according to The Independent, the canals support 80,000 jobs and contribute £1.5 billion annually to the economy.

"I live near Braunston, a well-known canal boating marina," Chris continues, "so the canals have been a huge part of my childhood. When I was only knee-high to a grasshopper, my brothers and I would cycle to the canal down the road and go fishing. To see the Canal and River Trust government funding cut is extremely worrying. I hope my little journey will shine some light on this important issue. Funding must continue for the maintenance, restoration and environmental management. Also, for the health benefits the canals provide. They  improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and mental health. These alone save the NHS over more than one billion pounds.”

Chris lays out his equipment on the garden table, from hex keys and inner tubes, to LED lights, a little bike pump, a pile of bungee cords and a tent. "Basically, cycling is a brilliant way to get away from the laptop, and absorb yourself in the true paradise environment that runs alongside the waterways. Even in the urban areas you are in the countryside surrounded by dragonflies, swans and purple loosestrife."

Meeting Chris has certainly given me inspiration to saddle up this summer and enjoy some pedal power. I hope he brings awareness to the issues of government funding cuts for the canals and rivers, and I wish him a very safe journey.



Popular posts from this blog