We have a really short period of time where the UK Covid lock-down is lifted long enough to get some adventures in. And it seems like me, Andy and my mate Rob have been discussing for months now about seeing if we can bike ride the canals from the Black Country / Birmingham to Llangollen in Wales. It probably sounds almost easy to any road cyclists reading this but we chose to do it all on mountain bikes instead, which makes it a hell of a lot more of a challenge.

The way we are viewing the idea is that even though we are in the middle of a pandemic, the chances of us ALL being off work at the same time ever again are about the same as me getting a stray meteorite in the eye. And for the maybe the first time ever there’s absolutely no rush to get back for anything, which means we can carry on the adventure as long as we want, or until we run out of energy and fall into the canal.

Really Brief Training

I always train for every crazy adventure I go on and so does Andy, but this time it’s not for charity and it’s not a race. For once we are actually treating this trip like an actual chilled out holiday, well chilled out for us anyway.

Despite it being intended as a nice relaxing trip, logically if I / we train for this a bit we are more likely to enjoy ourselves while we are doing it. My thoughts are this: I know in the past I’ve been able to run more than sixty miles and Andy has as well, so if we can run that far just imagine how far we can cycle for! As I’ve mentioned as well this trip won’t be on road bikes which makes it far harder, but if you’ve seen some of the canals in the midlands you could understand why you wouldn’t take a road bike anywhere near them. That’s unless you fancy being chucked off it into stagnant oily canal water. The other reason for using the canals is some of its really fast going and he whole network stretches a vast distance over the UK. It’s a myth that Birmingham has more canals than Venice, honestly though I’d prefer Venice but you’ve got to make do with what you have. And for the most part its miles and miles of oily greasy water with dead carp adorning the sides, no gondolas but ducks floating on barges made out of rubbish. It is important to point out that not that all of the canals in the UK or even the midlands are grim, in fact some are actually nature reserves. Not to mention (according to the canal and river trust) there’s over 2000 miles of canals and rivers in the UK, which means you can use these waterways to get to a hell of a lot of places. In fact you can most of the way or all of the way in some cases to Liverpool, Bath, Reading, Liverpool, Oxford, London and Bristol to name just a few places. But the grim ones are on the top end of being grotty and I’ve had the lack of pleasure of running down most of them over the course of the pandemic.

Anyway grotty canal networks aside, as training I decide i’ll ride from where I live in Sandwell all the way to meet Andy around the outskirts of Tamworth. This then turns into me and Andy riding to about halfway to Burton On Trent totalling a 70 mile bike ride in the end. I have to admit it proper takes it out of me , partly because as I’ll later find out after many years of not riding bikes often my feet are on the pedals wrong and partly because I’m using my Whyte 905 hardtail which is awesome but it’s huge wheels and tires are a proper effort on anything even slightly smooth.

It takes me a few days to get over this ride, I spend most of the following days walking around like a cowboy. All in all though the ride was a good one and we can both clearly cover more than enough distance to pull this off. Over multiple day though? Only one way to find out!

The First Leg: Oldbury to Telford (43 miles) or is that Mordor to Telford?

We ride the canals from my area in the Black Country which unsurprisingly was meant to have been the influence for Jr Tolkiens Mordor. In fact it’s described as the following in the book ‘Rides on railways’ by Samuel Sidney from 1851 “that part of the great coal-field which is locally known as the “Black Country.”  In this Black Country, including West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Dudley, and Darlaston, Bilston, Wolverhampton, and several minor villages, a perpetual twilight reigns during the day, and during the night fires on all sides light up the dark landscape with a fiery glow.  The pleasant green of pastures is almost unknown, the streams, in which no fishes swim, are black and unwholesome; the natural dead flat is often broken by huge hills of cinders and spoil from the mines; the few trees are stunted and blasted; no birds are to be seen, except a few smoky sparrows; and for miles on miles a black waste spreads around, where furnaces continually smoke, steam-engines thud and hiss, and long chains clank, while blind gin-horses walk their doleful round.  From time to time you pass a cluster of deserted roofless cottages of dingiest brick, half-swallowed up in sinking pits or inclining to every point of the compass, while the timbers point up like the ribs of a half-decayed corpse.  The majority of the natives of this Tartarian region are in full keeping with the scenery—savages, without the grace of savages, coarsely clad in filthy garments, with no change on week-days and Sundays, they converse in a language belarded with fearful and disgusting oaths, which can scarcely be recognized as the same as that of civilized England” I’m getting the feeling for some reason Samuel wasn’t a fan? Well anyway it’s good to know us savage ogres are leaving Mordor for a few days. Maybe we can even pick up a hobbit steak along the way? I’m happy to say the Black Country isn’t quite that grim these days, maybe not by a lot mind you!

Me and Andy ride out of Mordor to meet Saruman, sorry, Rob further into the journey. The weather is spot on summer weather and the speed we get up down the canals is pretty impressive. Eventually we get to the more nice looking canals on the way through Tettenhall. It’s here we stop off randomly at an Italian Bistro as none of us have been to a restaurant in months. We all have a few beers and I call my mate Shawn to organise him meeting us in Telford on the evening.

We stay in a hastily booked bed and breakfast that clearly has zero social distancing. It is easy to avoid the other guests though, mainly because there doesn’t appear to be any. After a long ride we all need a shower because after cycling that kind of distance you stink like a locker room. The only thing is the old lady who owns the place has forgotten to tell us if we don’t seal ourselves in the shower with the shower screen in an exact way that water comes through the ceiling. She seems extremely pissed off and apparently its my fault…fair enough but it might have been wise to tell me this BEFORE I turned your living room into Niagra falls. But anyway at least she’s put Tunnocks teacakes in the room so that almost makes up for it.

I should have a bit of time chill before he head out again but I’m still on this pressup challenge thing so I have to bang out 25 exhausted pressups before we head off in a taxi to Ironbridge, all n95 masked up looking like we are going to renovate someones house.

After more than a few drinks with my mate Shawn we taxi back to the bed and breakfast and get caught in a conversation with the owner. I’m slowly trying to escape because it’s one of those where everyone small talks but due to the typical English obsession with being polite it goes to way too long. You can see in everyone’s faces it stopped being comfortable fifteen minutes ago and now you are all standing in a strangers kitchen feeling like a group of home raiders. Or maybe it’s just me that’s anti social…


We set off in the morning but not very early and Rob rides with us a while before heading off on his own adventure and then back to Birmingham. The weathers absolutely amazing as we head from Telford to Shrewsbury and it’s not long before we end up by the river. We have to stop for a moment just to relax a bit, we are doing really good time so far for the day. We stop and grab coffee and cake to fuel back up and then it’s off again on the bikes headed towards Llangollen.

Shrewsbury Llangollen is a really pleasant ride taking us straight down a lot of old canal in the countryside but it is a long ride. We decide to stop at a pub along the way (because hey it’s a holiday still believe it or not!) and we discuss riding even further because we really won’t get many opportunities to do this again. We decide we are going to ride to the Welsh coast because at this point it’s actually pretty close by. First thing up is a search for somewhere to stay, we want to ride to the nearest sea side town because it will be epic to mountain bike all the way from the Black Country to the Welsh Coast. Unfortunately the only option open for a one night stay is in Pontins Prestatyn and I make the point that it’s really only somewhere to crash. Admittedly it’s only marginally better than just getting off the bikes when we get to Prestatyn and drowning ourselves in the sea, but with the weather so nice it would be a shame to head home at this point. We head off again slightly less sober but with a belly full of food and it’s not long until we reach the Pontcyssyllte Aqueduct.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries the Llangollen canal above and over the River Dee. It’s extremely narrow and 38 metres above the valley floor. Not only do we not have a choice but to head over it but it’s actually really great view from up here and it’s quite a still day so the canal water reflects the deep blue sky almost perfectly. In the time of covid it’s pretty difficult to find a moment to cross the narrow path of the aqueduct, but we get there eventually.

We finally get to Llangollen and we are really late checking into our hostel. The owner doesn’t seem that impressed but warms up to us after a bit of a chat. He shouldn’t really be that surprised we are so late really considering the distance we have cycled today! We pretty much have the whole hostel to ourselves due to Covid guidelines and the whole top floor of the hostel. We sort ourselves out then head out to grab some food in the town. Llangollen is a really picturesque small Welsh town with the strange honour of owning Harrison Fords favourite canal (apparently?) and the awesome looking Bran Castle ruins. The river Dee runs through the town and it’s here rocks jut out of the water creating some interesting rapids. I’d love to come and kayak through here at some point as I’ve seen so many people doing. I have however been climbing here a few years ago in Trevor Quarry which overlooks the town. There’s some great limestone climbing here and it’s the first place I’ve sport climbed outdoors so far. (As you can see below, and yeah I’m totally sh*tting myself there, I wasn’t used to heights at that point!)

After a few beers me and Andy head up to Bran Castle, the ruined Castle above Llangollen. It’s name has various translations but the majority of them peg the ‘Bran’ part as meaning ‘Crow’ for all you Game Of Thrones fans. Apparently to the locals it is just known as ‘Crow Castle’.

We have been here before but the moons out we have another beer each with us and we are both doing this press-up challenge my mate Keith AND my cousin have challenged me to. The walk up to Bran from the town is really hard going and extremely steep at the best of times but after cycling a ridiculous amount of milage in one day it’s fully kicking our asses.

Originally this was an Iron Age hill fort and due to it’s defensive properties it was later built on as a castle by the ruler of Powys Fadog, Gruffyd Ap Madog. It’s very close to the Offas dyke path which me and Andy ran a huge chunk of a few years ago while training for our first ultramarathon. The Offas dyke trail is 177 miles long across the border of wales and England and at some point we plan to fastpack the whole thing. It was later turned to ruin not by the English forces but by the Welsh to stop it falling into the hands of the English during May 1277. The defenders decided to set the wooden part of the structure on fire instead of letting it fall into the hands of the English commander Henry De Lacey the earl of Lincoln. He later tried to salvage the castle with a note to Edward I saying “The fortress is “still so good and strong and should be repaired and garrisoned by the English. For there is no stronger castle in all Wales, nor has England a stronger” However when Edward presented Bran to his General, the Earl Of Surrey he decided that where the castle was was too difficult to access and far too remote for him. You can easily see his point when you walk up to the castle, and just imagine doing it in armor! With all this history and this particular evening , there’s something really eerie and cool about this ruin in the moonlight that just begs to have photos taken of it.

It’s hardly surprising that this castle runs to close to the Offas Dyke path, in fact it is in very close proximity. The Offas Dyke trail is 177 miles long across the border of wales and England, Offa himself was at the time king of the Mercians. He became king between AD747 and 796 which was a time of unrest across the border, which drove him sometime in the 1780’s to construct a huge ‘Dyke’ (a huge wall of earth) which in this case stretched from one coastline to the other. Me and Andy have already ran part of this huge trail a few years ago while training for an ultramarathon, and at this particular section is when the path becomes particularly wild. At some point we plan to fastpack the whole thing, but not today!

From Llangollen To Prestatyn: Time to get cooked

We both wake the following morning in a bit of a state, not so much because of the beer but mainly because of the extreme distance we have both cycled by this point. My quads feel like they are going to burst. Before we head out we have a chat with the owner who is surprised we plan to cycle up and out of the valley. Apparently is ridiculously hard going bu the thing is we don’t really have a choice. We head to a local cafe and everything feels much better after a breakfast sandwich and a strong coffee. We are ready as we can be to set off again, though there’s a strong temptation to just stay in Llangollen.

It’s only as we head out of the town we start to realise how painfully hot it is riding out of the Dee valley. At one point the road rising out of the pass becomes so steep we both have to get off and walk a few miles to the top. Even approaching cars are struggling to ascend out of the valley and we are both already wishing we brought way more water with us, because though it’s early it’s already really hot. (how hot? see cycle route)

Finally though we make it to the top of the pass and get a nice sense of release as we get a nice cool breeze. Even better not only is the view down good but the road we are riding down is super steep and we get a good speed up, in fact really fast for mountain bikes clocking about 40mph at points. Something about the wind rushing in my ears zooming along on my bike reminds me of when I was a kid. Just going way way faster on a bigger adventure. I can’t help thinking of the mess I’d make at this point if I was unlucky enough to come off the bike. The only thing that ruins this moment is the dreaded ‘kerr chunk’ of my chain jumping off, which is the worst thing that could happen at this moment bar coming off the bike at speed. Annoyingly this happens time and time again on the way to Prestatyn, which only adds to the frustration because not only is it slowing us right down, but it keeps happening on the roads we have to cycle down, some of them very busy. Suddenly not being able to engage gear, and then pedal away when you are surrounded by cars moving fast, is really not a good thing

To make things even more fun it has now got extremely hot, and the route me and Andy have taken seems to be devoid of anywhere that has supplies. Just tiny villages of which only a few have a pub, and unsurprisingly due to the pandemic, they are all closed. The only place we come across for miles is a small roadside cafe and just our luck it has some weird opening hours meaning we have missed the boat for grabbing drinks or food by a few hours.

We finally pass through a small village which seems to be a tourist attraction and we both notice the post office/ ice cream booth at the same time. It’s totally rammed so we have to get our masks on but I couldn’t easily describe the relief of finally getting a cold bottle of water (by this point my bike bottle has a literal sip left in it of bath-warm water) and an ice cream.

Pandemic Prestatyn

There are very few pubs or restaurants open when we get to Prestatyn. Of the ones that are theres’ clearly no room in them so I think we are making a good desision by avoiding them. We end up with so little luck we give in, I go grab a six pack of beer and we both order a Dominos pizza and sit on a raised bit near the pavement, stuff our faces with pizza and sink a few beers. We get funny looks from passers by who seem to be checking if we are homeless, just in case we decide to try and ask them for money.

After this we decide to go straight to Pontins and try and check in. This turns out to be a bad idea as the line to get in is a few hundred strong, and clearly a long wait. We decide to go grab an ice cream and come back later.

Here comes the horse whisperer

He head to the beach just to take in the fact we just rode to the sea from the Black Country which is a feat in itself. It ain’t Barbados for sure, but it’s still far better than being fully locked down, and it’s definitely better than being stuck in Birmingham or the Black Country. While we are sat eating our ice creams a dude randomly appears on a huge black shire horse, riding without a saddle holding onto the horses huge mane. He’s clearly come down here to show off as he starts riding the horse through the incoming tide like something out of a lower budget highlander film, though it’s kind of impressive if not entirely random.

Me and Andy get to chatting about the whole trip because we are essentially now at the end, and we still can’t quite work out why my chain keeps coming off. I almost want to bang my head off a lamp post when he has a go on my bike and after about ten minutes notices my rear wheel quick release has worked itself loose. It’s hard to explain the frustration of knowing that we could have got here quicker.

Welcome To Stalag 19

Of all the places you would want to avoid during a pandemic I’d say Pontins would be up there as one of them. For a start it is what most of us would expect a holiday camp to look like if the Nazi’s had won the war. I know it’s the only thing some can afford but for the same money you could go and stay in a bed and breakfast. The last time I was here it was for Tidy Weekend (which is a Hard House music event, just look it up) and the chalets haven’t changed much since I was last here. The place is packed and most people don’t seem to even care about social distancing. I’m glad at this point I’m wearing a proper heavy duty mask that’s stopping me breathing in much. Hardly anybody else seems to have bothered even covering their faces, which is a shame because in some cases it would definitely be an improvement.

A woman who clearly doesn’t realise everyone’s having a hard time having to wait for so long starts Karen complaining to the security guard, assuming he’s a manager who has to explain to her (after hearing her rant for five minutes) he can’t do anything because unless she hasn’t noticed he’s a security guard. Children and adults barge through the line coming in, coming way too close for comfort. Honestly it’s starting to annoy me, how I don’t give someone a slap I don’t know. However I finally get to the front of the line which has taken hours and the friendly lady manning the desk checks me in and hands over our key, which I’m surprised isn’t accompanied by a jumpsuit and a warden escort to our new cell.

Finally getting to our cell we sort ourselves out and both decide this isn’t where we want to be for food, however there’s no restaurants outside the site open due to the pandemic. We have to go out to the supermarket to get some food in, and on our way out (being as a polite notice on the wall asks us not to steal the television) we decide it’s probably a good idea to lock our bikes up. So it’s not one but two bike locks get threaded through all the kitchen cabinets and the oven!

As a whole though it was a great adventure, just maybe next time it might be better to not stay at a POW camp. Oh and check that rear quick release more often.


I hope you found my blog useful or entertaining, any donations given go towards more adventures and therefore more blogs and equipment reviews! Donation is voluntary, and you can donate as much or as little as you wish, or not at all.

Thanks for reading and your support!

I hope you found my blog useful or entertaining, any donations given go towards more adventures and therefore more blogs and equipment reviews! Donation is voluntary, and you can donate as much or as little as you wish, or not at all.

Thanks for reading and your support!

I hope you found my blog useful or entertaining, any donations given go towards more adventures and therefore more blogs and equipment reviews! Donation is voluntary, and you can donate as much or as little as you wish, or not at all.

Thanks for reading and your support!

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