The Cheshire Ring – for canal boaters
The Cheshire Ring is well-known to canal boaters, forming a very rough triangle, and is made up from six different canals in Cheshire: the Ashton Canal, Peak Forest Canal, the Macclesfield Canal, the Trent and Mersey Canal, the Bridgewater Canal and finally, the Rochdale Canal.
The Cheshire Ring as a cycle touring route
My version of the Cheshire Ring, though named the same, is different from the outset, in that it’s a leisure cycle touring route, and doesn’t religiously follow the canal towpaths. I’m an experienced cyclist, used to cycling in heavy traffic, but a route like this is just so much more pleasant when away from all those cars. Even if you’re the most hardened roadie, you will agree that a mostly traffic-free route is just so much more pleasant. At the end of the day, cycling to me is all about the enjoyment!
When I first heard about the Cheshire Ring it became obvious to me that it could form the basis of an excellent cycling route, so I set about designing a draft route, with input from a few others. Yes, it is indeed my intention to create and publish a GoCycle route guide called the Cheshire Ring, but as ever, I personally test out my route guides, and that means I have to go cycle the route.
There’s the world of difference between drawing a good route on a map, and cycling that route. When I first designed my Somerset Circle route, I made a few errors that became obvious when I cycled the route for the first time, so I made notes and updated my route guide accordingly. This is something I take great pride in: my route guides are not only highly-detailed, but are tested, so you know you get peace of mind with them.
That neatly brings me to the next point – several rides I go on I classify as Travelling Ouballie rides, and Travelling Ouballie rides are pretty much open invitation, though with Terms & Conditions attached. For starters, when I go cycle touring, I tend to do wild-camping, and that’s certainly the case for Travelling Ouballie rides, so if you want to join me, you have to accept that we’ll be wild-camping along the way. Oh, and we’ll not really know for certain in advance where we will be camping!
I try to identify a few possible places to camp beforehand, but you only ever know if a place is really suitable when you get there in person, and at least a reasonable degree of flexibility is called for.
I’m planning on cycling my version of the Cheshire Ring fairly early in May 2022. You’re invited, but with some gotchas attached: I already have at least three friends joining me, with possibly another on top of that. When wild-camping, I usually try to remain quite stealthy, but with a large crowd that’s not possible. Also, the more people joining means the fewer suitable camping spots we’ll find. As a result, I don’t want more than seven people in total on the ride, meaning we have two more spaces.
The ride is just over 100 miles, and we’ll be doing it over three days, so it will be easy going. There are valid reasons for that: towpaths are not cycling infrastructure, and at times the going will be very slow. I think the stretches of towpath included on the route are rideable, but I don’t know for sure, and there may yet be impromptu route changes needed. Remember, I’m riding it to test the route, not as a final version that I have full confidence in. With that in mind, I will be stopping often, to take pics and make notes. If you want to ride at race pace, then this ride is not for you.
There will be plenty of pub stops. You might fall off your bike (not necessarily related to the pub stops, but then again it might be). You might fall in the canal (we’ll help you out, but we’ll never let you forget it – ask Dom about that). I might fall in the canal, and if I do, there will be a small ceremony afterwards. You see, when Dom and I cycled the Grand Union Canal, he bought an “I didn’t fall in the canal” mug. When he did fall in, he was no longer qualified to keep it, and handed it over to me.
The “I didn’t Fall In The Canal” mug
If I fell in the canal, I will have to hand it over to someone else, but again Ts & Cs apply: for starters, if I was pushed into the canal, I keep the mug – I’m looking at you here, Tommy! Also, if you wanted to be the recipient, you agree to join me on future canal rides, bringing the mug along, so others may have a chance of becoming the mug-bearer themselves.
So far, Caspar, Tommy and Simon have confirmed they’ll be joining me, and they’re a good laugh. Katy expressed an interest, but will see how it goes. If Katy can’t join us, there will be room for up to three more people. Regardless, you should follow all of them on Twitter, as they’re all great.
You will need a bike that can handle muddy, bumpy terrain (leave the road bike at home) and you’ll need panniers, or bikepacking bags. Whether you use a tent, a bivvy, or choose to sleep on the cold, damp ground is entirely up to you. The route is mostly traffic-free, ranging from muddy, to bumpy, to disused railways, to quiet lanes, to busier roads and to a section of full-on city-traffic, when passing through Manchester.
PS: The pic at the top is of the Grand Union Canal, as obviously I don’t yet have any pics from the Cheshire Circle.