CRUISE GUIDE: GRAND UNION PART TWO

Canal Boat - - This Month - TEXT & PIC­TURES BY DEREK PRATT

In the sec­ond part of our Grand Union ex­plo­ration we’ll take you past his­toric War­wick and Leam­ing­ton be­fore head­ing into Birm­ing­ham

In the sec­ond part of our guide to the back­bone of south­ern Eng­land’s canal sys­tem, we follow the Grand Union as it de­scends into the Avon Val­ley, passes his­toric War­wick and Leam­ing­ton, then climbs to­wards Birm­ing­ham

As you travel along the Grand Union you will see mile­posts giv­ing the dis­tance to Braun­ston. Those un­fa­mil­iar with in­land wa­ter­way lo­ca­tions of­ten ask where Braun­ston is. Geo­graph­i­cally, it’s a small vil­lage on a hill near the town of Daven­try in Northamp­ton­shire. But from an in­land wa­ter­ways per­spec­tive, it is the hub of the canal sys­tem south of Birm­ing­ham, where the Grand Union and Ox­ford canals meet.

Lead­ing canal car­ry­ing com­pa­nies like Fel­lows, Mor­ton & Clay­ton and Samuel Bar­low set up their boat­yards and busi­nesses here, and so the vil­lage be­came a cen­tre for the work­ing boats.

It’s also where we ended the first part of our jour­ney north along the Grand Union last month. Af­ter leav­ing the long Braun­ston Tun­nel, a wooded cut­ting leads to the first of six locks, which drop the canal down into the vil­lage. The old cargo-car­ry­ing boats may have gone, but Braun­ston still re­mains a busy canal cen­tre with a num­ber of boat­yards and a large ma­rina with an el­e­gant Horse­ley Iron­works tow­path bridge span­ning the en­trance. Its im­por­tance is re­flected by an an­nual event at­tract­ing his­toric boats from all over the coun­try.

Up on the hill, the vil­lage’s sin­gle street is lined with shops and houses, while the lofty spire of All Saints Church over­looks the fi­nal rest­ing place for many work­ing boat­peo­ple. There are pubs in the vil­lage and two by the canal.

The five mile sec­tion from Braun­ston to Napton Junc­tion passes through re­mote countryside, with hills to the south. His­tor­i­cally this is an in­ter­est­ing stretch be­cause when the Grand Union

Canal was es­tab­lished in 1929 as an amal­ga­ma­tion to op­er­ate the route from Lon­don to Birm­ing­ham, there was a gap be­tween the for­mer Grand Junc­tion Canal at Braun­ston and the for­mer War­wick & Napton Canal at Napton. The two canals were con­nected by five miles of the Ox­ford Canal, which al­lowed the Grand Union to share its wa­ter­way – at a price. The Ox­ford com­pany con­tin­ued to ex­tract heavy tolls for through Grand Union trade un­til na­tion­al­i­sa­tion in 1948.

The Grand Union and Ox­ford Canals part com­pany at Napton Junc­tion, a place known to the work­ing boat­men as Wi­gram’s Turn. A large ma­rina op­po­site the junc­tion has adopted the name.

Turn right onto what was the War­wick & Napton Canal, whose nar­row locks were re­built to broad gauge af­ter the amal­ga­ma­tion. The first three at Cal­cutt are ac­com­pa­nied by more mari­nas. Then af­ter two miles of open coun­try, the hard work be­gins with a flight of eight. You can still see the re­mains of the old nar­row locks, used as over­flow weirs.

The Blue Lias pub at the bot­tom of the locks takes its name from the blue lias

lime­stone preva­lent in this area. Fos­sils and re­mains of pre­his­toric an­i­mals are of­ten found in blue lias, which ex­plains the di­nosaur adorn­ing the pub sign.

Kaye’s Arm, once the site of a large ce­ment com­pany, is now a boat­yard with a col­lec­tion of ex-work­ing boats. At Long Itch­ing­ton, two pubs face each other across the canal; then come the four locks at Bas­cote, the top two form­ing a stair­case. The canal con­tin­ues through open coun­try; oc­ca­sional locks drop­ping to Rad­ford, the start of the level pound through Leam­ing­ton and War­wick.

The canal passes through a once in­tensely in­dus­trial area of Leam­ing­ton, filled with foundries and a gas works which used the canal for trans­port­ing coal. Much of the in­dus­try has been re­placed with hous­ing, but there is lit­tle hint of the beau­ti­ful Re­gency Spa town just along the road from Bridge 40 (see in­set). Leam­ing­ton Spa and War­wick are sep­a­rated by the River Avon, which the

canal crosses on a three-arched aqueduct be­fore pass­ing through the north side of cen­tral War­wick.

Cape Locks are ac­com­pa­nied by the Cape of Good Hope pub, and soon the old War­wick & Napton Canal ends at Bud­brooke Junc­tion. We’re now en­ter­ing the fi­nal link in the chain of canals that form the Grand Union Main Line: the for­mer Birm­ing­ham & War­wick Canal.

To our right at the junc­tion, the canal leads on to­wards Birm­ing­ham; while to the left the Salt­isford Arm, the orig­i­nal War­wick terminus of the canal, is now used for moor­ings. This is the best place

Leav­ing the north end of Braun­ston Tun­nel Braun­ston hosts an an­nual his­toric work­ing boat rally Follow the route with our map show­ing dis­tances, locks and pubs

On the ru­ral five-mile length shared with the Ox­ford Canal

The im­pres­sive view up Stock­ton Locks

Quiet countryside near Bas­cote

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