Duration: 7 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 34
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 7.5 HOURS (49 TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: N3, N1, P6, P7, L14, L18 | Click here buy maps
Your rural cruise leads from iron bridges to idyllic thatched cottages, from sport to shoes. On a journey which tells of world-renowned engineering and mathematics, you will discover more of the heritage of the canals and ironically of our modern world.
Your journey takes you south from Springwood Haven Marina along the Coventry Canal, passing a series of nature reserves and landscape formed from the spoil heaps of former quarries, the most dramatic of which is known as Mount Judd. Skirting pretty well-kept gardens round the edge of Nuneaton, birthplace of the writer George Eliot, Marston Junction is where the Ashby Canal heads off eastwards.
And just beyond Bedworth, Hawkesbury Junction is a busy place filled with boats and a photogenic former engine house. A short detour along the last five or so miles of the Coventry Canal into Coventry may tempt you here. The ruins of the original cathedral are a stark voice on the skyline of Coventry's own 'ground zero' left from the horror of World War II. In the 1960s a light of hope was built in the new cathedral. A bond between these two buildings that lean side by side is a powerful and emotional paradox.
Through a lock at the junction, the Oxford Canal heads southeast to Brinklow, a short walk south of Stretton Stop with a 13th-century church and the remains of a medieval castle built to defend the Fosse Way which crosses the canal here. The short Newbold Tunnel (250yds/229m long) leads into Rugby, a place infamous for a particular sport. The Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum tells the story of how one schoolboy changed the course of sporting history. Just south of Rugby, Hillmorton Locks remind your crew they have a job to do. These distinctive locks are in pairs, originally doubled up to allow more traffic through this busy stretch of canal, and the gates of locks 4 and 5 had special canal poetry carved into them as part of the celebrations when British Waterways became the Canal & River Trust in 2012.
At Braunston Turn, you now follow the Grand Union Canal and its locks through Braunston, a much-loved hub for canal leisure seekers that was once one of Britain's busiest commercial trading points linking with London. Canal engineer James Brindley built the Oxford Canal in his typical winding fashion, flowing around contours rather than bulldozing a straight course. When the much straighter Grand Union Canal was built, it stole much of the Oxford Canal’s commercial traffic - but the Oxford Canal fought back by charging extortionate tolls to use its water in the London to Birmingham link between Napton and Braunston. Today the marina hosts the famous Braunston Historic Boat Rally one weekend every year. But at any time of year there’s plenty to explore here with its Horseley iron bridges, historic workshops, and a settlement steeped in history dating back to the Doomsday Book.
After navigating Braunston Tunnel (2,042yds/1,867m long), your route turns southwards on the Grand Union Canal from Norton Junction. First the old Roman road of Watling Street (now the A5), then the railway and the M1 hurl past the canal in their rabid hurry to reach the city, a reminder of the part canals played in the evolution of Britain's transport system, and the quest to constantly redefine speed. The seven Buckby Locks take the canal down towards Weedon and its two aqueducts.
The canal now meanders through open farmland, mainly skirting round the villages which dot the landscape. Activity is centred on the boatyards and pubs which create occasional diversions from the calm until Gayton Junction where, if time allows, you could boat through the 17-lock flight taking the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal down into the heart of Northampton. Renowned for its shoe making, dating back to medieval times, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery has the largest collection of historical footwear in the world, with over 12,000 pairs. After the successful fulfilment of a shoe and boot order for the army in the 1600s, the town received frequent bulk orders for army boots from the English Civil War onwards. Demand became so strong that by 1841, there were reputedly over 1,800 shoe makers working in the town, mostly from home workshops. Industrialisation later cemented this reputation and the amount of shoe factories increased. Today over 25 shoe manufacturers create crafted shoes here with customers including HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Even the town’s football team is called ‘The Cobblers’.
Continuing south, the canal skirts the village of Blisworth before disappearing into Blisworth Tunnel (3,076yds/2,813m long), the third longest navigable canal tunnel in Britain. The tunnel’s portal is Grade II-listed, and the tunnel has also been awarded a Transport Trust Red Wheel plaque. Work on the tunnel started in 1793 but the first attempt ended in disaster just 3 years later claiming 14 lives. It was rebuilt and opened in 1805. By the southern entrance is a huge concrete ring similar to those used to strengthen the tunnel in the 1980s. During the rebuilding, the tunnel was used to test materials later used on the mighty Channel Tunnel.
You emerge from the tunnel into the thatched village of Stoke Bruerne which spreads over both sides of the canal. To avoid descending Stoke Bruerne’s flight of seven locks, turn in the winding hole just beyond the tunnel to moor up and explore on foot. This bustling village dates back over 1,000 years and the canal arrived in its midst during the 1790s, giving much to explore including the Canal Museum housed in a former corn mill. Every September, the Village at War festival fills the canalside with 1940s music, fly-bys and World War II uniforms. Once you’ve had your fill of this much-loved canal hub, your journey back to the marina begins.
Max: 4 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 8 People
Max: 10 People