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TOTAL LOCKS: 46
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 5 HOURS (33 HOURS TOTAL)
Market Harborough is a historic rural town with, as its name suggests, a vibrant market that has attracted shoppers since the early 1200s. Leaving the town behind, the canal lures you to quickly slow your pace and savour every peaceful moment until you reach Foxton. Here, one of the highlights of your journey awaits, with a staircase flight of 10 locks scrambling 75ft uphill. The passage of boats through these locks is the quiet drama that remains unchanged since the flight first opened in 1812.
In its heyday Foxton Locks served horse-pulled haulage boats laden with cargoes of sugar, tea, soap, tinned food, chemicals and paper. Look out for the old stables opposite the top lock, and allow time to visit the museum and explore the remains of Foxton Inclined Plane. The plane once lifted boats from the canal at the bottom of the hill, hauling them over dry land to the higher levels. This method of lifting boats up the hill took a fraction of the time of travelling through the locks, but after only 10 years in service the plane was deemed too expensive to maintain and was abandoned in 1911.
Leaving Foxton behind, there are no locks for around 20 miles. Open views are only temporarily blackened by Husbands Bosworth Tunnel (1,166yds/1,066m long), and shortly beyond North Kilworth Wharf there’s the option to detour for 1½ miles along the Welford Arm to explore Welford and the reservoirs which supply the canal with water. Back on the main canal the sense of isolation increases with only trees occasionally breaking the silence of the landscape.
The canal meanders through bridges and round curious hills, and seems to deliberately miss the region's villages. Yet, on a special calendar date every May, Crick redefines this remote canal route as its marina hosts one of the busiest gatherings of people anywhere on Britain's canals. Crick Boat Show sees hundreds of party-polished boats butting side by side, making overnight mooring a more communal affair than normal. If you prefer quieter times and boating solitude, it’s prudent to travel with the boat show date in mind. From Crick Wharf you can walk into the village which is oozing with deep history.
The Doomsday Book records the numbers of households as, “17 villagers. 6 smallholders. 4 slaves. 4 freemen. 1 priest”. Travelling onwards through a rather damp Crick Tunnel (1,528yds/1,397m long), enjoy the calm echoes in the dark before the storm in the bright light ahead where two worlds collide. The M1, the railway and the old Roman road hurl past the canal in their rabid hurry to reach the city. Watford Gap service station is their only respite from their race. But from the canal, this brief encounter with noise is a thrilling reminder of the part canals played in the evolution of Britain's transport system, and the quest to constantly redefine speed. After scrambling through Watford Locks, four of which form a staircase, the canal drifts peacefully into rolling fields dusted with trees until it reaches Norton Junction at the end of the Grand Union Canal - Leicester Section. Turning right onto the Grand Union Canal - Main Line, the route leads westwards through a magnificent hawthorn-flanked canalscape, diving briefly into the hillside for 2,042yds (1,867m) at Braunston Tunnel.
After travelling through Braunston’s locks, the canal leads to the sleepy junction between the Grand Union and Oxford Canals, once one of the busiest commercial trading points linking with London. Today its importance has not diminished as it has become a much-loved hotspot for canal leisure seekers, and the marina hosts the famous Braunston Historic Boat Rally one weekend every year too. Explore Horseley iron bridges, historic workshops, and a settlement steeped in history dating back to the Doomsday Book. The idyllic canal village at Braunston is a fitting finale for this route before turning round to retrace your journey back to Union Wharf.
Max: 4 People
Max: 7 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 10 People