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CONTINUING with our Waterways Hire Guide is the Grand Union Canal. Besides being the longest in the country it is also the most varied for the holiday maker as it winds its way from Birmingham to the Thames, with a section from the Trent.
Birmingham to Norton Junction
Starting at its Birmingham end, the Grand Union Canal leaves Salford Junction at its terminus with the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal under Spaghetti motorway junction. This part is hardly a favourite with the hire boater, with the waterway very soon hemmed in by boarded-up factories, old housing and seemingly endless graffiti, hardly conducive to a pleasant narrowboat holiday. The razor wire topping the walls by the towpath is not very conducive to peace of mind, and there are no moored boats to be seen anywhere along this entire stretch through Birmingham
Two short flights
However, after two short flights of narrow locks, it is lock free for quite a while, but with druggies under the many bridges, and still no moored boats, it is wise not to leave a boat unattended in the area or moor overnight until reaching Catherine De Barnes, which is a relief, though there is a strong possibility of something being wrapped around the prop shaft, as can be seen.
The waterway is scenic after Catherine De Barnes, but then the locks become broad with the short flight of five Knowle Locks, that however can present the problem of an empty pound (that has occurred on two occasions when we cruised). Like others on this section the paddle gear is unusual, being worm and screw to prevent the old boatmen dropping them, but needing many turns to get water through. However the locks are set in delightful countryside, and from the top lock there are extensive views.
Before long the canal reaches Kingswood Junction and the Stratford-on-Avon Canal, but soon after there is the Hatton Flight of 21 broad locks, all with the slow paddle gear. It is here a holiday maker should attempt to share the locks with another boat, to make progress much easier.
The only town on this section after leaving Birmingham is Warwick, with the only supermarkets. Between the locks and the town is the short Saltisford Arm with services, and a short walk to a supermarket, though there is one by the side of the canal in the town.
There is more countryside but then comes another flight of broad locks, this time Stockton Locks, though only 10 this time, then the Grand Union Canal shares its course with the Oxford Canal to Braunston then the Braunston Tunnel to Norwood Junction where it joins the Leicester Section.
The Grand Union Canal out of Birmingham is most depressing for boaters, and it would be particularly so for holiday makers, which is why most boaters tend to use the Stratford-on-Avon Canal out of Birmingham.
Even in the country, with its multitude of rather difficult broad locks it is far from ideal for a lone boat with a crew of two, the 'candlestick' gate paddles (pictured) and often heavy gates, posing a problem, unless well crewed or sharing. Mooring too is not recommended in Birmingham, though there is plenty elsewhere that is safe. The only supermarket by the waterway is in Warwick, there are plenty of boat services.
The Grand Union Canal from Salford to Norton junction is 39 miles with 67 locks, including a two locks staircase and two swing bridges.
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The more black stars the better.