Boat hire—Grand Union Canal

Published: Sunday, 20 February 2011
Boat hire—Grand Union Canal. Norton Junction to Bulls Bridge

OFF the Leicester Section, the Grand Union Canal again becomes a broad canal with the broad locks of the seven Buckby Locks down from Norton Junction being old with thick beams and can prove hard work for hire boaters.

As can be seen, many of the lock gates need two people to move, so holiday hire boaters really need a strong crew.

Very noisy

This section from Norton Junction is very noisy, with the M1 motorway on one side and a railway on the other, and though the motorway is replaced by less busy roads, the railway accompanies the waterway as far as Gayton Junction where a flight of narrow locks come off the main line to drop the waterway down to eventually meet the Nene. There are all facilities at the marina at the junction.

For those making for the river, there is a flight of 12 closely packed locks, then five more well spaced out to the Nene in Northampton. The area after the motorway bridge into the town is prone to vandals, and is shallow, so is liable to give trouble to deep draughted boats.

Waterway museum

Below Gayton Junction comes the long Stoke Bruerne Tunnel, followed by the waterways museum,  (pictured) that is worth a visit. There are more locks below Stoke Bruerne, which again are a little difficult, with the added problem of sometimes an empty pound.

Then it is very easy with many miles virtually lock free, including going around Milton Keynes. Yet the town hardly encroaches on the waterway. It is here that it is eventually hoped to join the Grand Union Canal to the River Great Ouse, to give access to and from the river.

It is then open country until Leighton Buzzard is reached, with a handy supermarket.

Aylesbury Arm

After miles of open countryside the Aylesbury Arm is reached. The arm is unusual in that it is a narrow canal with 16 narrow locks, which are quite easy to operate. A pleasure after the work of the broad locks. The first two locks are combined as a staircase, pictured above.

The waterway is very scenic, passing its entire length through open countryside.

Another unusual feature is that the Aylesbury Arm is very straight, but a problem is that rushes encroach from both sides of the waterway for a long length, so it is very advisable not to meet another boat coming in the opposite direction.

There is a basin at the end of the arm, and just before this is a large canal-side supermarket with moorings.

Wendover Arm

After the Aylesbury Arm through seven broad locks by Marsworth Reservoir, comes the short mile long Wendover Arm, restored to a pleasant moorings at its end, which is a very attractive detour taking boaters to the far end of Marsworth Reservoir. The canal however is rather shallow.

Once again the Grand Union Canal is scenic with few locks until it reaches the outskirts of Berkhamsted, with its famous totem pole, when it  changes character completely, passing through town upon town with broad locks in profusion.

Not helped, should you be cruising the 'wrong' way by the local habit of leaving lock gates open. From Berkhamsted down to Rickmansworth there is a total of 40 locks in 14 miles and a swing bridge thrown in.

Canal-side supermarkets

Though the section from Norton Junction, even through Milton Keynes, has little in the way of shopping, from Berkhamsted and below most towns have canal-side supermarkets, all with moorings, so stocking-up is no problem. With boatyards and marinas, boating facilities too are plentiful. the above picture shows the Tesco supermarket at Bulls Bridge Junction.

The attractions are mostly found in the many towns, with little more than scenery in the rural sections. Moorings are somewhat restricted, for though plentiful in the country, they  should be avoided in the towns overnight in view of vandal activity.

Healthy crew

With an abundance of broad locks that are often difficult to operate, this section should only be attempted by a fairly large or healthy crew, and is not recommended for holiday makers of a more fragile nature. It is better if two boats are cruising together to combine crews to work the locks.

At Rickmansworth the canal runs alongside reservoirs to Uxbridge, and then it is mostly a built-up area as the waterway enters the London conurbation. At Cowley Peachy Junction there is the Slough Arm, but as we have not cruised this arm no comment can be offered.

The section from Norton Junction to Bulls Bridge is 95 miles with 84 broads locks, one tunnel and two swing bridges.

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The more black stars the better.