May 16, 2014.
I left Paddington at 9:30 and had the help of two friends. I always like to get through the 3 locks at Camden Lock – Hampstead Road, Hawley and Kentish Town locks – early in the day before the crowds start gathering. Rather than make the whole trip on the Regents Canal, I turned off onto the Hertford Union to the Lee in order to fill up with Diesel at Springfield Marina. The detour meant we didn’t reach Limehouse Basin until 17:30 after passing through the Maida Vale Tunnel (272 yards) and the Islington Tunnel (960 yards), the 8 Regents Canal locks up to the Hertford Union turn, 3 locks of the Hertford Union and Old Ford Lock on the Lee. The Limehouse visitor moorings were full and I had to treble up! Some boats were quadruple moored. The St Pancras Cruising Club were having a Thames cruise and were going out of Limehouse lock at 08:00 the following morning (Saturday). I was going out of Limehouse lock the following day too at 13:00 with the tide to take me up to Teddington Lock.
Moored 4 deep on Limehouse visitor mooring
May 2, 2014 – May 11, 2014.
Braunston Bottom Lock
Braunston Bottom Lock. The first of 89 locks to Paddington Basin. If you include the 12 Regents Canal locks to Limehouse Basin, the final destination, that makes 101 locks over a distance of approximately 107 miles. Easy 😉
Braunston Pump House at Bottom Lock
Braunston Lock No. 2
Lock No. 3 with The Admiral Nelson Pub
Braunston Tunnel (West entrance)
Braunston Tunnel, the first of two on the journey south to London, is 2042 yards long and 16 feet 6 inches wide enabling two boats travelling in opposite directions to pass (just!).
Braunston Tunnel (East entrance)
On my first day I travelled as far as Bugbrooke, a peaceful Northamptonshire village. On route I passed through Norton Junction, where the Grand Union main line meets the Grand Union Leicester branch, Long Buckby Wharf, Weedon Bec and Nether Heyford. All places worth visiting in their own right if you have time.
Moored at Bugbrooke
Bugbrooke Wharf (now a pub)
Creating some smoke in Stoke Bruerne
Stoke Bruerne, 20 miles from Braunston by the Grand Union, I reached on my second day out, having passed through Braunston Tunnel, Blisworth Tunnel and 15 locks.
Blisworth Tunnel (Stoke Bruerne entrance)
Blisworth tunnel is 3057 yards long – approximately 1.7 miles. Like Braunston, it’s wide enough for two boats travelling in opposite directions to pass. I was lucky not to meet any boats in both tunnels. Despite the frequent cascades of water falling through the tunnel ceiling, that can give you and your boat an unwanted wash, I find navigating Blisworth tunnel is easier than Braunston as it’s straight, whereas Braunston has a few kinks that can result in a scrape or two if your concentration wanders for second.
Stoke Bruerne is noted for being possibly the best example of a canal village in England.
The famous Boat Inn Stoke Bruerne
Leaving Stoke Bruerne my aim was to reach Fenny Stratford, approximately 17 miles away, which I did quite comfortably in the end. This involved passing through Stoke Bruerne Locks 16-20, Cosgrove Lock 21, Wolverton and twisting through Milton Keynes, for what felt like forever, to eventually arrive at Fenny Stratford.
Fenny Stratford Lock and the Red Lion pub
Soulbury Three Locks (Well 2 of them!)
My fourth day out was leisurely. It was Bank Holiday Monday, and my sister Alison joined me, providing welcome company and help, to travel from Fenny Stratford to Leighton Buzzard, passing through Fenny Stratford Lock, Stoke Hammond Lock and the Soulbury Three Locks, mooring just above Leighton Lock, 46 miles from Braunston, for the night. Alison got the train home to Hemel Hempstead. It would take me a further 3 days to reach Hemel.
Swingbridge 112 which is fixed open. Just before Leighton Lock, Leighton Buzzard
From Leighton Buzzard I travelled to towards Marsworth through peaceful countryside, negotiating locks with great names: Church Lock (there’s a church), Ivinghoe (2 locks), Seabrook (3 locks). I moored on the towpath in what felt like the middle of nowhere (near Pitstone) – apart from the railway line and the constant passing of trains!
Ivinghoe Lock 33 (Cheddington)
Day six has been a lock day, 16 all told from Pitstone to Berkhamsted. This included Marsworth Locks 37-45. I had help on the last 4 of the Marsworth Locks from CRT (Canal & Rivers Trust) volunteers which I welcomed and appreciated. Dudsworth Lock 48 below came later. I took the photo because I think the lock keepers house, if that’s what it is, or was, looks more interesting than the standard.
Dudswell Lock 48
Heron in Berkhamsted. My first opportunity to get a photo of a Heron!
Berkhamsted is 61 miles and 52 locks from Braunston and a great place to moor up for a couple of days if you have the time. I stayed one night only choosing to press on to Hemel Hempstead, just 3.5 miles away, negotiating Winkwell Swing Bridge, which is key operated and automatic, but it does involve holding up any passing traffic and pedestrians in the process, mooring just above Fishery Lock 63.
Berkhamsted. The Grand Union was originally called the Grand Junction canal.
Berkhamsted. The Boat Inn
The Boat, probably the most popular name for a pub on the canal, along with The Navigation.
Moored above Fishery Lock, Hemel Hempstead
From Berkhamstead Lock 53 through to Batchworth Lock 81, 28 locks over approximately 12 miles, is the greatest concentration of locks on the journey and takes some effort. From Hemel Hempstead Fishery Lock a friend joined me for the day to Batchworth that involved 19 locks. On route we passed through Apsley, Kings Langley, Abbots Langley, some picturesque countryside around Hunton Bridge Locks (72,73) and Lady Capel’s Lock (74).
Hunton Bridge Lock 73
Moored at Batchworth
getting water at Batchworth Lock
From Batchworth to my next planned stop Uxbridge I was solo again passing through the interestingly named Black Jack’s Lock 85, I wonder what the story is behind that name? , and the deepest lock on the journey at 11 feet 1 inch Denham Deep Lock 87 – looking down into the lock can give you a feeling of high anxiety!
Local wild life at Black Jacks Lock 85
Moored at Uxbridge
Tenth day of the journey and I travelled from Uxbridge to Paddington Basin via Bull’s Bridge and the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union. I had the company of two friends on this leg of the journey through West London, however, apart from Cowley Lock 89, it’s lock free so my crew had an easy time!
Little Blue in Paddington