South to Crick
4 Night Break
This route takes in a section of the Oxford Canal and the Grand Union giving a mixture of narrow and wide locks, and a long tunnel at Braunston. 25 miles and 18 locks each way, 22 hours cruising time in total.
The Oxford Canal was engineered by James Brindley and built as a “contour canal” which means that the line follows the contours of land with a minimum of earthworks. This created a very tortuous route and the northern section of the canal was modernised in the 1830’s, almost halving the distance from Coventry to Braunston, striding across the countryside with a series of impressive arrow straight cuttings and embankments interspersed with winding sections of the original canal.
The first one and a half hours is a meander through pretty, wooded countryside before the short tunnel at Newbold. Here there is a pub which is set at right angles to the canal – The Barley Mow with good moorings here just before or after the next bridge. The original cut ran in front of the pub, but is now a lane. Through Newbold churchyard you can still see the line of the tunnel from Brindley’s original route. As well as The Barley Mow there is also the Old Crown near the shops, which include a Post Office, fish and chips, a supermarket and also a cash machine. (Turn left out of the lane in front of the Barley Mow and walk downhill about 100 yards.)
Between Stretton and Hillmorton there are many short “arms” of the canal – short seemingly purposeless length of water which are, actually, some of the remains of the original route of the canal. They were retained to serve industry – normally flour mills or lime kilns – which had been built alongside the old line. Where necessary these are crossed by graceful cast iron bridges. These bridges are all identical and some of the earliest examples of mass production in the world.
About half an hour after leaving Newbold you pass one of these bridges and arms (now leading to a boatyard) and cross two aqueducts. After these you can moor for the Harvester Inn or the Tesco supermarket nearby (with cash dispenser). There is a picnic area just through the bridge after the Harvester Inn. This is the best place to moor if you wish to visit Rugby.
The next hour features more woodland, a boatyard and a golf course as the canal skirts attractively around Rugby towards Hillmorton Locks. The Oxford Canal climbs from Coventry to its summit over a spur of the Cotswolds just south of Napton (and then drops all the way down to the Thames), so these three locks take you uphill. Shortly after the locks is the Old Royal Oak pub and restaurant which has a canalside garden and a safe “soft” indoor play area for young children downstairs.
After this the canal changes character as the countryside opens out, passing Barby Hill to the left and Dunsmoor (the moor named after the legendary medieval Dun Cow) to the right. It takes just under two hours from the locks (about six hours total from our boatyard) to reach the historic canal junction and village at Braunston. There’s lots here; pubs include the Boat House, canalside just by the junction, The Old Plough and the Wheatsheaf in the High Street and The Admiral Nelson beside the third lock up towards Braunston Tunnel. There is a supermarket (with cash dispenser inside), Post Office and butchers on the High St.
Just after bridge 90 the Oxford Canal turns sharply right under the cast bridges towards Oxford, but you carry straight on here past the marina onto the Grand Union canal and immediately reach Braunston locks. These are wide locks, meaning that unlike the narrow locks at Hillmorton you can fit two boats in side by side. With another boat and its crew with you to share the work you will soon find yourself at the top of the flight of six and entering the 1867m long Braunston Tunnel.
Just over a mile after leaving the tunnel you reach Norton Junction. Here the Grand Junction Canal continues straight on towards London, but you need to make a sharp left turn onto the Leicester Line.
Almost immediately the character of the canal changes, as the route winds around almost as if looking for a way through the hills, which it finds at Watford Gap. Here, at the famous north/south divide, a pretty flight of seven locks lifts you up onto the 20 mile summit pound. Volunteer lock-keepers are on hand during opening hours to assist you up the impressive four-lock staircase in the middle of the flight.
The M1 motorway crosses just above Watford locks, but the canal soon loses itself into beautiful countryside again, hillier in character than the Oxford Canal of the day before. Before you reach you must pass through Crick Tunnel – shorter and somewhat straighter than Braunston Tunnel it is wide enough to pass boats coming in the opposite direction.
Crick Wharf is located about ½ mile beyond the tunnel where there are plentiful moorings opposite the old wharf which has been converted into a bar and restaurant. Mellow stone houses line the walk up into the village itself which has a post office, small supermarket and several pubs.
Shortly beyond Crick there is a winding hole where you will need to turn around. If you have time there is a nature reserve to explore here, and a well, marked footpath up to the top of Cracks Hill.