South to Weedon
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. 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 a 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 it’s 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 pass Norton Junction, where the Grand Union’s Leicester Line branches off to the left, but you carry straight on and down Buckby locks. There’s a pub (the New Inn) at the top of the locks, and a souvenir shop which sells ice creams about half way down should you find yourself in need of refreshment.
Just below the 7th and final lock there is another marina, shop and cafe and and garden centre. From here you can see all three generations of transport networks in this country – canal, rail and motorway next to one another as they squeeze through Watford Gap. From here it as about 2 hours cruising through rolling farmland to Weedon. The canal continues from here all the way to London and the River Thames but this is where you turn round. Weedon is a good place to overnight before heading back with a good choice of shops, antique centres and pubs to visit.