Countryman editor Mark Whitley describes his latest canal boat holiday on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire
The Grand Union Canal celebrated its 90th anniversary this year, which is reason — if reason were needed —to enjoy its many delights by on a week’s narrowboat holiday.
So on a sunny Saturday, I and three friends (my crew for the week) met up at Napton Marina, where we are warmly welcomed by Howard & Ann Davies of Napton Narrowboats, part of the Drifters group of canal boat hire operators.
They introduced us to our home-from-home — ‘Caroline’, a Regency 4 class narrowboat, luxuriously fitted out with all the mod cons, including a rear deck folding table (perfect for alfresco dining). The boat yard staff give us an informative overview and tour of the boat. Then we were off, beginning with a short section of the Oxford Canal and a couple of hours later we reached the pretty canal village of Braunston for our first overnight stop. We moored up alongside the Admiral Nelson pub, the perfect spot for a post-cruise drink or two on our first day.
The next day, after a leisurely breakfast, we were soon entering Braunston Tunnel. We kept a wary eye out for the Braunston boggart, the ghostly figure of a Victorian canal worker who is said to haunt the tunnel.
Six miles, seven locks and three hours peaceful cruising later, we moored up near Weedon Bec for the night. Jon, our resident chef for the week, rustled up a wonderful meal for us all to enjoy, while admiring the sunset with a glass of wine in hand.
Monday morning we cruised leisurely on and then through the 2800-metre long Blisworth Tunnel to moor up at Stoke Bruerne for lunch. It’s a lovely spot to while away an hour or two. I enjoyed an ice cream while watching the canal traffic — it’s official, I’m a gongoozler!
In the afternoon we set off again, travelling through the flight of six locks at Stoke Bruerne, then on through the Northamptonshire countryside to Cosgrove, and across the Iron Trunk Aqueduct, an exhilarating experience.
Late afternoon, we moored up for the night near Wolverton. A couple of us headed off along the towpath to the local supermarket to replenish our supplies.
Tuesday, we turned around and headed back along the Grand Union Canal through Stoke Bruerne and Blisworth Tunnel and shortly after headed up the Northampton Arm, a lovely stretch of canal — though with 17 locks so we get plenty of lock practice!
Wednesday, we headed back re-join the mainline of the Grand Union again, and then cruised on overnight moorings at Bugbrooke, where the Wharf pub has a lovely beer garden overlooking the canal.
Thursday, we had another glorious day of boating and arrived back at Braunston by mid-afternoon. That left plenty of time to explore Braunston itself, where we found a couple of pubs, a village shop, a fish and chip take-away and a butcher’s.
Friday, we re-joined the Oxford Canal for the final leg of our journey, to overnight at Napton Bridge, the perfect spot to reflect back on a wonderful week exploring the Grand Union Canal.
Saturday, as we finally leave the boat, we’re already planning our next narrowboat adventure. We’ve got the boating bug, that’s for sure!