The Grand Union is truly Grand Canal featuring wide locks, a variety of scenery, plus classic villages such as Braunston, Stoke Bruerne and Nether Heyford. The Central section of the Grand Union Canal carries the traveler from Braunston, to the Milton Keynes. Braunston sits atop the hill surveying the surrounding Northamptonshire countryside. The locks are nicely spaced out, and well maintained, so are easy to operate. There is plenty of room in the ponds between for maneuvering around oncoming boats. Braunston Village is as delightful a village as one will find. Strolling through the main street never ceases to be a pleasant experience. A fine, typically friendly butcher, Village stores, and one of the best pubs around, The Old Plough. Try enjoying a fine pint by the open fire, or if the weather is fine, out the back to the beer garden. Braunston, being a busy cruising location, has its own Mariner, located under a fine Horseley Ironworks bridge. Although a busy part of the canal, good mooring spots can usually be found along the towpath here, from bridge 93, to just before bridge 2. From here you can head up to Braunston across the bridge, walk to the mariner, or stroll to either the Admiral Nelson, or Mill House. Braunston Tunnel is 2,046 yards long. It is wide enough for two boats to pass. It is a weird feeling watching the lights of another boat slowly drawing closer to you, while trying to keep your own boat clinging to the right hand wall.
Just to make things more interesting, Braunston Tunnel has a small kink halfway along, but we couldn't spot it. If you have time, moor by bridge 6, just out of the tunnel, and walk in to Welton. Well worth the pleasant stroll. At Norton Junction the canal branches off to the left, to the Leicester Section. We bear south and prepare for the Buckby Flight, with some pretty heavy locks. The double locks of the Buckby Flight drop us down 63ft and stretch over a mile and a half. Whilton Chandlery is at the bottom, selling a good range of supplies, and the delightful Anchor Cottage Crafts is always fun to visit between bridges 12 and 13. Accompanied by the railway on one side, and the M1 on the other, it is an interesting cruise in to the town of Weedon Bec. Good mooring spots here near the underpass and church. Weedon is an interesting village, in two halves. The main street, down from bridge 24, is filled with antique shops and a few pubs. But we found the other Weedon much more appealing. The underpass by the embankment leads to village shops including a chemist and general store, butcher, and a couple of pubs. Not too far down the canal away from the railway, is Stow Hill. Here is Stow Hill Marine, builders of fine looking narrow boats, a few examples of which (William and Anne) are moored there. There are good mooring spots here, nice and close to the very cozy Narrowboat Inn And a nice rear garden overlooks the canal as well. A lovely surprise is the village of Nether Heyford, a short walk from bridge 32. Two great pubs, a hairdresser, general store, another friendly butcher, and large village green. It's a pleasant cruise down to Bugbrooke, wide canal, and interesting scenery. Bugbrooke is a fair walk from the canal, but again, well worth the effort. It is an attractive village, with ochre colored houses, a news agency come general store and off license there. Plenty of mooring here near bridge 36.
The Wharf, just opposite, offers Frog Island, and garden area overlooking the canal. A very friendly atmosphere with canal pictures on the walls, and great meals. From Bugbrooke it is an easy cruise down to Gayton Junction If you are feeling really fit, take a stroll up the hill to Gayton. Moor by bridge 45, cross the bridge, and head over the field where you will be rewarded with a charming, rural village. Fine buildings (Gayton Manor, and Gayton House to name but 2). At Gayton Junction, the Northampton arm heads off to the left to join the River Nene. We took one look at the 17 or so locks heading down the canal, and decided to take the bus to Northampton instead! There is plenty of activity around Gayton Junction, with boats moored along both sides of the canal and Alvechurch Boats hire fleet base just down the Northampton arm. The new mariner is on the right, as the canal heads towards Blisworth. Blisworth Tunnel boats are based here, and this is where our boat Stella was based for 2 happy years. There is water available, and pump out facilities as well.
The lovely village of Blisworth, with its attractive sandstone buildings is dominated by the lovely church, and has some attractive sandstone buildings. In the main street is a general store with off license, newsagent, and supplies. Moorings are plentiful, best ones being right opposite the boat yard. The splendid building beside the boatyard was a corn mill, and was used by the Grand Union Carrying Company as a depot. They are now flats. But Blisworth is most famous for its tunnel. At 3,076 yards long this some tunnel! As with Braunston Tunnel, two boats can pass in the tunnel, but it is a nervy experience trying to cling to the right, avoiding the occasional drenching from above, as another boat slowly edges towards you. Luminous arrows in the ceiling indicate when you have passed the half way mark, and it is with relief that you finally exit into the bright light at Stoke Bruerne. As Pearson's states, Stoke Bruerne is a canal town without equal. We wouldn't argue, and despite all the publicity and tourist attention, maintains its unique quiet personality. Moor between the tunnel and museum, take your time and enjoy Stoke Bruerne. The Boat Museum, with its gift shop housed in yet another old corn mill, sits with a group of equally handsome buildings along the towpath. An interesting selection of craft are tied up there, usually including "Sculptor"
Opposite, the Boat Inn, the subject of many canal postcards and photographs. There is a handy little shop by the Boat as well. Also, just past all that activity, is the Navigation in a fine old stone building. The two locks at Stoke Bruerne, are followed by the five Stoke locks. They are wide, double locks and we were often able to move through them often using only one gate. From here, it's a lock free cruise through the Northamptonshire countryside, to Cosgrove. The only town to tempt us along here was Yardley Gobion, a lovely village with thatched roofed honey stone brick houses. At Thrupp Wharf is the Navigation Cruising club, right next to the Navigation Hotel. Try relaxing in the rear dining room overlooking the canal and surrounding countryside. Superb! Best mooring spots are just opposite the pub, and are often occupied.
The much photographed Solomon's Bridge welcomes the traveler to Cosgrove. There are good mooring spots here out the front of the Barley Mow, and right along the opposite bank. A row of poplars extend along one bank, while a tunnel runs under the canal from the off side to the Barley Mow. No shops here that we could find, but there is a kiosk by the caravan park. The peaceful quiet of the countryside soon disappears as one enters the outskirts of Milton Keynes. Wolverton comes as a bit of a shock, as there was a lot of construction going on, but a far from unpleasant experience, and an interesting change. The old Railway Works is remembered by illustrations on walls. At New Bradwell, the New Inn looked interesting. We were pleasantly surprised by Milton Keynes. Lovely wide canal, nice homes, good mooring spots, and a couple of nice pubs.
We moored by Bridge 81 and had a day looking around the shops and enjoying a couple of the pubs. The large shopping centre was superb, and we bought a new video cam-corder there. There is plenty of open space and it is a nice place to get out and walk. It is a very picturesque run through to stoke Hammond. This little village is reached from bridge 106, and it is a handy spot to grab a few supplies from the Super Store. There is more magic scenery cruising down to Soulbury locks, lovely homes, grazing cattle, birdlife and the occasional aggressive swan. The lovely, much photographed Globe in waits at Old Linslade. And so to Leighton Buzzard, where we had to visit just to see what a town with a name like that was like! It is a pleasant town, with friendly people, good shopping, attractive buildins and plenty of moorings. From here we headed back to Blisworth, bit the Grand Union continues on to London through Berkhampton, and Bulls Bridge.