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Our guide to the waterways of the UK in detail.

The Grand Union Canal.


The Grand Union is a broad canal, we can take both boats through the locks together, however for most of the canal between locks we are unable to stay breasted up and will work in single file. This was the way that boats used this canal in the days of working boats. The Grand Union canal as we know it today is long, 175 miles, and the main route was made up from the merger of three different canals. It varies from inner city to isolated rural, from heavily locked, 21 in two miles, to several pounds over 10 miles in length. It is so long that we never work it as a single trip, but rather it features in many different cruises. Sometimes a section is cruised on its own, sometimes a small part is used to connect different canals as part of a cruise.

It falls into two main parts.


London to Braunston.

This section was built as the Grand Junction canal, it runs from Brentford on the Western edge of London north west to Braunston Northamptonshire. It is nearly 100 miles long, has 100 locks and two of the longest tunnels on the UK canal system as well as several major branches. It is very much an expressway of the canal age. However it does not share the love for speed of modern main routes. Life still moves along at under walking pace and stops completely at locks.

It climbs from London through over 50 locks, passing through Uxbridge, Croxley Green, Hemel Hempstead and Berkhampstead and passing a short arm to Slough. It is a landscape of contrasts, including many lakes and parks such as Harefield Moor with its abundant wildlife and the wooded parkland of Cassionbury Park.

At Cowroast lock the 3 mile Tring summit level is reached. At the further end of the summit lies the arm to Wendover, built as a feeder arm but now unavigatable, and the arm to Aylesbury, a narrow beam canal, still in use. It is also the location for canal reservoirs teaming with bird life and Bulborne Workshops where canal gates used to be made, sadly no longer.

The canal then starts to descend, passing through countryside for many miles with the exception of Leighton Buzzard. Arriving at the bottom of the descent the canal passes through the 'new town', of Milton Keynes opinions on it vary. :-) This is the last town on this stretch of the canal which now becomes, and remains remote.

At Cosgrove the canal crosses the Great Ouse river on an embankment and an aqueduct which caused many problems to construct, and the abandoned Buckingham arm. It then meets the hills which it passes with short flights of locks at Stoke Bruerne, Buckby and Braunston, and long tunnels at Blisworth, 3,075 yards and Braunston, 2,042 yards.

On its way it passes the arm to Northampton and the fens, and the Leicester branch which takes you over to the Rivers Soar and eventually Trent.


Napton to Birmingham.

From Braunston to Napton junction the route lies long the Northern Oxford canal, then at Napton the Grand Union, formerly the two Warwick canals resumes. This last stretch is just under 40 miles with 57 locks. It is a rural canal for much of its length as it first drops down Calcutt, Stockton and Bascotte locks to take us down one side of the Avon valley. At the bottom the canal runs through the outskirts of Leamington Spa and Warwick.

The canal then climbs up out of the Avon valley by the great flight of 21 locks at Hatton, known by boatmen as "21 steps to Heaven", but where do we go when we go down them? They lift boats 146 ft, providing a spectacular view back down to the distance tower of Warwick church. We then go back into the country soon passing through the dripping cavern of Shrewley tunnel. Passing King's Norton Junction with the Stratford canal the Grand Union heads towards Birmingham, climbing the five Knowle locks and for the last seven miles passing through the suburbs of Birmingham till it drops down the five Camp Hill locks to finish at Bordesley junction.

If Birmingham is the destination, then you carry on dropping down Ashted locks and join the Birmingham and Fazeley canal to climb up the Farmer's Bridge locks. All inner city canal, but with it's own charm.



Books on the Grand Union Canal.

There are a number of very good books about canals, but some I would personally recommend on this canal are

Two Centuries of Service. Written by David Blagrove and published in 2005 by Buchebroc Press, Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire. ISBN 1-8719-1813-8
The story of the Canal at Stoke Bruerne and Blisworth..

At the Heart of the Waterways. Written by David Blagrove and published in 1996 by Buchebroc Press, Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire. ISBN 1-8719-1805-7
The story of the canals in the village of Braunston, Northamptonshire.

The Warwick Canals. Written by Alan Faulkner and published in 1985 by The Railway & Canals Historical Society. ISBN 0-9011461-39-3
The story of the canals from Warwick..

These books are in our library on Oak and Ash and available for you to read during your cruise, as are many other books.



We will be on this canal in 2012 during cruises

1, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14,

15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23.

N.B. None are South of Gayton.



Some pictures of this canal?

Bull's Bridge to Marsworth / Paddington Arm. / Marsworth to Gayton / Aylesbury Arm

Gayton to Norton / Norton to Braunston / Braunston to Napton /Napton to Warwick / Warwick to Lapworth

Lapworth to Camp Hill. / Camp Hill to Salford / Digbeth Branch.


History of the canals which make up the present Grand Union canal.

The Grand Junction / Warwick to Napton / Warwick to Birmingham

The Grand Union.


Find our information about other canals on the canal index page.



If you have any questions then do ring us on 07977 229103
or email us at

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