Stretching 137 miles through 166 locks, the Grand Union Canal was built to transport goods between London and Birmingham. This famous waterways, which celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2020, emerged as a result of the amalgamation of eight independent waterways, including the Grand Junction and Oxford canals.
It cuts across the country from the River Thames at Brentford in London to the Digbeth Branch canal in the heart of Birmingham. It’s most dramatic features include the impressive Iron Trunk Aqueduct carrying the canal over the River Ouse in Buckinghamshire, the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel in Northamptonshire and the Hatton Flight of 21 Locks in Warwickshire.
Drifters Waterway Holidays (www.drifters.co.uk) offers 550 narrowboats for hire from 45 bases, including three bases on the Grand Union Canal. To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Grand Union Canal, here are Drifters’ Top 5 canal boat holidays on this famous waterway:
1. Visit Warwick Castle afloat – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Grand Union Canal at Stockton in Warwickshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can reach the historic centre of Warwick in just eight hours and can moor up to explore the town’s magnificent castle on the banks of the River Avon. Said to be ‘Britain’s greatest medieval experience’, the castle offers visitors a fantastic day out with Flight of the Eagles displays, the Kingmaker Exhibition, Horrible Histories Maze, The Castle Dungeon tour, the Mighty Trebuchet in action and costumed interpreters bringing history to life. The journey to moorings close to the Castle cruises 11 miles and passes through 22 locks.
2. Travel the Warwickshire Ring – On a week’s holiday from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Grand Union Canal at Warwick, boaters can travel the popular Warwickshire Ring, travelling 101 miles, through 94 locks in around 54 hours through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes. Highlights along the way include the awesome Fight of 21 locks at Hatton, Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin in the heart of Britain’s second city, the flight of 11 locks at Atherstone and the pretty canal village of Braunston.
3. Pass through the Blisworth Tunnel to reach the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne – on a short break from Drifters’ base at Gayton, on the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal near Northampton, in just over an hour canal boat holiday-makers can cruise gently through the countryside to the canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel, the third longest on the network. Once in Stoke Bruerne, visitors can enjoy a choice of canalside pubs, woodland walks and browsing the intriguing waterway history collections at the Canal Museum. From there, boaters can through seven locks and on through the countryside to the village of Cosgrove, passing over the Great Ouse or Iron Trunk Aqueduct.
4. Navigate to Aylesbury & back – on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ boat yard on the Northampton Arm at Gayton, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel 44 miles along the Grand Union Canal to Buckinghamshire’s county town of Aylesbury, home to an impressive new theatre and the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery. Along the way, the route passes through Blisworth Tunnel, Stoke Bruerne, over the Iron Trunk Aqueduct, through the suburbs and parklands of Milton Keynes, and through Leighton Buzzard, before turning onto the Aylesbury Arm at Marsworth. The journey from Gayton to Aylesbury and back travels a total of 88 miles (44 there and 44 back), passes through 82 locks and takes around 46 hours.
5. Cruise the epic Leicester Ring – on a two-week break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston, boaters can tackle the mighty Leicester Ring, travelling along the Grand Union Canal, and transferring onto the Leicester Line at Norton Junction. The circuit also uses stretches of the Rivers Soar and Trent, as well as sections of the Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, Oxford and Trent & Mersey canals. Highlights include: Blisworth and Crick tunnels; the staircase of locks at Foxton; Leicester City Centre and Cathedral; Barrow-upon-Soar Deep Lock; the historic village of Shardlow; Fradley Junction with its nature reserve; the 11 locks at Atherstone; and the City of Coventry. Travelling from Braunston, the circuit covers 155 miles, passes through 100 locks and takes around 77 cruising hours.