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Karis

Grand Union Canal

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Hi all.

I have owned boats of one sort of another since the early 70's & have extensive experience of both the tidal & non-tidal Thames & the Medway. We sold our last Thames based cruiser in 2006 but we have also hired cruisers on the Norfolk Broads where we now live. We have considerable boating experience, including lock operation & sea passages. Although I have never skippered a canal boat before, I am pretty confident I'l get the hang of it pretty quickly & so we are thinking of taking an initial, 4 days autumn canal boat break on the Grand Union Canal. Our time will obviously be limited & we don't really want to be cruising more than around 4 hours a day. I know the canal stretches from the Thames up into Birmingham & so is quiet extensive so, bearing in mind our short hire, can anyone advise the best location for us to start our cruise to appreciate & experience some of the best/most interesting parts of the canal? 

 

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From the Southern end of the GU:

Wyvern Shipping at Leighton Buzzard.

Puddling Cruisers from Milton Keynes.  This is a wide beam boat. You will be unpopular.

Alvechurch Boats at Gayton near Northampton.

There is a hire base at Weedon.  Forget their name.

UCC at Braunston.

Numerous hires from near Napton Junction.

Kate Boats at Stockton and Warwick.

 

My choice would be Wyvern. (I have no connection).  Good boats. Easy by road or train.  Go to Stoke Bruerne for Museum.  Blisworth tunnel. 

 

YMMV.

 

N

Edited by BEngo
  • Greenie 1

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20 minutes ago, BEngo said:

From the Southern end of the GU:

Wyvern Shipping at Leighton Buzzard.

Puddling Cruisers from Milton Keynes.  This is a wide beam boat. You will be unpopular.

Alvechurch Boats at Gayton near Northampton.

There is a hire base at Weedon.  Forget their name.

UCC at Braunston.

Numerous hires from near Napton Junction.

Kate Boats at Stockton and Warwick.

 

My choice would be Wyvern. (I have no connection).  Good boats. Easy by road or train.  Go to Stoke Bruerne for Museum.  Blisworth tunnel. 

 

YMMV.

 

N

I would agree. 

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Union Canal Carriers at Braunston are a good family firm and you have plenty of choices as to where to go.

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This is not the Grand Union but if you hadn't have said Autumn I would have suggested you went over to Worcester and do the Droitwich Ring. Narrow locks, a  river lock, wide locks on the barge canal, staircase locks, 3 locks with working side pounds and a tunnel. I can't think of anywhere else where you would get so much variation in 4 days

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The choice may be limited by where there a suitable boat available but given you state it will be Grand Union I would concur with the recommendations for the section between Linslade and Braunston from either Wyvern or Union Canal Cruisers and make Stoke Bruerne/Blisworth the minimum aim. There are though others such as ABC at Gayton or even Market Harborough who offer a different type of boat to the above and are pretty accessible from Norfolk.

 

JP

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With only four hour a day of cruising, i'd say Napton is a good bet. You can head towards Braunston and then turn left onto the north Oxford, nice rural scenery and minimal locks, most other possibilities will see much of the 4 hours taken up operating locks.

  • Greenie 2

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Given the conversations I have had with a few hire boat bases over the last few weeks pretty much every decent boat is booked solid until November.

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1 hour ago, ditchcrawler said:

This is not the Grand Union but if you hadn't have said Autumn I would have suggested you went over to Worcester and do the Droitwich Ring. Narrow locks, a  river lock, wide locks on the barge canal, staircase locks, 3 locks with working side pounds and a tunnel. I can't think of anywhere else where you would get so much variation in 4 days

Trinity Boats have a new oat for hire may be not booked up

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Have a look at this firm.  I've no connection but I know the owner is a real enthusiast.
If you are in the area of Weedon, make sure you visit the historic Ordnance Depot.  This is often overlooked by boaters, but it's well worth a visit.
 

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All parts of the GU are interesting in their own way! A big city at each end, Warwick and Milton Keynes and smaller towns along the way, lots of locks to do, and two rather long tunnels (Blisworth and Braunston). I've done it all (except some arms) in various chunks on various boats, often on the NBT coal runs where we take a pair of historic boats, loaded with up to 40 tonnes of cargo if we're going south. Great fun! In the 1930s those boats were designed for the canal, and the locks towards the Birmingham end were widened to take them. This year if you're on the GU in late October you may come across the NBT going north from Brentford to Braunston, with not much cargo left aboard. But not me, I'm on the crew earlier on the Thames and Wey.

 

Remember that the whole GU has wide locks, so you'll often be sharing a lock with another boat, OK once you get used to it. How often will depend on where, and on which way most of the traffic is going on a given day, which varies according to the turn around days of the various hire fleet bases.

 

Here's an  interesting article about the GU's history:

https://www.canalmuseum.org.uk/history/grandjun.htm

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Many thanks for all the response, it will be a great help. Must admit I didn't think there would be a problem hiring late October as it can get pretty nippy on the water by then but, I suppose, it's down to the current Covid situation & holiday options for folks here in the UK; we would normally be in Spain until the middle of November! 

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4 hours ago, Karis said:

Many thanks for all the response, it will be a great help. Must admit I didn't think there would be a problem hiring late October as it can get pretty nippy on the water by then but, I suppose, it's down to the current Covid situation & holiday options for folks here in the UK; we would normally be in Spain until the middle of November! 

Don’t forget you have 2 weeks of half term holidays at the end of October, the hire companies are always busy then in normal times.  If you can get your trip in before then you may find more availability and lower cost.  That did I believe a number for hire companies are extending their season this year to the end of November, but then the clocks will have gone back, so darker sooner.

 

There are a lot of hire companies around the Braunston/Napton/Rugby area, have a look at what they have available.  You would then have the choice of GU and/or Oxford.  Watch  he out for the winter stoppages if going in November though.

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Thanks I'l have to check out the kids holiday periods, ours have long since gone so I tend to forget about them. I wan't to be away for my birthday on 27th so should be able to adjust things around that. I have been up as far as Oxford on the Thames but could not get under the very low bridge they had there; does the canal run separately or is there a connection between the two? What's affected by winter stoppages, just lock operation or more than that? On the Thames it just meant you had to operate the lock gates manually yourself years ago!

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12 minutes ago, Karis said:

Thanks I'l have to check out the kids holiday periods, ours have long since gone so I tend to forget about them. I wan't to be away for my birthday on 27th so should be able to adjust things around that. I have been up as far as Oxford on the Thames but could not get under the very low bridge they had there; does the canal run separately or is there a connection between the two? What's affected by winter stoppages, just lock operation or more than that? On the Thames it just meant you had to operate the lock gates manually yourself years ago!

Yes you can go from the Oxford canal to the Thames, by two routes actually, Dukes Cut and Sheepwash Channel.  From Napton it will take you 4 days each way to the Thames.  If you fancy a narrowboat on the upper Thames, there is Anglo Welsh near Eynsham actually  on the Thames.

 

The 27th is during the half term holiday, so expect less availability and higher prices!

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Oh, oh; a quick check seems to indicate most kids probably don't go back on Monday Nov 2nd so perhaps I'l have t forget about being away for my birthday & go the following week! Sorry, could you possibly elaborate on what effect winter stoppages may have to navigation? Does it just mean lock operation is DIY or are there other restrictions?

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1 hour ago, Karis said:

Oh, oh; a quick check seems to indicate most kids probably don't go back on Monday Nov 2nd so perhaps I'l have t forget about being away for my birthday & go the following week! Sorry, could you possibly elaborate on what effect winter stoppages may have to navigation? Does it just mean lock operation is DIY or are there other restrictions?

The CRT stoppages will prevent you travelling through the stoppage location, usually it is locks where gates are being replaced.  For example the Napton flight is closed from 2 Nov, so you would not be able to go down the South Oxford from Napton.  The EA also has lock stoppages on the Thames starting at around the same time.  So you would need to plan carefully in November, but still possible, for example I don’t think there are stoppages on the GU south of Braunston before Christmas.

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1 hour ago, Karis said:

Oh, oh; a quick check seems to indicate most kids probably don't go back on Monday Nov 2nd so perhaps I'l have t forget about being away for my birthday & go the following week! Sorry, could you possibly elaborate on what effect winter stoppages may have to navigation? Does it just mean lock operation is DIY or are there other restrictions?

A winter stoppage closes the navigation for maintenance. Just like closing a road.

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The Thames has major closures this winter -

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/river-thames-restrictions-and-closures

 

For boaters coming from Oxford you can't get further than Abingdon downstream, but there's noting closed upstream. That still give you plenty of scope.

No offer of a discount on the licence, though!

 

 

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On 17/09/2020 at 15:09, Karis said:

...  I have been up as far as Oxford on the Thames but could not get under the very low bridge they had there; does the canal run separately or is there a connection between the two? ...

The low bridge you are referring to is probably the Osney bridge over the Thames, carrying the main road west out of the city centre. A typical narrow boat will normally fit under it, provided that you clear the roof and take any chimney down as you approach. You might be approaching quickly if going downstream and the river has a bit of a flow on. Steer carefully and mind your head!

As said, there are two connections from the canal into the river; the Sheepwash channel which connects from just upstream of Osney Bridge to near the end of the canal in the city centre (just down from its last lock), and Dukes' Cut about two miles up river. The latter is usual, being rather a faster way to do it whether you're going up river towards Lechlade, or down river towards Abingdon and Reading. But for the latter, you have to get under Osney Bridge either way.

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Thanks PeterX - that's saved me looking up the exact figures  of bridge height- you description is far mre practical!

 

For me on my NB, I have to 'bend the knees' a bit to get under Osney Bridge. But (gr.) there is a slightly higher bridge further downstrean which can defeat sone 'cruisers' mainly because its a narrow arch...

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On 17/09/2020 at 15:38, Karis said:

Does it just mean lock operation is DIY or are there other restrictions?

Just in case you weren't aware, locks on CRT waterways are nearly all user operated. Some of the Grand Union locks (particularly on the widened section from Napton to Birmingham) can be very heavy to operate. You might get lucky and get some help from a volunteer lockie on some flights, but would not count on it, particularly at that time of year. 

  • Greenie 1

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