Hot flushes

When I last wrote I told of the beginnings of the trip up towards the Trent. It was June and the heat was increasing, the water levels were critical and as a result the authorities were having to take measures to preserve what little water there was in the canals. This is done mainly by locking the flights of locks overnight, allowing water levels to recover by back pumping water.

I was travelling on The Grand Union Canal. The portion from London to Braunston in the Midlands was built to shorten the distance to Birmingham and provide a more reliable route than travelling via the older route of up the Thames to Oxford then up the narrow Oxford canal.

Finally opened in 1806 the then Grand Union Junction canal climbed several small ridges at Tring, Stoke Bruene and Buckby where the Leicester canal branches off. The Grand Union then drops down to Braunston where the north Oxford canal branches off and the GU continues to Birmingham. The Leicester canal climbs a ridge at Watford gap ( not Watford Herts but Watford, Northamptonshire) and finally drops down the river Soar to the Trent.

This terrain necessitates having adequate water at the top of the ridges to keep the canals watered and the more boats passing through the locks the greater the strain on the system.

As I approached Stoke Bruene in mid afternoon I learnt that the top locks would be .. locked .. at 5pm. That gave me just under 2 hours to get through the 7 locks. Possible as long as the locks were mainly empty and ready for me. They wern’t, in fact at each lock I had to watch a boat in front of me just leaving the next lock, full of course. If only I could catch it up or they could see me and wait to pair up. No such luck.


I don’t want to grumble. I try not to remember that my “dog” on the end of my “lead”, i.e. rope, is about 12 tons. Also that although those lock gates can weigh up to two tons, once I have blown gaskets in my neck straining to close one, its fellow on the other side just swings open again as though it was a garden gate swinging in the wind, forcing me to walk around the lock and close it again. Whereupon its mate decides that this is a fun game to play, and opens again. I get them shut to find that GB has backed herself into the gates and needs an shove from behind whilst trying not to slip into the cut.

Sometimes doing this by oneself seems a bit too hard.

But I did have one bit of luck, a helpful volunteer radioed ahead to ensure that the volunteer at the final lock would unlock it for me to exit after 5pm. What a relief, I could have kissed them both. But the first one had a bushy beard, not inviting, and I didn’t meet the second until a few weeks later. Even if the inclination for a kiss hadn’t worn off by that time, her domineering manner and stature and features as she told me to move my boat would have put me off. Helpful both, but not kissable.


The next day was a very early start, straight into the cold blackness of the Blisworth tunnel before 6.30 am. It is 3075 yards long, wet in places, cold and eerie. It takes about forty minutes to motor through. My aim of starting early was to get to the Watford locks before they shut for the afternoon.

dscn4825I was there in the heat of the afternoon at 2.15, easily time enough. Except there was a queue and the volunteers decided to stop all upstream movements at 2.30. Thus I got through these seven locks at noon the next day, twenty two hours for seven locks is a record for me, a record of the wrong sort. And it was so hot. We had waited with canopies up, windows down, umbrellas for shades and drinking plenty. Next stop Foxton and the drop down to the Soar.


Fortunately although the ten Foxton locks were also on restriction things moved much better and I had only lost about a day over this fairly short distance. By the time I moored up near Leicester I had had enough of the heat, took to the bike and hence caught a train home for a bit.

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