Grand Union Canal

From Academic Kids

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The canal at Braunston

The Grand Union Canal is a canal in England and part of the British canal system. The waterway stretches for 217 km (135 miles) and has 160 locks.

It connects the two largest cities in England, London and Birmingham, and was an improvement on a less direct route, the River Thames and the Oxford Canal, between them. The Grand Union Canal was formed from the amalgamation of several different canals. The Grand Junction, Warwick and Napton, and Warwick and Birmingham canals came together to form today's main line. The canal also has several arms to places including Leicester, Slough, Aylesbury, Wendover and Northampton.

The main section, formerly the Grand Junction Canal between Brentford and Braunston, was built as a 'wide' or 'broad' canal - that is, its locks were wide enough to accommodate two narrowboats abreast (side by side) or a single wide barge up to 14 feet in beam.

However, the onward sections from Braunston to Birmingham were built as 'narrow' canals - that is, the locks could only accommodate a single narrowboat. In the 1930s, these locks (and several bridges) were rebuilt to take widebeam boats or barges.

The three sections between Norton junction and the River Trent (collectively known as the 'Leicester line') are mixed in size. From Norton to Foxton, the route is a narrow canal. From below Foxton to Leicester it is a wide canal. From Leicester to the Trent, the route effectively is the River Soar and the locks and bridges are wide.

A lock at Apsley
A lock at Apsley


The canal starts at Brentford on the River Thames in west London.

From the large canal basin known as Brentford dock, the canal follows the course of the River Brent rising through the Hanwell flight of locks to Norwood. It then heads westward over level ground through Southall, Hayes and West Drayton until it reaches the valley of the River Colne where it swings northward to Cowley near Uxbridge.

Three miles (5 km) from Norwood on this long level is Bulls Bridge Junction, once the site of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company's main dockyard. At Bulls Bridge, the Paddington arm branches off to the north and runs twelve miles (19 km) to join the Regents Canal at Little Venice (see below). Just before Uxbridge is Cowley Peachey junction where the Slough arm branches off westward.

At Cowley, the canal begins to climb the valley of the River Colne following a north-westerly course. After Uxbridge, there are many disused gravel workings in the valley so the canal is surrounded by lakes as it passes Denham and Harefield before veering north east to Rickmansworth.

From Rickmansworth, the canal follows the valley of the River Gade, a tributary of the Colne. After passing the site of Croxley paper mill, the canal skirts Watford through Cassiobury Park, passes under the M25 motorway and approaches Kings Langley.

By now the locks are becoming more frequent as the climb into the Chiltern Hills steepens.

Afer Kings Langley and Apsley - the site of more former paper mills - the canal passes Hemel Hempstead and Boxmoor Common. Next come Bourne End and Berkhamsted. The last few miles to Tring summit follows the course of the River Bulbourne. At Cowroast Lock the canal reaches the three mile (5 km) long summit at Tring in the Chiltern hills having risen through 54 locks since Brentford.

At the northwest end of the summit is Bulbourne Works where lock gates are manufactured for the southern canal network. Half a mile (800 m) further on, the canal reaches the top of the Marsworth flight of seven locks which begin the descent to the Vale of Aylesbury. A few hundred yards beyond the bottom lock of the flight, the Aylesbury arm branches off to the south west.

The Grand Union crosses the wide valley gradually descending by interspersed locks past the villages of Cheddington, Horton and Slapton until it reaches Leighton Buzzard.

A few miles further on it passes the outskirts of Bletchley at Fenny Stratford lock which is unusual in only raising the level by twelve inches. The next stretch of eleven miles (18 km) on the level takes the canal through the new city of Milton Keynes where there is a marina.

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Top lock at Stoke Bruerne

After passing Wolverton, the canal runs on a high embankment before passing over the Great Ouse at Cosgrove aqueduct.

After rising through Cosgrove lock, (and the abandoned Buckingham Arm) another long level section brings the canal to the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne flight of seven locks. At the top of this flight is the Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum followed shortly by Blisworth tunnel, at 3,056 yards one of the longest on the canal network.

Once clear of the tunnel, the canal passes Blisworth village and reaches Gayton junction where the Northampton arm branches off to the east. This arm has a dozen locks as it descends to join the navigable River Nene (see below). The long level stretch continues past several villages including Heyford and Weedon Bec and is very rural in character.

At Wilton, the canal reaches the bottom of the Buckby flight of seven locks which raise it to Braunston summit although the village of that name is still five miles (8 km) distant. Beyond the top lock is Norton junction where the Leicester line (not strictly a branch) heads off north. A few miles further on the canal passes through the 2,040 yards Braunston tunnel which pierces a low range of hills which are part of the Northamptonshire uplands.

The canal then drops down the Braunston flight of six locks till it reaches Braunston junction, just over 93 miles (150 km) from Brentford.

The Birmingham "main line"

At Braunston junction, the Oxford Canal diverges north and south. The north section leads to Rugby and Coventry; the southward fork carries both the Oxford Canal and the Grand Union for five miles (8 km) to Napton junction. Here, the Grand Union heads west towards norh towards Birmingham while the Oxford Canal veers south towards Banbury and Oxford.

Shortly after Napton Junction, the Grand Union reaches three locks at Calcutt which begin the descent to the Warwickshire River Avon. After a three mile (5 km) level, the canal descends into the valley of the River Leam by the Stockton flight of ten locks (often known as 'the Itchington ten'). Above the eighth lock down the flight, a short arm (now used as pleasure craft moorings) used to serve Southam cement works.

From the bottom of the locks, a three mile (5 km) level leads to the four Bascote locks. The top two form a 'riser' or staircase (see Canal lock). Six more interspred locks lead to Radford after which a five mile (8 km) level takes the canal through Leamington Spa to Warwick. Between these two towns, the canal crosses the River Avon on an aqueduct.

At Warwick, the canal rises by two locks to Budbroke junction (formerly the junction with the then-independent Warwick and Birmingham canal). After half a mile, it reaches the bottom of the Hatton flight of 21 locks which lift the canal up out of the Avon valley. The first ten locks are interspersed but from the middle lock the flight is tightly-spaced.

Three miles (5 km) from Hatton top lock, the canal passes through Shrewley tunnel and then passes Rowington village to Kingswood junction where a short spur connects with the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Another three miles (5 km) lead to the Knowle flight of five locks. Finally, an eleven mile (18 km) level takes the canal through Elmdon Heath, Solihull, Acocks Green, and Tyseley to the heart of Birmingham. The Grand Union terminates at Bordesley: from here, arms lead to the Birmingham Canal Navigations and to the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal which in turn has connections to the Coventry Canal and the Trent and Mersey Canal.

The Leicester Line

Formed by amalgamations of once-independent canals, the 'Leicester Line' of the Grand Union Canal runs north from Norton junction for about 35 miles (56 km) until it reaches Leicester, where it joins the River Soar to provide a link to the River Trent and to the Trent and Mersey Canal. It includes notable tunnels south of Crick 1528 yds (1397 m) and north of Husbands Bosworth 1166 yd (1066 m) The village of Crick is home to a popular annual boat show.

Also on this section a well-known feature is Foxton Locks, ten locks formed of two staircases each of five locks. Beside the locks is the site of a long-abandoned inclined plane boat lift.


The Grand Union Canal has several branches, usually termed 'arms'. Five miles (8 km) from Brentford, the Paddington arm leads to Paddington Basin and just north-west of the Basin at 'Little Venice' it connects to the Regent's Canal. At Cowley Peachey, the Slough arms runs five miles (8 km) to the west. At Marsworth, about 35 miles (56 km) from Brentford, an arm descends through several locks for four miles (6 km) to Aylesbury. From Gayton, about 60 miles (97 km) from Brentford, the Northampton arm links with the River Nene.

On the Leicester Line there are two arms. One is a mile (1.6 km) long and leads to the village of Welford. The other leaves the main canal at the bottom of Foxton locks and runs five miles (8 km) to Market Harborough.

New extension

On 28 February 2003 British Waterways announced the plan to build Britain's first new canal for about 100 years, a connection from the Grand Union at Milton Keynes to the River Great Ouse at Bedford. The canal will be built by the B&MK (Bedford and Milton Keynes) Partnership, which will include British Waterways, waterways campaign groups, and local councils. The new waterway will cost about 150M (€220M,US$240M) and will create a new cruising ring connecting through from the Grand Union to the waterways of East Anglia. Rings are very important to the leisure cruising business because many holiday boat hirers prefer a "circular" route to a there-and-back linear trip. If all the necessary permissions and funding are obtained, construction could start in 2007 and finish in 2010. More information is available at the external links below.

See also

External links

New waterway external links

no:Grand Union-kanalen


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