Crossing off the junctions…

Norton Junction – Gayton Junction – Northampton Junction: 17.16 miles, 24 locks

At Norton Junction there was a swing south onto the Grand Union main line.

In this area, over the centuries, transport planners have made use of Watford Gap, a low-lying area between two hills. There was a Roman route here, much of which is today’s A5, trains flash past on the West Coast Main Line and there’s the M1. (Who has NOT heard of Watford Gap Service Station…!) And, of course, this is where the Grand Union Leicester Line joins the Grand Union main line.

Hefty double sized locks lay ahead down the 7 lock Buckby Flight.   

Recalled as a tough and spread out set of locks, Boatwif took a stroll down the towpath on Saturday afternoon. It’s about a mile from top to bottom – and it is in the pound between the top two locks that the canal shop is.    It’s good for garden ornaments, traditionally decorated tableware and ice-creams…

There are several pretty properties beside the locks – and one with a Welsh Dragon flag atop a flagpole!

Would locking down the flight the following day be arduous? Would it be a lonely experience? What good fortune it was then to share locks with nb Matilda whose two able-bodied crew members were more than willing to wind paddles and heave gates.

The Buckby locks are a  popular location for a spot of gongoozling, many of whom are keen to push a gate or two.

“You must have had a good breakfast this morning,” Boatwif said to one little mite.

“Yes,” came the swift response, “dippy egg.”

An upcoming boat had a novice crew. After their first  ever lock the women arrived panting and gasping at their second. “I need wine, I need wine!” said one. Did they  make the top of the flight safely…?

Buckby Bottom Lock was reached   – and there was the M1 in clear view, its southbound traffic totally stationary. To be boating much faster than traffic on the M1 was a totally satisfying experience! Don’t you recognise the names on the larger trucks!

It was a hot afternoon and some folk felt moved to expose the flesh to sunlight…

Brightly decorated boat.

Characters in the undergrowth

The approach to Weedon Bec is different, there’s a new road bridge, a prominent road sign and new houses under construction.

Onward through Weedon:  remember this place, where in 2015 a happy outcome was eventually achieved in the saga of a burnt out alternator.

The canal runs high above the village. Weedon Bec is a good place to pause: the mellow buildings, a stunning church and the fascinating Ordnance Depot .

A visitor was expected one afternoon so a recce was made to check on car parking facilities. There are 34 steps down to the road on the non-village side of the canal (but the car parking is strictly for the cemetery) whereas the parking for access to the church side is easier – but it does involve 47 steps up from the churchyard. The visitor in question, a young fit man in his early twenties, survived the haul up the steps, opened up his laptop and spent the next three hours conducting the biennial ELSA** interview. A quick tour through the boat afterwards and a look along the roof from the stern brought a huge grin to his face. “Of all the interviews I’ve done,” he said, “this has been the Best…!”

Onward the next day, to Gayton Junction. From here Cleddau would be descending to Northampton and to the River Nene (pronounced Nen, in these parts). First though the boat was booked into Gayton Marina for an engine service. The weather was chilly and blustery. “I’ll take you into where we’ll do the work,” said the shorts-and-T-shirted engineer. Across the large Gayton Marina Cleddau was driven to be nosed into a covered dock. The screening was drawn across at the open end of the dock and the engineer worked on in draught-free cosiness.

Time up, the screen was drawn aside and Cleddau was dispatched back into the wild outside world – backwards… Wavelets on the water, squally winds, the boat nearly broadside onto the workshop docks, but finally an escape to a towpath mooring opposite, tied up during a mid-afternoon deluge.

Such is boating…

Away from the noisy mooring early on Thursday morning, away from the roar of traffic on the A43 to descend the Northampton Arm. 

There’s a pretty ex lock keeper’s cottage at the top of the 17 Northampton lock flight. It’s in private hands now, guarded it would seem by not one, not two, but three border collies.

Though it was back to narrow locks these are not that easy to operate… the ground paddles are often very stiff and the step up onto the rear gate is awkward for shorter-legged folk…

By the third lock down the collies were being walked down the hill. Their master helpfully closed a towpath side gate and he perfectly understood what needed to be done to fill and empty each lock.

“If you’re walking down the locks perhaps you’d like a windlasses too…?” Boatwif ventured. Nothing asked, nothing gained – and so, by dint of lucky timing, Cleddau gained an extra pair of hands right down to Lock 13.

Down the boat went, passing the willow figures and going under the M1 motorway.

Would the Windlass Recruit accept a mark of gratitude? No, only a yellow tennis ball for one of his dogs…

 Lock 13 is beside the new Jaguar Land Rover site (“Cost £18 million quid,” explained the collie walker), after which he and the dogs headed off across the fields.

Set into the grass beside each lock is a mosaic, each one having a nature picture, a picture associated with the canal and a letter of the alphabet. Who can work out what the letters read? There’s a Mosaic Trail Challenge, details available here.

There were four more locks to Northampton, spread over about 2½ miles. It was slow going. By Lock 15 the iconic Northampton Lift Testing Tower had come into view.

The final pound between Locks 16 and 17 was very shallow, exactly as all three approaching boaters had warned…

Down through Lock 17, the final one – and onto the River Nene. Here was the Carlsberg Brewery and along the water front a very fine welcome from Northampton’s resident swans! 

Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit: 184 miles, 138 locks, 6 swing bridges, 4 tunnels and 1 cow

Height drop from the Macclesfield summit: 416 feet

Height rise since Trent Lock:  311¾ feet

Height drop from GU Leicester summit: 154¼  feet

 Queries about the Tudor rose: now 6

 2022 Monkton Moments*- 4

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections):

** ELSA Project – a long-running survey into the physical, emotional, social and financial effects of aging. The Cleddau crew have been interviewed at two yearly intervals over the last 20+ years.  https://natcen.ac.uk/taking-part/studies-in-field/elsa-50plus-health-and-life/about-elsa-50plus-health-and-life/

 

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