Category Archives: Middle Levels

207 Years To The Day. 1st May

Evans Bridge 42 to Westbridge Pipe Bridge

In need of the services at Gayton Junction we prepared, emptying the wee tank whilst the outlet was on the towpath side. Then we pootled our way to the junction.

What a difference from yesterday! I got sunburnt yesterday, today we could just about see our breath! Layers and long sleeves were certainly needed.

Gayton Junction, which way?

At the junction there was already a boat on the services, but fortunately they had just finished. We pulled in alongside and let two other boats pass before we could swap places and tie up. There was a hive of activity around the service block, the local IWA branch were busy weeding and giving the place a general tidy up. We filled and emptied as required then were ready to push off.

IWA all hard at work

We’ve pulled up at the services here before, but only once been along the Northampton Branch. That was just over eight years ago when we’d just bought NB Lillyanne, she’d been moored on the River Nene and her licence had just run out, so we spent a couple of long days getting her off the river and onto C&RT waters. Quite a rush, not enough time to take much in or write a blog.

Last year was all about seeing family and friends, this year we want to explore again. Today we’d be heading down the Northampton Arm towards the River Nene, Middle Levels, Great Ouse, River Cam etc where we plan on spending the summer. We have our Gold Licence, have joined Friends of the River Nene and The Great Ouse Boating Association. There are different licences to buy, keys and windlasses (that are also called keys), all very exciting!

Fancy swing bridge

But first we needed to stop for an early lunch, there’s nowhere really to stop in the flight of locks down into Northampton so we pulled up opposite Gayton Marina. This is where all the hire boats were aiming for this morning and also where we came to view the first second hand boat we looked at inn 2014, it had too much leatherette for our tastes and really bad storage for a liveaboard boat.

From eight years ago I’ve had this thing that Gayton Marina had to be on the main line of the Grand Union near the junction, every time we’ve passed since I’ve wondered where it had gone! Now I know it wasn’t just a mirage.

NB Caress of Steel came past just as we pulled in, another Finesse boat with space for a motorbike in the tug deck. Then we watched the swing bridge at the entrance swing, all automated, a barrier and flashing light. There was no-one to be seen operating it, do moorers have a fob that they can press to open it? Or is someone watching on CCTV?

Top Lock

Time to set off, with sixteen locks ahead of us before we could stop we needed to get on with it.

We remembered narrow locks, going under the M1. I remembered trying to ride a Brompton up the gravelly track between locks, our lock operation has changed since then going up hill. Today I’d be walking much of the flight three times to set ahead and then let Mick and Oleanna out of the lock above.

What would be different to the locks? There’s always something different on each canal. The beams were wide, easy to cross. Here the handrails on the bottom gates were on the downhill side of them. Would I still be able to push the gates apart to save a walk around the lock? Have they always been like this or is it to put people off stepping across from one gate to the other?

Beep beep!

At the second lock I stood and worked out if I could push the gates from the centre safely holding onto the railing. This actually would be a touch easier to start off with, but to guarantee getting the gate into the recess I would need to change the angle to which I pushed. After a few locks I decided that the angle I was pushing at was not being kind to my knees, so I chose to walk round instead. Thankfully Mick closed the other gate for me with the boat hook, saving a second trip round.

The thick of the flight runs through twelve locks seemingly in countryside, the last one however sitting underneath the M1 near junction 15A. All quite pretty, I suspect the views would have been better if the sun had been out.

A family walked up the flight, crossing over the gates of each lock. They were obviously keen to lend a hand with a gate or two.

Red roof

In the pound below lock 6 I could see a red arc. This turned out to be the roof of a cruiser, the chap on board appeared when we had a couple of locks still to go to reach him. Obviously a single hander, I headed down to lend a hand with gates as he bow hauled his boat into the lock. He said that he’d stopped in the pound overnight and some nair do wells had opened all the paddles and drained the pound, he’d woken up with his boat on the silt.

The bywash was flowing and had got him afloat again, the level still quite low. It took time for Oleanna and the cruiser to pass. We’d left the next two locks ready for him, I suspect he made use of the open gates and then settled back down for another night, waiting for the next down hill boat to leave gates for him.

It won’t go down!

The level below Lock 6 was low. Oleanna ground to a halt exiting. I lifted one of the top paddles to see if I could flush her out. This worked quite quickly, but then the paddle wouldn’t close fully. I managed to force it down a touch, but had to call for Mick to see if he could get it further. Thankfully this worked.

The canal was built by the Grand Junction Canal, with a height difference of 32m between the Grand Junction at Gayton down to Northampton. 17 narrow locks were built to connect the River Nene to the canal network. The first boats arrived at Far Cotton in Northampton on the 1st May 1815, 207 years ago today! However today we wouldn’t be greeted by crowds cheering, it would just be geese crapping everywhere!

Farms were cut in half by the canal, so seven lift bridges were put across so that sheep, cattle and machinery could cross. Today only one such bridge is still fully in tact, just below lock 5, two more sit beside the canal.

Under the M1 are murals painted by local school children. One side depicts the canal through the seasons, the other is a time line of Northampton which is very interesting, bright and jolly. For 100 years the canal was very busy transporting coal, grain and timber, by WW2 road competition took over and trade declined.

A heron flew away from the lock

In 1968 a group of local enthusiasts formed the IWA Northampton Branch, in 1971 the IWA National Rally was held when 650 boats gathered. The branch fought to keep the arm open, objecting to road plans that would affect the route. Today they look after the upkeep of the flight. Mosaics sit near the top gates of each lock and as seen at the top of the arm today work parties keep the thick of the flight trimmed and tidy.

The pounds very full lower down

Once under the M1 the last few locks are set further apart. New housing sits alongside and the amount of reeds increases, this is also something we remembered from eight years ago. Gradually the canal becomes more urban.

Reeds reeds and more reeds

Local boats sat making use of the few rings above Lock 17, but there was space for us infront. We used the last ring and the girders holding the pipe bridge up to moor and moved the geese along taking care not to stand in their pooh.

Last night we had unwrapped the pork joint, dried it off and left it in the fridge to dry out. Before starting the flight I had left it out to come up to room temperature. Once down Lock 15 I turned the oven on, gave the joint a dry off and added some more salt to the leathery rind. Down Lock 16 in it went. By the time we were moored up it had done it’s 30 minutes at gas 7 and could be turned down. The effort paid off as we enjoyed the best pork crackling I’ve ever made along with a quarter of the meat. A good celebration to mark the anniversary of the arm and the start of our exploring this year.


16 locks, 6.5 miles, 1 left, 1 full water tank, 1 grey day, 1 left of 7, 34 mosaics, 1 slow boat to Gayton, 1 Tilly not too impressed, 2 hrs 42 minutes, 1 joint of pork that will last us four meals, 18 train tickets booked (making use of the Sale before it ends), 2 tired boaters.