Canals

Water Mistake

Thornborough Medieval bridgeThornborough bridge from the downstream side. The bridge is not quite eleven feet wide and there are plenty of scrape marks on the parapets, from the days the bridge was on the main road. The bridge was bypassed in 1974.
This is where the Roman ford isn’t. The ford is quite a few yards downstream, on the right and way out of shot.

I confidently took the photo above, thinking this was the site of the Roman ford, right next to Thornborough’s 14th Century Medieval bridge.

The shallow slope on each bank looked like a ford, the brook is shallow and wide, I was on the correct side of the bridge; what could possibly go wrong? I made assumptions and didn’t check first, that’s what; the ford is actually a bit further downstream.

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Foot Locked

Canal swing bridge  Fenny StratfordThe swing bridge is built over the lock and you can see the track it swings round on here. This bridge was built in 1999, and judging by old photos, is quite similar to the one it replaced. The weight limit sign nearby can’t be the one for this bridge, which probably has about a two ton limit.

In May 1800 the Grand Junction canal opened between Brentford in London and Fenny Stratford. It was a success.

But the next stretch was built on more porous ground and would be trouble; it leaked. To aid repairs, in 1802 the canal company built a temporary lock at Fenny Stratford. That lock is still there; it's Fenny lock.

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The Unlocked Canal

Stoke Hammond lockThis is Stoke Hammond lock. As in five other places on the canal the lock was right up against the bridge, so the bridge had to be rebuilt with a second arch. This is the South side of the bridge, and the furthest arch now takes the farm track over route 6 of the National Cycle Network.

In the 1830s the Grand Junction Canal company found stiff competition from the new railways in England.

In response they reduced their tolls and soon there was a great increase in the number of boats on the canal. But every lock became a bottleneck, so they twinned the locks; building a second lock next to nearly every existing one.

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A Low Point for the Canal

_IMG2824The towpath hangs out over the edge of the aqueduct.

The Iron Trunk, the aqueduct that carries the Grand Union Canal 40 feet above the Great Ouse, is the third one to be built here.

The first one collapsed, the second one was temporary, and the one we have now is 210 years old. The canal company changed the course of the river and the shape of Buckinghamshire to build it.

Here’s the timeline.

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Iron and Water

Cosgrove aqueductThe Iron Trunk aqueduct.

Canals take a wriggly path, following the contours of the land as much as possible.

But sometimes that’s not practical, as the engineers of the Grand Junction Canal realised when they came to the Ouse Valley.

A one mile embankment carries the canal across the valley, with a cast iron aqueduct over the Great Ouse. The aqueduct is known locally as the Iron Trunk.

The Aqueduct is a great piece of engineering. It’s about half a mile from the road and the nearest parking spot, but well worth a visit. It’s a nice walk, too.

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It’s Grand on the Canal

Grand Junction mile post

The Monday Photo

This cast iron sign is on the towpath of the Grand Union canal, at Woughton on the Green, Milton Keynes. But what does G. J. C. Co. stand for?

This was the Grand Junction Canal until 1929, But when the railways took away much of the canal trade in goods transport, It was taken over and became part of the Grand Union canal, in a merger of several other canal companies.

This stretch was built at the end of the 18th Century. It ran from Braunston in Northants, down to the Thames at Brentford in West London.

Canals follow the hill contours, so you might think that canals take a very indirect route. But it’s not much further to Braunston from here than the same journey by road, at 36 miles instead of 32. As the crow flies, it’s under 28 to the junction at Braunston.

Boaters can get a good idea of how long a canal journey will take. To work it out they assume an average speed of three miles an hour, and add to that ten minutes for every lock.

At three miles an hour those 36 miles to Braunston will take you twelve hours. The 21 locks you’ll pass through on the way will take you 210 minutes, or three and a half hours.

Altogether you’ll be looking at a total of sixteen and a half hours; a two day journey if you don’t stop.

By the modern road you could easily get there in an hour, but it would have taken a lot longer by road when the canal was first built, especially in the winter.

I wonder how long it would take to do the trip now, by bicycle along the towpath.

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