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Boating on the Grand Union Canal

Grazing sheep on a canal boating trip on the Grand Union Canal

Last month, I was lucky enough to be one of the crew taking a slow journey along one of England’s historic canals, The Grand Union. Something I look forward to more and more each time I go.  Departing from the quaint village of North Kilworth with friends, we set our course southward towards Milton Keynes, fully stocked with drinks, snacks, and camera cards, and ready to drop back into the unhurried pace of life on the waterways.

Connection with History

The canals have a rich history, being crucial transport routes during the Industrial Revolution. Visiting these old waterways allows people to link up with the past and better understand how they helped shape today’s Britain. We made a fascinating stop at the village of Weedon, to visit the Ordnance Depot, which dates back to 1802 and was… “built as a secure place to store equipment, ammunition, and weapons for use by the British Army. The Depot fulfilled its function from the Napoleonic Wars through to the end of National Service and serviced every major conflict in-between.”

Some of the stories displayed in the tiny museum were comical… did you know that they used to separate army boots for shipment to stop the crew from stealing them? So all the left boots went on one ship and the right on another… well, that was until one of the boats sank rendering both shipments useless!

The Ordnanace Depot at Weedon on the Grand Union Canal

Birding on the cut

As a passionate birder and general biophile (a new word I’ve only just learnt, and still not sure if I like), you will not find a better way to reconnect with nature than by going on a canal boat holiday. The banks of the cut teem with life, from the graceful glide of swans to the cheerful chatter of sparrows foraging in the hedgerows. Some of the most memorable birds seen on the trip included Lapwings, Skylarks and of course, the enormous Red Kites riding the winds above us. 

We tried and tried but unfortunately failed to spot any kingfishers this time, however, each sighting of any wildlife feels like a precious gift, because so few get to see it. The canals tend to be out of sight of roads, or they flow underneath the main highways, so as a boater, you get a unique and very privileged view. You also get to creep into a town, pick up your supplies, and creep out again without the risk of a parking fine or speeding ticket!

Jackdaw looking out from a nesthole on a canal boating trip on the Grand Union Canal

But it isn’t just the birdlife that captivates me; it is the simple joy of slowing down to a leisurely 4mph pace, allowing time to truly appreciate the beauty around me. Life on the canal unfolds at a different rhythm, every bend reveals a new view, and each lock presents a chance to pause and reflect because they typically take a good ten minutes or more to fill or empty. One set of lock gates even had a pair of Grey Wagtails nesting in it. Brave and hardy little souls.

Mindful Reflection

As we chugged our way past sleepy villages and rolling countryside, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratitude for this opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life. In a world that often seems to move at breakneck speed, the canals offer a welcome respite, a chance to recalibrate and reconnect with what truly matters.

An English canal in springtime is truly a place of beauty, wonder, and renewal— It’s a time to slow down, take a deep breath, and appreciate the magic that surrounds us.

Entering the Watford locks, heading up on a canal boating trip on the Grand Union Canal

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