Walk 83: Braunston Circular: Canals & Floating breakfasts

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2.5 miles (4.02km)

Time to walk: Roughly 2 hours

Difficulty: A mixture of hard surface, tow paths & one field. The tow paths can be slightly muddy. It’s mainly flat so easy walking

Parking: On road near The Green in the centre of the village

Public toilets: A couple of pubs in Braunston & a cafe

Map of the route: @Discover Historic Braunston

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Braunston lies at the junction of the Grand Union Canal & the Oxford Canal on the border of Northamptonshire & Warwickshire. The village, on the hill above the canal, thrived for over 150 years on the canal trade, carrying goods from the Midlands to London. Now it’s a centre for leisure activities & boasts by far & away the busiest stretch of canal anywhere in the country

It’s referred to as Brandestone in the Domesday Book in 1086 & there are historical references to the village as far back as 956AD

It’s a real hive of activity as we’ll see so…

Lets Walk!

1. We’ve parked up in an area at the end of the High Street outside The Wheatsheaf pub known as The Green…

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It’s late February 2016 & beautiful weather so head down the High Street towards the village centre. Due to the warm weather the spring flowers are already making a show…

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2. The first property of note we come to on the right is No. 4. This house used to be a post & telegraph office. If you look closely you’ll see the faint name of ‘Pebody’ painted above the front door. Sarah Pebody worked here without a break from 1874 for 30 years. As was common on the High Street, the house has a well in the kitchen

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If it’s lunchtime & you fancy a bag of chips then the Braunston Flyer’s next door…

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3. Continue along the High Street…

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The street going off to the left with the butchers shop on the corner is Cross Lane, named after a wayside cross marking the nuns’ route from Banbury to a medieval convent in Nuneaton. The boatman’ cottages, once at the bottom of Cross Lane, were where a Cholera epidemic began in 1834. It arrived in the village via infected bedding on a boat inflicting 70 people of which 19 died

Cross Lane

Cross Lane

Note the raised pavement on the right side of the High Street. It’s thought that this was built so the nuns didn’t have to walk in the mud on the un-made road

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4. On the corner of Cross Lane’s an institution…The Braunston Butcher

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It might be a bit soon for a coffee stop, but maybe consider Your Cafe at the end of the walk (we might need it – see later!). It’s a coffee shop run by the community

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5. Carry on past Tudor House which is probably the earliest property on the High Street, dating back to the 15th century – it now incorporates a hairdressing salon…

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In the 19th & early 20th centuries the High Street was a hive of commerce with at least six pubs & a variety of shops including a butchers, a bakery, a fishmonger, an ironmonger, a soap boiler & a potato merchant. Some houses have kept the business names – such as ‘the Old Bakery’ (its former use made even more obvious by the ‘HOVIS’ sign!)

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The original bakery was family owned, together with a farm for grain & the windmill for grinding which we’ll see in a bit. As with all bakeries, the villagers used to bring their Sunday hotpots to cook in the oven once the baker had finished his bread. Look closely at the wall near the front door – scratched into it are the initials of old village residents. Several other properties have these too

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From the look of the door & window next door, was this property the old village gaol?

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6. Almost next door’s The Old Plough, an old coaching inn dating back 1672. It’s said to have once had pigs, hens & geese in the yard & a swearing parrot in the bar!

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The road’s now bending right which means the spire of the church starts to come into view…

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There’s another unusual property on the right, half the end of which is exposed beams

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7. We referred to the Old Windmill earlier which was owned by the bakery family & the top of this can now be seen over the cottage on the right…

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The Old Windmill dominates the western end of the village. It was built in the early 19th century, originally to a height of 80 feet with a castellated top. This was replaced by the present dome in the 20th century. A platform surrounded the mill at second storey height & was used for maintenance. It was whilst trimming the sails that a workman was hit by a sail, knocked into the churchyard & killed. Since that time, the mill has been used as a builder’s yard, a cafe & is now a private residence. To get a closer look walk round the corner through the churchyard

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8. Braunston has had three stone churches since Norman times serving the ever changing community. All three churches have been on the same site at one end of the ridge where initially a cluster of farmsteads & dwellings grew. The site was almost certainly an ancient burial ground

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The church is also known as the ‘Boatman’s Church’ as many boaters have been christened, married or buried here

9. At the junction in the churchyard’s the War Memorial…

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…where you need to turn right & follow the road to the kissing gate on the corner

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10. Enter the field & head straight down the meadow to the canal bridge passing through another gate halfway down. The view here is pretty spectacular on a day like this

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Cross the bridge & turn left down the bank & then right to head back towards the village. The typical brick canal bridge crosses the Oxford Canal which links the Coventry Canal with the Thames. Built as a ‘contour canal’ it winds its way through the countryside to Oxford

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11. The view across the water back up the village is special on a day like today

View

Pass under the road bridge…

Note the paper trying to block the sun!

Note the paper trying to block the sun!

…& continue towards the iron bridges

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Hello Puss!

Hello Puss!

We had a new friend…

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12. The two iron bridges mark the junction between the Grand Union & Oxford Canals. This spot is known as the Braunstone Turn…

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Walk under the bridge along the right path. The bridges were built around 1834. Walk along to the turnover bridge which has rounded brickwork to stop tow ropes wearing from rubbing. It enabled horses to cross the canal without being uncoupled from their boats. Cross over the bridge & walk back to the double iron bridges on the opposite side…

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You get a much better view from this side

You get a much better view from this side

13. Pass under the other iron bridge to carry on towards the Marina…

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On the other side of the canal’s one of the villages best known pubs with a waterside terrace & garden perfect for a summer’s afternoon – The Boat House

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The tow path goes under the main road again…

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…& then it’s a pleasant stretch in the sunshine…

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14. There’s some great views across to the church & village &, it was at this point, an old friend we saw earlier caught us up

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The next building of note we come to is The Stop House…

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The Toll House was built in 1796 & is now known as the Stop House. The “look-out” man collected tolls here when passing between the two canals according to what the boats were carrying. There was originally a single lock, which was widened to the standard double lock & later removed. It’s said that a rope with a bell was put across the canal so that any boat arriving would ring the bell & alert the lookout. The building is bowed at the front so the lookout could see both ways

15. Fancy a cuppa with a difference? Then why not try The Gonzoozler’s Rest – a cafe on a canal boat – it gets great write-ups on TripAdvisor & we’ll definitely be paying a visit next time

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16. There’s another iron bridge at the entrance to the Marina itself similar in structure to the two we passed earlier. This is where the original line of the Oxford Canal turned south & used to be the junction of the two canals

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There are plaques either side dedicated to two boating families, the Brays & the Whitlocks

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17. Pass under the iron bridge into the Marina area…

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Braunston Marina is nationally famed for its historic & picturesque boatyard, its annual historic narrowboat rally & its quality moorings. It’s also very well known amongst boaters for the comprehensive & wide-ranging services & facilities available not only to moorers, but also to boats passing by on their travels around the canal system

18. Continue along the edge heading straight up towards the exit…

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There’s several small businesses based within this busy area including a ‘dry’ repairers which we pass on the right IMG_6280

Walk up to the main road to exit the Marina – we’ll come back into it again in a minute

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19. Turn left & walk 50 yards along the main road until turning left down into the Marina area again…

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…keeping left down to the water & following the path to the right past the new apartments

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There’s lots of boats moored up along here including some for sale – the average price appeared to be £19,000 if you fancy one

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20. At the end of the path exit the Marina again & turn sharp left down the path to the bridge. Cross this & turn right before the stone bridge – don’t cross the canal

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 21. Cross the wooden bridge, also known as Ladder Bridge – be careful of your footing here…

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From the top of Ladder Bridge have a look across the canal to the field. You can see a large depression in the ground. This was a working quarry, where many of the bricks which line Braunston tunnel were made

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22. We’re now entering the area before the lock flight with a canal boat dry dock on the left…

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Look at the building with the tall chimney on the right. This was the pumping station which was originally built in 1805 & rebuilt in 1897. The Boulton & Watt engine was used to pump water back to the top of the lock flight

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This area was also one of the sites of the Boatman’s Strike in 1923. Fully loaded boats were tied together in numbers across the canals to prevent others moving through. It lasted for 14 weeks & brought much of the network to a standstill

23. Pass under the bridge to arrive at the first lock. Given the level of traffic that went along this stretch, the locks were double built to allow two boats to use at once

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Let’s push on up the flight passing the shop…

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24. Again this is a lovely stretch leading to the next bridge & lock…

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There’s a quaint Lock-keeper’s cottage next to this one

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25. Fancy some refreshment?  Shortly we’ll pass a popular canal-side pub that’s at the next bridge, which we can stop at now or in about 20 minutes on the way back…

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The “Admiral Nelson” which actually pre-dates the canal was originally a farm building. Cows were milked where the restaurant is today, & there was a greengrocers shop in the skittle room opening onto the lock side. Leslie Morton of Fellows, Morton & Clayton used it as an office in the twilight days of canal carrying. It’s said to be haunted by a figure in black, who walks through walls into the adjoining Nelson Cottage

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26. There’s one final lock to pass before we arrive at the bridge we need to cross to access the path that will return us back to the village…

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If you fancy continuing along the towpath to have a look at Braunston tunnel, it’s about another 10 minutes walk, & then retrace your steps to this point. We’ve covered the tunnel on a previous walk so didn’t today however here’s a snap we took

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Braunston Tunnel is 2,042 yards (1,867 m) in length & was built by Jessop & Barnes. The tunnel has no towpath & is 4.8m wide by 3.76m high. Opened in 1796, its construction was delayed by soil movement & it was probably the resulting movement that led to the tunnel having a slight ‘S’ bend. There is room for two boats to pass. The tunnel passes underground alongside another Grand Union Canal feature, Drayton Reservoir, from which the feeder enters the canal at the east end of the tunnel

27. Pass under the bridge & then double-back to cross over it…

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Now follow the lane back to the Admiral Nelson (possibly a 2 stop walk this walk then to try their range of ales!)…

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The pub was previously brewery tied, but for the first time is privately owned & has an excellent reputation for real ale & its food. In the summer (remember that?) they do barbecues by the water

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28. The track now becomes hard surface again as it starts to rise back towards the village…

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Don't know which are the most dangerous!

Don’t know which are the most dangerous!

As the lane bends right at the top of the hill look for a footpath sign across a cattle-grid to the left heading back down to the canal

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29. Thankfully the cattle on the right weren’t interested & we safely escaped across the bottom grid, turning then immediately right up the road to a kissing gate leading into a park…

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This area’s known as Braunston Jetty Field which is a pocket park. At the top of the field pass through a wooded area to another gate

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30. Continue up the alley to emerge back at The Green which is where we started our walk…

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So that’s the end of our look at the popular & historic village of Braunston. Reflecting back, this one could definitely be a ‘foodie’ walk. An early start, stopping for a late brunch at the floating cafe & then a lunchtime pint at the Admiral Nelson – or maybe one in each direction!

On a sunny day there’s no better place to be than beside the canals

Go Walk!