Day 45 – Northampton Arm

The Northampton Arm of the Grand Union is an oddity. It’s narrow unlike the main line but apes some of the main line design details, particularly the locks. Most narrow locks have walkways, planks basically, on the downhill side of the double lock gates so when you open one you can stride across to open the other. On the main line GU the walkways are on top of the gates but on a wide lock no-one could step across anyway so it doesn’t matter. For some reason the people responsible for design on the Arm have chosen to copy GU practice, and make the locks a lot harder to operate.

To add to the trouble, when locking singlehanded it would help a lot if the ladder, the lock gate beam on the top end and the mooring bollards were all on the same side. On most locks they are. On the Arm they are distributed randomly. So, going down as I was today you can go into a lock and get off the boat on the side where the lock beam is, and find no bollards to tie to. So you climb over the other side to secure the boat, walk back to close the gate and realise that when you let the water out you’ll need to use the ladder to get back in the boat, but that’s on the opposite side to the mooring bollards.

For most of the first 12 locks that are all close together I bow-hauled through, it’s just easier than faffing about with inconvenient ladders, and as it was pouring with rain for the first six I was able to leave the cockpit roof closed. After lunch it stopped raining while I did down to lock 14, then started again.

Between lock 14 and 15 the canal is VERY weedy. From the boat you can’t even see the towpath it’s cut off by several metres of reeds, rushes, shrubs, even trees. The off-side is if anything worse. Where the reeds stop the water lilies begin. Pretty, but they have stems like rope. There’s a narrow channel of apparently clear water down the centre but look down and you realise that the weed growing on the bed of the canal is only a few cm from the surface. Close enough to wrap around the prop, and even when it doesn’t you can feel it dragging against the keel and rudder, slowing the boat and making steering tricky.

I know it’s not one of CRT’s more popular canals but it’s crying out for a bit more maintenance.

I eventually made it down to the Northampton Embankment on the Nene. It’s raining again and the forecast for tomorrow is more of the same. Joy.

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