A weekend cruise – return journey between Braunston and Royal Leamington Spa.

As an LNBP skipper, I have cruised the route and return journey between Braunston and Royal Leamington Spa many times, however only once during a weekend. That was a two boat trip (which helps as I will explain later) as a new skipper and I was accompanied by one of LNBP’s senior skippers, Brian Eaton.

When I speak to clients in advance of their trip, I ask “Do you want a quiet relaxing weekend?” or “Do you want plenty of work?” If you prefer a gentle weekend than maybe read no further!

How have I managed to include Tenerife and Lanzarote into the guide? Quite simply, this trip over a weekend tends not to be an all year option, as you need daylight and plenty of it, and the trip is around the ten-hour mark each way. You will need stamina, the route is about 15-16 miles each way with twenty-three locks both in clusters and spread out singularly with that annoying distance between when you can’t decide whether to walk in between locks or jump back onto the boat!  That said, it is a very rewarding and enjoyable trip.

Utilise most of the daylight. My weekend trip was over a weekend in mid-June therefore I was on maximum daylight, however in this instance we couldn’t move on Friday evening and this meant a 6.00am departure on Saturday morning.

The journey starts with a six-mile lock free run along via Napton junction and onto Calcutt locks. For many passengers, this is the first time they will ever have seen a lock, a lock briefing follows and you then descend the three Calcutt locks, a descent of 16’.

Back to cruising with a forty-five minute run to Stockton Top Lock, ten locks in all and a descent of 54’7”, eight in line then a short walk for the ninth and tenth. This is when teamwork is crucial. On each LNBP boat are four windlass’ (these are the right angle metal tools that wind the lock paddles up and down). Split your lock crews up into groups of three, two windlass’ per group and a spare person. One group can open the first lock whilst the second group sets the second lock. When the first lock is done, that crew moves onto the third lock and so on…With two boats together, the crews can be setting up to three locks in advance (please remember lock etiquette and don’t take the water of an oncoming boat).

Descending Stockton locks, the village of Stockton is on the left-hand side and having reached the bottom of the eight lock is The Blue Lias pub on the left and the village of Long Itchington to the right. Descend the ninth and tenth lock and then thirty minutes rest and time for a cuppa before you will reach Bascote locks, a staircase of two (a staircase lock is when you go from one chamber straight into the next – great care needs exercising to manage the water flow from chamber to chamber). Two locks more before the spacing out of locks with the next six locks over just under three miles, do you jump on and off the boat or walk?

After lock numbers 18 and 19, comes lock 20 and the road bridge under the road B4455 but maybe better known as Fosse Way, one of the old Roman roads. Immediately under the bridge and on the left-hand side (opposite side to the tow path is a water and rubbish point – worth considering).

Lock 21 is within sight followed by locks 22 and 23 within half a mile.

Lock 23 is Radford Bottom Lock and the last lock of your descent before reaching the pretty Regency town of Royal Leamington Spa and a time to spend a few moments of reflection and maybe planning.

From this lock, it another two and a half miles before the normal winding point, time wise perhaps another hour. However, ask yourself how long has it taken you to get here, is it worth winding the boat and resting short of Leamington. There are three winding points in the next hour, the first is within about five minutes of the lock. I personally have never used it but it is worth considering if you are short of time so perhaps consider turning here. The second winding hole is in industrial Leamington and has always looked scruffy when I have passed it. Your final opportunity is to use the winding point between bridges 43 and 44.

Having winded the boat, again it is decision time and what time of the day is it and does your group want time in Royal Leamington Spa. If you walk off the canal at Bridge 43, there is a fast food restaurant (It has a large yellow M!) within a few yards should you wish the need for a break. Between bridges 42 and 41, there is a Morrisons supermarket and Costa Coffee.

Having maybe had a walk off the boat in Leamington, if you have daylight, maybe consider starting your return journey on the Saturday night and maybe heading back to a point around Radford Bottom Lock; it will all go to making Sunday less rushed (not that you can rush anything on the canal!).

Whether you contemplate this trip as a self-steer skipper of with the assistance of an LNBP skipper, take time to think about your skipper’s welfare. Ten hours on the stern of a boat is a long time, even longer if it is raining or hot. Tea, coffee, water, biscuits, a little piece of cake, I’m sure the skipper won’t say no.

Whilst never have purchased anything, I have seen Calcutt Boats (by locks 2 and 3) plus at Kate Boats (Bridge 21 and lock 4) both have signs indicating they sell ice creams. Proof that as a skipper, my eyes are not always on the water ahead of me. Personally I have always visited The Boat Shop back at our own base at Braunston Bottom Lock for that Cornetto!

Finally, having made your way back and ascended Calcutt locks, you have around three lock free hours of cruising before arriving back at Braunston.

NOTE. For a landmark reference, if you use Google Maps and Leamington Spa Railway Station as the centre, the canal is across the road south of the station. The canal runs east to west across the screen.

Bridge 41 is Tachbrook Road, Bridge 43 is the A452 and Bridge 44 is Myton Road.