Britain’s best boat trips: Foxton Locks, East Midlands

Staircase locks, a ‘Rainbow Bridge’ and the remains of an elaborate Victorian invention: take a boat trip along the Leicester Line of the Grand Union

Words: Peter Watts


These Grade-II* listed locks consist of ten locks, grouped in two sequences of five staircase locks – the largest flight on the system. That makes them something of a national landmark, drawing regular visitors to see the locks in action as well as potter round the other canalside attractions, such as the Foxton Canal Museum. There’s also remains of the Foxton Inclined Plane – a lift designed to transport boats too large for the locks up the hill in what was essentially a steampowered tank on wheels – and the Bridge 61 pub. It’s from the latter that the Vagabond II trip boat departs. This 1972 steel boat has replaced the old wooden Vagabond, which was taken out of service after 40 years. The 30 minute trips, by Foxtons, take place between April and November and offer an enjoyable trip along a historic section of the Grand Union through quiet countryside.

The rural trip along the Leicester Line of the Grand Union takes visitors past Rainbow Bridge, still called that because the old humped shape resembled a rainbow, even though it was replaced in 1927. From there, it heads past the village of Gumley, under a wooden footbridge that connects Foxton to Gumley, and past Pat’s Spinney, a small section of woodland. Pat’s Bridge has some impressive rope grooves and then the boat heads through a patch of open countryside until it reaches the winding hole to turn round and return. Sightings of kingfishers and water voles have been recorded.

Following the return trip, it’s worth taking a walk up the locks to see other attractions such as the old boilerhouse that now houses the small Foxton Canal Museum, the pretty lock cottages at the top of the flight and, further on, a bronze sculpture of a canal pony called Dolly.

Take the trip

Foxtons are based at Foxton Locks, on the Leicester branch of the Grand Union near Market Harborough. As well as the public trip, the company also run private trips of up to two and a half hours that travel as far as Smeeton Aqueduct.