Britain’s best boat trips: the Grand Union Canal, South East

A short trip leaving from a historic and pretty canalside village that takes sightseers into the mouth of the Blisworth Tunnel.

David Merrett/Flickr


Stoke Bruerne is a great place to get an understanding of the canal life, as the village’s history revolves around the boats that have passed through for 200 years. It is also home to the Canal Museum, from which short public boat trips allow visitors to get a further idea of the boating life.

The pretty village of Stoke Bruerne is located in rural Northamptonshire on the main line of the Grand Union, which was originally constructed as the Grand Junction between 1793 and 1805. The canal was a huge success, reducing the distance between London and the Midlands by 60 miles and making small villages such as Stoke Bruerne important stopping points for boats. The village has two pubs – The Boat Inn and Navigation Inn – both of which were built in the early 1800s for the cargo boats that passed through. The village features numerous interesting aspects of canal life – there’s the Blisworth Tunnel, a flight of locks, stone bridges, a weighing machine, winding hole, two pubs and the excellent Canal Museum, run by the Canal & River Trust and located in an old corn mill.

Boat trips on the colourful Charlie leave from outside the museum and take visitors into the Blisworth Tunnel, the network’s third longest. This has always been a problematic tunnel – it was original built in 1793 with an accidental kink due to poor engineering, and then collapsed after three years, killing 14. It was not reopened until 1805. It again became unusable in the 1980s, but was refurbished using pioneering materials later used in the construction of the Channel Tunnel.

Take the trip

Stoke Bruerne Boat Company run the trips, which take place at weekends and every day during school holidays. These last only 20 minutes, but give visitors a great taste of the canal to complement the other sghts available in Stoke Bruerne, particularly the Canal Museum.