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Pastimes: Rambling - Tranquil early motorways.

Byline: Richard Shurey

What a problem the Birmingham Plateau was for the canal engineers. The industrial conurbation was high at 300 or so feet above sea level so to connect the waterways system to the rest of the country meant many locks and here and there long tunnels and several aqueducts. The Birmingham and Warwick Canal (which was to become part of the Grand Union Canal) was completed over 200 years ago - in 1753. Many stretches are marvels of engineering.

The so-called Grand Union Canal was in fact only formed in 1929 when many small waterway companies were joined together to create the 'motorway' of the day from the Thames to Birmingham. Up to then there was the payment of tolls to many companies and the costly administration that went with it.

Before the Canal Age the commerce of the realm was conveyed in lumbering horsedrawn wagons which proved completely inadequate to cope with the growth of trade of raw materials and finished goods that came with the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.

During the Canal Age more than 4,000 miles of waterways were built in 80 years by many great engineers like Brindley Telfort and Smeaton. They used ideas that had laid almost dormant since the Romans built their Fossdyke in the 2nd century to link Lincoln and the River Trent.

Back to the Grand Union - in the 137 miles between London and Birmingham there were over 70 locks so journeys were rather slow although the line was always busy in the days of commercial traffic.

In the 1930s the company received government grants to undertake vast improvement works. Many locks were widened or replaced and we can still often see the narrow lock that was replaced by a wider one that could take two craft side by side. After the Second World War the commercial traffic gradually declined.

Today many leisure craft use Britain's waterways (around 1600 miles are still navigable) but 21 locks on the Hatton flight which we visit on this walk it sounds like a working holiday for the hard pressed crews.

For the rambler the towing path is a gentle slope with the added interest of the many pleasure craft even in late summer. Canals too are a haven for wildlife and warblers flycatchers and wagtails love to nest in the weeds at the banks.

The walk starts at the car park off the A4177 near the signed Warwick Parkway railway station (Map 151/2666655). Here there are picnic table and benches for those late summer days.

Walk along the lane away from the canal. Go past the station car park and go under the bridge. We are now at Hampton Magna. A few decades ago this was a sizeable army depot but now the military buildings of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment have been replaced by houses.

(The lane right goes to St Michael's Church Budbrooke which was the garrison church for the departed army. When they left they presented the church with a weather vane There is work of the Normans in the church and a memorial to a Civil War Catholic Royalist Robert Dormer who lived at nearby Grove Park).

At a T-junction turn left to Hampton on the Hill. Within 300 yards take a vehicle drive on the right. This is the entrance to Grove Park. It was at Grove Park that there was a conflict in 1642 between Royalist and Parliamentarian forces before the Civil War officially started.

Bear left when the vehicle way divides and follow the vehicle way to the end by buildings. Go to the right along the drive and follow this to a lane. Turn right. We pass the entrance to Hatton Country Park where there are some delightful rural shops tearooms and many attractions for youngsters.

Go over a railway bridge to the canal bridge. Drop down to the canal towing path. Go under the road bridge and continue with the water on your left hand side we are now going along the long distance route of the grand union canal walk.

Within a mile there are waterway buildings and we cross over the bridge above the canal. (The road can be reached here where there is an inn). Now continue with the water on your right side. The canal passes through a delightful countryside for another mile and a half (with the occasional view of the lofty 174ft-high tower of St Mary's Church Warwick in the far distance) to the starting place.

Fact File

Map: 1:50,000 OS Landranger Series No. 151.

Approach: A4177 to Warwick.

Parking: Carp

Refreshments: Inn Hatton; Tearooms Hatton country Park.

CAPTION(S):

Some of the 21 locks of the Hatton flight
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 25, 2004
Words:785
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