20130113_Braunston Winter Canal Side Photographic Walk
When : 13th January 2013
Who : Just me
Where : Braunston, Northamptonshire, between Rugby and Daventry
Start Point and End Point : Lay-by on the A45 London Road SP533,663
Distance : Approx 4 miles (6.5 km)
Significant heights : None – Gentle rise up side of flight of locks – otherwise mostly dead flat on good tow paths.
Maps : 1:25,000 OS Explorer Map No. 222 Rugby & Daventry
Summary : A walk specifically for me to take some wintertime photo’s down on the canals in Braunston …. Grand Union Canal and Oxford Canal …. but it’d be a perfectly nice walk to do without a camera, not to mention a couple of pubs by the canal side and at least one more up in the village.
Click on a pic’ and it should launch as a larger image on my flickr photostream.
Well, the morning had been quite fine (for a change), and the afternoon was forecast to OK too. So, I decided that it’d be a good opportunity to go play with my camera and I decided the canals at Braunston would be an excellent place to head for. My beginners photo’ course tutor from last year at Rugby’s Percival Guildhouse [ David Harding ] often goes there and posts some images on his flickr account, so, as I both know and like Braunston anyway I figured it’d be worth a couple of hours “me-time” down by the cut.
I grabbed tripod and fitted a polarizing filter to the front of my Pentax K200D camera, wrapped up warm (it wasn’t raining but it was very cold) and headed off through Dunchurch and down the A45, passing signs for Grandborough, Onley (Prison), Barby and Willoughby en-route to Braunston. Not quite a mile past Willoughby there was a space in a lay-by just before reaching Braunston – This is just before the road passes over the canal and is often used by people parking their cars in a line here, I assume mostly by fishermen; I decided it would suit my purposes just fine. If this hadn’t been available, there’s road side parking in the village itself (take a sharp left turn just past The Boat House pub/restaurant) or there is a large car-park at The Boat House itself, which I know people use whilst going off for a walk, but I don’t like doing this unless I intend to use the pub as a patron, it just doesn’t seem right otherwise.
Anyway, enough of the pre-amble; I set off by the side of the road, towards Braunston, soon crossing the main road where a path drops down to the tow path. Before going down here however, I noticed a finger post corresponding with a footpath I’d never walked on before; so I dropped down the bank to a stile and crossed into the grassy field. Well, I say grassy field, it was really an extensively flooded field, and more than that, it was a frozen extensively flooded field.
The low sun, wispy clouds and a tiny arc of an ice halo (looks like a mini-rainbow) were quite beautiful and the atmospheric effect gave me my first photo opportunity of the day. The footpath, well that still remains to be walked in the future, apart from it heading off in the wrong direction, it also headed off straight through the middle of the flood and I really didn’t fancy skating out into the mini-lake! …. so, I returned to the road and dropped down the afore-mentioned path down to the canal tow path where I turned right.
Immediately, I liked the quality of light on the water and there were some super reflections, but I soon realised that the low sun and deep shadows would be a bit of a challenge for me, so I spent a few minutes playing with camera settings, determining in my mind to avoid using the auto settings on the dial as much as possible.
A little further on, as the canal takes a sweeping left bend, there are a couple of attractive arched black and white iron-work bridges; the perfect twins forming a double span over a Tee-junction of canals. I could have just crossed straight over them but instead chose to take the right hand branch, going under the arch of the first bridge, before heading off to the south west on the well surfaced tow path. After a very short stretch I used a brick built bridge to cross to the other bank and then back down to the iron bridges and the canal tee-junction once again. Again turning right, I continued along the tow path; on the opposite bank here is a small area of light industrial units closely followed by The Boat House pub mentioned earlier. Soon after, I passed under the A45 as it crosses overhead via a utilitarian, but not very attractive modern bridge. The dominant view here is across the canal to the opposite bank with fields and hedges rising up to the church spire and some impressive looking houses. The major point of interest soon changes to the near bank however, as another arching iron bridge is reached spanning a side-arm of the canal heading into a large marina full of narrow boats and barges. The multitude of craft make a very colourful sight, all bar none painted in bright primary colours – Canal folk just don’t do pastels in their boat liveries, I don’t think there was a shabby looking boat in sight! Most of the boats moored on the canal side were equally pristine, and one in particular caught my eye with ropes sat on the rooftop coiled into perfect circles – most tend to just throw the ropes on top in a heap.
It felt very cold down by the waterside, and there weren’t many boats moving around on the cut …. I was lucky enough to be in about the right place to take some pic’s as a bright yellow and green vessel came under one of the several brick bridges that straddle the canal. I like these old brick bridges, they’ve been around for so long, they’ve sort of weathered their way into the landscape, taking on a natural patina of lichens and with mosses hanging on in the hollows and cracks. The surface of the brickwork has certainly seen better times, but I like the unkempt look.
Just like the quietness of traffic on the canal, there were also considerably fewer people walking the canal tow path than I’ve seen before (in summer it can be rather crowded on the towpath), but there were are few hardy souls (just like me) who’d ventured out into the chilly afternoon. Half way alongside the marina is an old narrow footbridge that has to be negotiated (over another access from the canal into the mooring area). This bridge is accessed and exited via some rather steep steps; not too much of a problem for walkers, but decidedly awkward for people pushing prams and equally awkward for cyclists which I witnessed first-hand as I waited patiently for a family to cross in the opposite direction. Still, it gave the opportunity to try to take some interesting pic’s of some more run down looking boats that were moored nearby. Once over the walkway, the way ahead was dead easy, and the boats moored (a holiday hire company predominantly) became much better maintained again, however there were lived-in boats hereabouts also, evidenced by the smoke emanating from the small rooftop chimneys; the smoke instead of rising skywards seemed to be suppressed by the cold and hung around like a mini-fog around the boats. There was hardly a breath of a breeze, and this facilitated some super mirror like reflections, although finding a setting that worked well was a tad tricky in the falling afternoon light; in places it was becoming quite gloomy as the weak sun dropped towards the horizon. Still the sun did introduce a pinky-orangey glow to the sky, and warmed up the tones of the brickwork of the bridges, locks and canal side buildings.
Continuing on, I’d now passed the small complex of old pump house, bottom lock, bottom lock cottage (shop) and boat-works and then past a number of locks including one adjacent to The Admiral Nelson pub; a super place for an evening drink in warmer conditions. I was tempted to head on inside for a warming drink before turning back down the cut to the car, but instead chose to continue up the flight of locks, past the top lock and thence on into a cutting to reach and stop at the entrance to Braunston Tunnel. I’d never been this far up the tow path before, and even with a tripod I found it difficult to set my camera up to cope with the now quite dark conditions down in the cutting. The tow path ends at the tunnel entrance, which is set into the hillside like a black mouth waiting to swallow up any boat heading eastwards or regurgitate anyone who’d travelled from the Daventry/Welton end of the over 200 year old construction.
There is a plaque that commemorates the Bicentenary of the opening of the tunnel (1873 m / 1.9 km / 6145 feet / 1.16 miles long) and the 9 mile stretch of what was then called The Grand Junction Canal between Braunston and Weedon on the 21st June 1796. I find it quite incredible how something approaching 217 years old is still being used – It’s a superb feat of longevity – I wonder how many modern pieces of civil engineering being built today will not only survive but continue to prosper in the year 2213 and beyond ?
The only way to continue would have been up the side of the cutting bank on a large path. On my map this leads to a track running above the tunnel; I assume, as there is no tow path through the tunnel, this would have been for the unhitched horses that used to pull the barges (before motorisation) and leading them to the other end whilst the boats were “legged” the long distance through the tunnel. Legging is where two people lie flat on their backs on a plank laid cross the boat and then “walking” the boat along by placing their feet on the tunnel’s ceiling/sides … Can you imagine how hard this would be, even with an empty boat, but when fully laden it must have been an incredibly hard task and claustrophobic at the same time. I’ve read that eventually after an unsuccessful attempt at a powered rope haulage system, a steam tug was introduced with costs varying depending on the weight of the load. The tunnel is so long that there are air shafts dropped down to it from the surface, with chimney shaped constructions above ground. I’ve also read that the Georgian engineers building the tunnel got it just a little wrong, where their tunneling from each end didn’t quite meet up perfectly, resulting in an S-bend in the middle.
Anyway, that’s by the by, I didn’t walk up the side path, instead turning around to retrace my steps all the way back to the car. Although the same distance, this took considerably less time as the light was fading quite quickly now making my camera almost redundant, although I did get a few images where I spent a bit of time setting up and “playing” with settings.
Eventually I reached and passed The Boat House pub, crossed the twin iron bridges at the junction of the Grand Union and Oxford Canals and reached a modern concrete and steel bridge where the A45 passes overhead and near to where I’d parked my car.
I kind of liked the way the soft reflected light bounced off the steels, but it wasn’t easy for me to get a usable image in the last of the days light. I thought that was probably that, for my photo-taking, but upon reaching the road side, I decided to try and capture a last shot or two of the fading sunlight playing on the still frozen flooded field and then to try and get some “light-trail” pictures of the passing cars by using long “bulb” exposures. Looking at the exif data on my images between 1 and 2 seconds at F/5.6 seemed to work best.
Well, that’s about it for this walks diary write up. By the time I got home, it really did feel that night had arrived and I settled down for the evening with my family in front of the TV.
I’ve attached a selection of photo’s from the day above, but there are more to be seen on my flickr account if you want to go see, just use this link.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings …. If you’d like to comment on my diary or any of my pic’s please feel welcome. I’d love to hear from you.