Northamptonshire is a county you pass through to get somewhere else, and this has been the case since the Romans came and built Watling Street found that the easiest route was to pass through Northamptonshire on the way to Chester. They came. They saw. They passed right through. Do not stop. Do not collect £200. And it has been the same ever since. You see it’s all to do with the geology, apparently. The canal and railway builders searching for the best route from London to the industrialised cities found the easiest way was through the Watford Gap. Daventry may have been a resting place where you changed horses but it was never a final destination. Even when the railways came they avoided Northampton altogether – the town’s station was at Roade, some 6 miles south of the town. Even now Northampton town is on a loop line, a diversion. The faster trains north and south, skirt the town altogether.
This month’s walk took us near to the place where canals, railway lines and motorways converge – The Watford Gap.
Our walk started in Welton, a village a couple of miles out of Daventry but which is being encroached upon by the nearby town – new housing estates are being built right up to the parish bounds. Driving off the main road into the village we climbed upwards past the parish church of St Martin and parked by the road side just past The White Horse – which was planned to be our final destination. Heading upwards and out of the village, ignoring a bridleway finger post on our right which, while that route would have taken us directly to the canal we would have missed out on the views across to Daventry and Borough Hill, so, following our guidebook, we continued along the road, turning left towards Watford.
We continued along the road until we came to a crossroads, crossing the main road our roadside walk continued until the road bore sharp right and we saw the signpost pointing our way across the side of a muddy field. Although this was a minor road it was still quite busy with local traffic.
Crossing a bridge over the Leicester branch of the Grand Union canal at Welton Hythe Marina, we walked along the towpath parallel to the A5, though the road itself was hidden from view, and I can’t say that we were aware of its presence. Toby had to be put back on his harness as he had decided he wanted to slide along the muddy embankment. We crossed back and forth over two more bridges to get on the main Grand Union Canal – the left turn would have taken us to the locks at Watford – we turned right towards the eerie mouth of Braunston tunnel. Counting the bridges as we walked under them for our guidebook said we should leave the canal at bridge 8, the third bridge, and return along the road to Welton village. When we came to the third bridge it was clearly marked No 6. Fearful that we would have to retrace our steps we rechecked the map and decided the book was wrong – either that or someone had renumbered the bridges since 2000 when the book was published. A quick recce revealed ahead of us was the eerie mouth of Braunston Tunnel and above the road we needed to get us safely home – or at least safely to The White Horse.
A quick inspection of the 13th century church of St Martin’s and once back in Daventry an even longer inspection of the menu at The Evergreen Café in Sheaf Street (dogs welcome).