Monday, 4 February 2019

The Watford Gap

Today I paid a visit to Long Buckby Wharf. Thousands of people pass through this tiny hamlet every day but it is likely that few give a lot of thought to its significance.
Long Buckby Wharf is no more than a small cluster of buildings.
4 February, 2019

Beginning a little north of the village of Watford and covering a huge expanse to the north east and west of this settlement was once a vast lake. It was created during the Wolstonian glacial period, existed for some ten thousand years, and is today known as Lake Harrison. It had been formed when melt-waters from glaciers in the north midlands and from Wales were held back by a line of hills, including the Cotswolds. Eventually the waters broke through this natural barrier and formed great rivers such as the Cherwell and the Avon. This section of the Cherwell no longer exists but the Avon seems to have become permanent, largely flowing this original course. The sources of the Nene and the Leam are also nearby. One point where the pent-up waters of the lake broke through the hills is now the Watford Gap and has been strategically important since ancient times.

The Romans recognised the value of the gap and the Watling Street made use of it, linking London with the once-important Wroxeter (Viriconium). Centuries later it seems to have formed the south-west boundary of the Danelaw.

The Watling Street at this point is probably following the original
Roman route. 4 February, 2019
The gap also offered a route between London and the midlands for the Grand Union Canal (the Leicester section), although a flight of seven locks was required at Watford. The once-busy wharf at Long Buckby no longer functions as such and the canal at this point is very tranquil (if one ignores the thunder of the nearby M1).
February sees little canal leisure traffic and this stretch of the canal is
currently very peaceful. 4 February, 2019

Almost 100% of the traffic now using the canals consists of leisure craft although I was pleased to find one narrow boat laden with bags of coal and other types of fuel, although I'm bound to say that it all appeared to be destined for use by the leisure boats.

A narrow boat laden with bags of fuel. Long Buckby Wharf,
 4 February, 2019

Boats help recreate a bygone age with historical details such as 'City 4755'
Long Buckby Wharf, 4 February, 2019

The lock gates were hardly being used today and heavy rain overnight, combined with melting snow, had allowed a build-up of water, which was cascading over the lock gates.

Water was cascading over the lock gates at Long Buckby Wharf.
4 February, 2019

Then of course came the railways, spelling the eventual death of cargo-carrying canal traffic. The West Coast Main Line passes through Long Buckby Wharf, with the great majority of the traffic consisting of Pendolino stock operated by Virgin Trains.

A south-bound Virgin train passes through Long Buckby Wharf.
4 February, 2019
Post-war road traffic increased and the Watling Street could no longer cope so finally came the M1, using of course, the Watford Gap. It is hardly surprising that major haulage contractors such as Eddie Stobart decided to base a huge depot near to the point through which these major routes flowed.

Traffic on the M1 thunders through 24 hours a day. Long Buckby Wharf.
4 February, 2019

So, these four great routes - the Watling Street, the Grand Union Canal, The West Coast Main Line and the M1 all come together at Long Buckby Wharf and head for the Watford Gap. And all this as a consequence of an overflowing Pleistocene lake!


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