Birmingham to London
in 4½ Minutes

by Hilary Rhodes



Song Menu




We’re going down to London from up Foxton Staircase Flight
And its paddles Red before the White, you’ve got to get it right
Another flight at Watford and we’re starting our descent
That lockie makes us hurry up for speed is his intent

It’s there at Norton Junction that we leave the Leicester Line
For when you’ve locked down Buckby, you’ll know you’re doing fine
And then you’re now at Whilton, the railway comes in sight
To keep you noisy company after the Buckby Flight

Through city and through countryside, from Leicester or from Brum
We’re travelling the only way on the Grand Union

From Weedon then past Bugbrooke is a lock free gentle ride
Straight on through Gayton Junction, it’s Northampton to the side
And once you’re through old Blisworth better put your headlight on
Then for five and thirty minutes you’ll be travelling underground

Through Blisworth’s mighty tunnel, one of the longest in the land
Of ghosts galore, of leggers yore and boaters’ contraband
And coming into daylight the sky seems awful bright
And into famous Stoke Bruerne where the boats and pubs unite

Then down the heavy Stoke locks and to Cosgrove as we steer
We look right down from such a height it makes us all feel queer
Upon the Iron Trunk Aqueduct that’s eighteen metres high
O’er the River Great Ouse where the bright kingfishers fly

And into Wolverton we go, past rail yards and old sites
We see some slick new yuppie flats and a history of bikes
Now Milton Keynes is not as bad as many people say
There’s flowers, trees and open fields to speed you on your way

Then Bletchley marks the outskirts of the town of Milton Keynes
Where geeks and cypher punks of old can tell their secret dreams
And Fenny Compton’s little lock is there to stop a night
To find out why those engineers can’t get those levels right

The next lock’s at Stoke Hammond and then it’s up the Soulbury Three
Then Linslade, Leighton Buzzard, then we have a cup of tea
It’s Grove, Church, Slapton, Horton locks will make your backs all sore
And then two locks at Seabrook rising 20 feet and more

And there’s Seabrook swing bridge it’s an obstacle of sorts
Past the rail and road bridge when we see the Pitstone ports
It’s then we come by Maffas locks as boatmen called them, nine
Passing Aylesbury Junction Arm where boats got stuck in line

We’re now on the Tring Summit on the way to Bulbourne shops
Leaving Wendover Junction for the place they once made locks
It’s three short miles to Cowroast lock and we start locking down
Its another ten to Berko Port and hard when on your own

The next stop is at Hemel after another thirteen locks
Where paper mills are now all gone there’s naught but flats and shops
Now leaving Watford town we say “Hello M25”;
We wave at all the cars parked there whilst underneath we dive

A few more locks are still to go ‘til we’re at Grove Bridge Mill
With four sharp bends we have to take without any a spill
And then it’s down to Cassio along the leafy glade
Through Croxley Green and Common Moor beside the River Gade

With water all around us we get to Batchworth Lake
To Ricky’s little village for another tea and cake
We travel past the houseboats and boats like houses too
And then its past the Sewage farm that smells just like a loo

Near Uxbridge and at last the town comes into view
Where Denham lock’s the deepest lock at near eleven two
At Cowley Peachey go straight on, don’t take the right for Slough
For as Betjeman once said, “it isn’t fit for humans now”

If you’re going down to Brentford to the Thames when tide is high
It’s straight at Bulls Bridge Junction and then down Hanwell you’ll fly
Its left at Bulls Bridge Junction if to London town you go
Leaving Heathrow all behind you and past the Old Jam ‘Ole

The boats at Little Venice are a lovely sight to see
There’s no more locks to set until the Camden Three
Past Islington and Vicky Park, past Mile End or the Lea,
We end up in the Limehouse Dock and Thames down to the sea!

Through city and through countryside, from Leicester or from Brum
We’re travelling the only way on the Grand Union

Dr Hilary Rhodes, who lives in Australia but who has continuously cruised the UK waterways for six months in each of the last two years, was kind enough to supply supply the above song. It was inspired by Buzz Collins' 'London to Birmingham in 4½ Minutes' though Hilary on NB Willow did the journey rather differently. She says : I wanted to sing London to Brum, but wanted to tailor it to our experiences this year. We went to down to London and then the Thames from Foxton Locks, and had been to Leicester before that. So we went down the opposite way, starting from Foxton Locks which is so widely known. Here is my version of going the other way. It would not have worked reversing the verses, and of course, left becomes right etc.
I hope you can use it, and publish it alongside the original. I have a few of the original lines left in, but it is a 95% rewrite, as it would not have made sense otherwise. I added the London Ring in, changed the chorus end to 'from Leicester or from Brum' and left out the journey to Brum