Saturday, 6 October 2018

Oxford and the Oxford Canal

Wednesday 26th September

We spent the today exploring Oxford, most of our time here was taken up exploring the many colleges. We used to enjoy Morse, the TV series, and its was interesting to see so many of the locations used in the program.
The college buildings are fascinating some of which date back to the 12th century, most are built from the soft light brown limestone, typical of the area, lending a mellowness to the city, in the autumn sunshine.


We would have liked to explore further but we had Scruff with us, the academic world doesn't seem particularly dog friendly!
Whilst walking round the University college we met a lady who reeled off a list of famous politicians,  of all persuasions, who had read their subjects here over the years, we couldn't help wondering what on earth was being taught, churning out such a disparaged bunch.
Returning to the boat we prepared for our departure from Oxford and the river.

Thursday 27th September

Following another cool night (had to light the fire again) we rose to more beautiful blue skies, and were soon underway back upstream for the few hundred yards to the Sheepwash Channel, leading up to Isis lock and onto the Oxford canal.
Isis Lock and the start of the Oxford canal

There are extensive moorings above the lock and we were surprised to see that there was a lot of room available, we had read that the moorings here were very limited and full of a lot of boats that don't move very far. It transpires that a lot of the permanently moored boats have been moved a little way out of the town onto what are known as "Agenda 21" moorings, these appear to be governed by rules unique to this area, however it seems to have worked creating space for visitors to the city.
There are a large number of these boats and it requires patience passing by on tick over for what feels like endless miles, the journey offers little to see as the way is enclosed by trees and allotments finally breaking out into the light at the Dukes Cut junction, the second and longer link to the Thames.
Our route took us north, passing through the third lock of the morning at Dukes Cut, here the canal takes on a much more open feel to the west. Trees hide the houses of Kidlington to the east before the canal passes a business park followed by open countryside, leading to the charming village of Thrupp. The village offers generous moorings, well maintained and with full services for the boater.
Thrupp comprises of a terrace of canalside cottages facing over the lane and onto the moorings, the Boat Inn sits amongst the few properties here and is a lovely old pub, well worth a visit, a little way down stream is the Jolly Boatman, this seems more geared to the diner and has plenty of space for the hungry boater.
We took a walk over the fields arriving at Shipton on Cherwell, the next village up the canal from Thrupp. The old part of the village consists of an interesting old church and the old manor house, much of the rest appears to be more modern housing.
The manor house was owned by one Richard Branson back in the seventies, he opened a recording studio here and recorded Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, launching his huge Virgin empire.
The church is reputed to be the inspiration for Sandy Denny's song Bushes and Briars.
St Mary's at Shipton

Crossing over the canal we walked over to the deserted village of Hampton Gay, the village consisted of a farm, mill, large manor house and church. The mill has now gone, manor house was destroyed by a fire in 1887 but the ruins still stand creating and eerie atmosphere. The farm and church still exist, the latter still in occasional use.
Hampton Gay Manor

The area is also known for a terrible railway crash on Christmas Eve 1874, one of the worst recorded in the history of British Rail, with the loss of thirty or so lives, some of whom perished in the icy waters of the canal.
Making our way back down to Thrupp, along the towpath, we crossed over the mechanised lift bridge to arrive back at the boat.
Friday brought another sunny day so I decided to take advantage of the good weather to do a bit more painting on the roof, during the afternoon we decided to take another walk, this time returning back to Kidlington. We followed the towpath back to the sprawling village crossing over the canal on the busy A4260, we turned left just after the bridge heading up to the old village centre hidden from the main road by a large estate of modern houses.
The old village centre was pretty, with thatched cottages built from cotswold stone, the church sat across the village green creating an idyllic image.
We walked back to Thrupp, this time crossing fields and close to some woods, now taking on a very autimnal air. Two Roe deer stood by watching us as we crossed close by over a very stoney ploughed field.

Saturday 29th September
Following another cold night we awoke to a frost, this seems to becoming the pattern these days, the sun was already beginning to warm the air and we decided to get underway, our plan was to make our way up to Lower Heyford some six miles and five locks north. We made our way through the lift bridge, calling in at the services, before slowly passing the extensive moorings of the Thrupp Canal Cruising Club. We slid by the sleepy Shipton village finally arriving at the diamond shaped lock at Shipton Weir, this lock gives access to the river Churwell where river and canal are united for a while. Luckily for us the flow was almost imperceivable due to the lack of rain making for a quick transit through to the next lock and back onto the canal. The stretch above the lock is a long sweeping bend round to the east past a line of moored boats making for, in places, a very narrow channel. We saw a hired boat coming along towards us, I stopped keeping well over to the off side, the boat carried on at speed obviously in a panic and came straight for us, glancing us and pushing us aground, much to their amusement. I poled the boat back into the channel and we continued on our way only to see another one coming for us. This time I stopped well away from him as he struggled along the shallow channel.
It was with relief that we got clear of this stretch passing the Rock of Gibraltar pub before plunging into a heavily wooded section,  here we encountered a boat in front of  us swinging to an fro across the canal. On reaching the boat we discovered they were firmly aground on a rock, we tried pulling them free without success so we pulled over to the side behind them and I took the pole to try and see where they were stuck. Much rocking and pushing failed to free them before another boat arrived from behind. This boat drew along side the boat and tied his forward rope to the bow and the centre rope of the stricken craft  to the stern of his boat. Both boats went into full astern and as the stuck boat tilted it gradually lifted free of the rock. The two boats untied and set off ahead of us and we followed now third in the queue at each lock, luckily the boat in front of us helped us through the locks by preparing them for us.
The village green Lower Heyford 

We finally arrived at Lower Heyford tying up on the visitor moorings just before the bridge and wharf.
The moorings here are very close to the Oxford to Birmingham railway line, there is a station alongside the canal directly opposite the wharf providing a useful link for anyone requiring it.
We set off Sunday morning a bit later than usual as we had inquired about filling up with diesel at the wharf, they advised us to wait until they had shifted all the hire boats before calling in.
We filled up and were on our way heading for Aynho wharf a few hours up the canal, a mile or so up from Lower Heyford we reached Upper Heyford, this was the home of a large american air base until its closure in 1993, this was the one shown on TV with fighter aircraft taking off on bombing raids during the first gulf war. We could just make out the perimeter fence up on the hill to the east.
A little further along we arrived at the wide flat valley at Somerton, one of the nicest parts of the canal so far. Climbing out of this section requires passage through Somerton Deep lock, one of the deepest on the system at 12 foot.
Somerton Deep Lock

A mile or so from here we reached our destination at the busy Aynho Wharf, there is very little else here other than the Great Western pub by the bridge. The wharf has a useful shop for emergency provisions.
Monday 1st October
Another month arrives and the weather continues to be warm and dry during the day. We got under way after helping a boat we had met several times over the last few days, NB Bluebell needed to get into the boatyard for repairs requiring a difficult turn to get to the jetty, the skipper had gone off to work so his wife asked if I could move their boat as she wasn't confident enough to do it especially as she had a little one to care for. I agreed and fortunately managed to get them safely docked with only a slight bump.
The trip up to Banbury passes through some remote and beautiful countryside, the remoteness was interrupted on a couple of occasions with our having to pass under the M40 and its busy Monday traffic hurtling too and fro.
We reached the second diamond shaped lock at Aynho weir lock, just above this lock we made our final rendezvous with the river Churwell, the river crosses the canal just above the lock. The lock lifts the canal 1 foot to the river level and the diamond shape is to provide a larger quantity of water to offset some of the losses from the deep lock. 
Arriving in Banbury we moored below the lock and walked up to investigate the moorings above. There was plenty of room so we negotiated the lock just in time to see about pulling into the spot we had mentally allocated for ourselves, fortunately we managed to get in right behind it.
The stretch of moorings here are 2 days and are on each bank. The large Castle Quays shopping centre  sits right alongside the canal here, dwarfing the remains of the famous Tooley's boatyard. Tom Rolt described this area in his book Narrowboat and it was here that his boat was prepared for his cruise in 1939, recalled in the book.
Banbury Cross
We stayed for a couple of nights here, allowing time to catch up on a few jobs and explore the town.
The town is a typical English market town with its market place and good selection of shops, there is also a choice of Morrisons, Tesco and Waitrose surrounding the town centre.
We walked up to see the cross made famous in the nursery rhyme, apparently the present cross was built by the Victorians, to replace the original one destroyed by the Puritans in the 17th century.
The town is home to a large coffee producing factory and the smell of roasting coffee beans lingers all around.
I had a look around Tooley's, there is a small museum here as well as a forge and dry dock, all can be explored on one of their open days throughout the year.
Wednesday morning arrived and we left the town, this time heading for Cropredy, home to the Fairport Convention festival held in August each year, the village was really quite, we had a quick look round before heading out across the fields to see the area where one of the battles in the Civil War took place in June 1644, on this occasion, a Royalist victory.
Entering Cropredy
Thursday morning started quite cloudy but the sun soon through as we set off to tackle the seven locks taking us up to the summit.
An example of a typical Oxford lift bridge
The warm dry summer has brought about restrictions on the lock flights either side of the eleven mile summit pound, the locks are open for 6 hours a day starting at 10am. We found a number of boats coming down the flight so we waited as each boat came through the locks setting them in our favour.
The summit pound is notorious for being narrow and shallow in places, we found this to be the case through the section that used to be a tunnel.
This section of the canal contours around the hills up here making a journey of four miles, as the crow flies, into eleven as the route twist and turns around the hills. We had planned to moor at Fenny Compton but as we approached it became apparent that the two week moorings were filling up with winter moorings with most spots taken and a towpath littered with stacks of logs, coal and bikes clearly indicating that these boaters were not planning to move anytime soon.
We pressed on by now getting glimpses of the windmill at Napton where the locks down off the summit lead to.
A famous view on this canal.
Strange mooring?
This part of the canal reminded us of our favourite stretch above Gargrave, looking across the fields and seeing a bridge a few hundred feet away only to find ourselves passing beneath it a few minutes later, we eventually arrived at a lovely peaceful spot and decided to tie up and spent the night there.
That evening was windless with a cloudless sky and the setting sun provided a spectacular light show of colours against a backdrop of fields and woods on the hillside opposite.
Napton Top Lock
Friday morning was again cloudy as we set off along the couple of miles to the nine locks of the Napton flight. We arrived fifteen minutes after they had opened and a boat was already on the way down in front of us, requiring us to have to fill each chamber before we could enter.
A few locks down we met the boats coming up thus making life much easier and it wasn't long before we were down.
Buffalo herd near Napton
Halfway down the flight I got off the boat to open the paddles to start emptying the chamber, the paddle gear was awkward as the windlass handle was very close to the rail on the lock gate. The paddle was very heavy but I managed to get to get it open, to hold it open there was a collar to put over the winding spindle, unfortunately as I tried to position the collar the paddle dropped, spinning the windlas at great speed ad hitting my hand and arm, fortunately I managed to avoid trapping it against the rail. Luckily not too much damage, for a while I wondered if I had fractured something as my hand stiffened, as I write this the swelling has gone down so thankfully all seems ok.
Arriving at the bottom of the Napton flight we called at the services before tying up on the 48 hour moorings, close to the Folly pub. This place has been recommended to by Tore and Kirsten so we called in to sample their excellent fayre. We were not disappointed, great food and a good pint too!
Inside the Folly
Leaving the pub we went off to explore the Napton, the village lies to the south of a large hill round which the canal skirts. There is a mixture of buildings here, some very old thatch cottages as well as some more modern properties, we climbed through the streets at footpaths to reach St Lawrence  church sat on  top of the hill. The church is built from local brick and stone, reputably it was supposed to be built lower down, in the village but legend states that, before building began, the stones were moved up the hill, overnight by the devil! so the new location became fixed.
The church of St Lawrence
Part of the seven counties view
Crossing along the top of the hill we reached the site of a WWII lookout post, the views from here are incredible, supposedly you can see seven counties from here.
We crossed the ridge to the fully restored windmill, now a private residence, before dropping down the steep footpath back to the canal.
Napton windmill
We intend to stay put here on Saturday as the forecast is for heavy rain. Sunday we will continue along past the junction and marina at Wigrams turn, it was here we called to fill with fuel back in July before descending down to Leamington Spa, our route will take us back to Braunston where we will turn left heading up the North Oxford canal to Hawkesbury.

The windmill from the canal

Typical Oxford canal bridge

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