The North & South Oxford Canal
The Oxford Canal starts by the River Thames in Oxford and runs for 77 miles, mainly through quiet rolling countryside, to near Coventry where it connects with the midlands canal system. At one time it was the main transport route from the midlands to the south of England and it is now one of the most beautiful and popular cruising canals.
From the world famous City of Oxford, founded nearly a thousand years ago and with its many University Colleges, the canal heads north through pleasant pastures, through the old canal village of Thrupp and passing close to the magnificent Blenheim palace, Winston Churchill's birthplace. The countryside becomes more isolated with rolling hills around the old village of Lower Heyford, neighbouring Upper Heyford had a large USAF base. Banbury is an interesting medieval market town with many fine old pubs.
Cropredy, a tiny village with only two pubs, hosts a huge outdoor folk music festival each August when Fairport Convention, and about 17,000 fans, have their annual reunion. The two pubs get busy then!
The Oxford Canal, built early on during the "canal mania" period, is a contour canal following the contours around hills, rather than having cuttings and embankments like later canals. The course is very winding in places and often looks much more like a river. Above Napton it twists and turns so much that the Napton Windmill, only a few miles distant, is visible for many hours, and in many different directions!
The northern section begins below Napton locks. Braunston is an old canal town well worth a look. The section up past Rugby was straightened in the nineteenth century, almost halving the length of the original winding route. You can still see the remains of some of the straightened out loops and the entrance to the old Newbold Tunnel is near the churchyard. The "new" tunnel is at right angles to the old one and is of fairly generous dimensions, having a towpath on both sides. Rugby Borough Council and BW have created a very effective 'Circle of Light' in the tunnel (linocut by Eric Gaskell top right). The Oxford Canal joins the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction.
The southern Oxford Canal, unlike its straightened northern section, has lots off twisting bends. The canal runs west then cuts right back on itself and heads east to avoid a slight ridge. The same transmission tower is visible in many different directions for quite a few cruising hours as the contour canal twists and turns!
Near Wormleighton, is the unusual "Ladder Bridge" (right), built to an ancient design and probably more trustworthy than it looks . The single wooden beam structure carries a private footpath and has developed a considerable sag over the years. Wooden bridges are fairly rare on the canals but were cheaper to construct than masonry or metal bridges.