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 its junction with the River Thames in 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 Winston Churchill’s birthplace, the magnificent Blenheim Palace at Woodstock. One of England’s largest country houses, built between 1705 and 1722 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the only English ‘palace’ which is not connected to royalty or the church.
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 small 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 early Oxford Canal was built as a contour canal, following the level ground around hills, rather than taking a straighter line through cuttings and over embankments like later canals.
The South Oxford Canal, unlike the straightened northern section, still has lots off twisting bends, often looking much more like a river. On the summit level above Claydon Locks it winds around hillsides and valleys. Near Fenny Compton 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 canal twists and turns! Approaching Napton locks the South Oxford 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 North Oxford Canal begins below Napton locks. Between Napton Junction and Braunston boats on the Grand Union Canal from London to Birmingham had to use 5 miles of the Oxford Canal and pay a huge toll for the privilege! The famous canal town of Braunston has many original canal buildings such as the Stop House where those tolls were collected, and holds an annual rally where you may see 80 plus ex working narrowboats in a bow to stern parade!
The section up past Rugby to the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction was straightened in the nineteenth century, almost halving the length of the original winding route. You can still see the remains of many of the straightened out loops. The entrance to the old Newbold Tunnel can be found 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 CRT have created a very effective ‘Circle of Light’ in the tunnel.
The Oxford Canal forms part of the Thames Ring, with the River Thames & Grand Union Canal. See our Thames Ring Cruising Guide.
The Warwickshire Ring includes the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Coventry Canal and sections of the Grand Union and Oxford Canals. See our Warwickshire Ring Guide.
The Leicester Ring includes the Coventry Canal and sections of the Grand Union, Trent & Mersey & Oxford Canals. See our Leicester Ring Cruising Guide.