Duration: 7 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 50
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 8.5 HOURS (54 TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: N3, N1, P6, P7, L14, L17 | Click here buy maps
After a sporty encounter, this is a journey of trade and heritage, accompanied by the rhythms of poetry, music and nursery rhymes. Meandering along one of engineer James Brindley’s renowned contour-hugging canals, the peaceful countryside calls out with symbolic windmills, quirky huts and buildings which hold wartime memories.
Turn southwards out of Springwood Haven Marina to cruise along the Coventry Canal. The canal flows through open countryside, passing a series of nature reserves and landscape formed from the spoil heaps of former quarries, the most dramatic of which is known as Mount Judd. Nuneaton’s main claim to fame is as birthplace of the writer George Eliot, and the canal winds past pretty gardens round the edge of the town. Marston Junction is where the Ashby Canal heads off to the east, then the canal carries you past the suburbs of Bedworth, before arriving at Hawkesbury Junction, a busy place filled with boats and a photogenic former engine house.
The Oxford Canal heads southeast through the lock, from Hawkesbury Junction to Brinklow, a short walk south of Stretton Stop with a 13th-century church and the remains of a medieval castle built to defend the Fosse Way which crosses the canal here. The short Newbold Tunnel (250yds/229m long) leads into Rugby, world famous for its connection with a certain sport and the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum tells the story of how one schoolboy changed the course of sporting history. A ‘Pathway of Fame’ around the town celebrates famous rugby players and you can even visit the very ground within Rugby School where the game was born.
Once you have finished exploring, head south along the main Oxford Canal as it skirts round the town before reaching the hubbub around Hillmorton Locks. The distinctive locks are in pairs, originally doubled up to allow more traffic through this busy stretch of canal, and the gates of locks 4 and 5 have special canal poetry carved into them as part of the celebrations when British Waterways became the Canal & River Trust in 2012.
A few miles south of Hillmorton, the canal reaches Braunston Turn, the sleepy junction between the Oxford and Grand Union Canals, once one of the busiest commercial trading points linking with London. Canal engineer James Brindley built the Oxford Canal in his typical winding fashion, flowing around contours rather than bulldozing a straight course. When the much straighter Grand Union Canal was built, it stole much of the Oxford Canal’s commercial traffic - but the Oxford Canal fought back by charging extortionate tolls to use its water in the London to Birmingham link between Napton and Braunston. Today its importance has not diminished as it has become a much-loved hotspot for canal leisure seekers and the marina hosts the annual Braunston Historic Boat Rally. There is much to explore in this idyllic canal village, a settlement steeped in history dating back to the Doomsday Book, with Horseley iron bridges and historic canalside workshops.
Once you have finished exploring, turn right under the junction’s double-arched Horseley bridge and follow the now Grand Union Canal as it meanders westwards through quiet open country towards Napton Junction. The Grand Union Canal heads north from Napton Junction towards Birmingham while you continue southwards along the Oxford Canal.
The appropriately named Napton on the Hill is well-known for its windmill, which dominates the landscape and would have been a useful landmark for traditional boatmen in the commercial carrying days of the canal. The pretty village has had a windmill since 1543, although the current Grade II-listed windmill dates from the 18th century. Many villagers were employed in the local brick and tile works, and the symbol of a windmill was stamped into the bricks and tiles before being transported away on canal boats. Napton’s 13th-century church, adjacent on the hill, is also worth a visit.
The nine locks of the Napton Flight carry the canal up to the summit level in glorious surroundings. Look out for the traditional lock hovel where canal workmen used to keep tools and shelter from inclement weather. The hovel by lock 10 is no bigger than a garden shed, yet even has a chimney for the workman’s fire! There are several pillboxes here too, as this stretch of canal was an important part of the Oxford and Grand Union Canals Stop Line designed to defend the industrial Midlands in the event of an invasion by German troops during World War II.
The canal swirls through open countryside for almost ten miles before the five Claydon Locks drop the canal towards Cropredy Lock and the quintessentially English village of Cropredy. Usually a peaceful oasis, the village bursts at the seams in August when hoards turn up for the annual music festival which began as a reunion event after Fairport Convention held their ‘farewell’ concert here in 1979.
South of Cropredy, the railway and M40 noisily encroach on the canal as it makes its way into Banbury. Near Banbury's famous cross is a large bronze statue, unveiled by Princess Anne in 2005, which depicts the ‘Fyne Lady’ upon a ‘White Horse’ of the nursery rhyme. Sung by countless generations of children, the cross of that well-known nursery rhyme was destroyed in the 1600s as Banbury was said to be ‘too far gone in Puritanism’. The cross which now lies at the junction of four major roads was built in 1859 to celebrate the marriage of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter.
Tooley’s Boatyard in Banbury is the oldest dry dock in Britain. A Scheduled Ancient Monument, it has been in continuous use since 1790 regardless of changes to its surroundings. The boatyard once built and repaired wooden horse-drawn narrowboats and, having served the canals continuously for over 200 years, has become a visitor attraction within Banbury’s shopping development. Here two worlds exist in one place, and Tooley’s Boatyard, together with its museum and heritage centre is accessible to visitors from the shopping centre by an entrance akin to a Potteresque leap at Platform 9¾. The boatyard is also renowned for its connection with Tom Rolt who founded the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) during the 1940s ‘war’ to help keep canals open. Rolt’s narrowboat ‘Cressy’ was docked here before it set off on its legendary voyage around the canal networks. Rolt’s book ‘Narrow Boat’ recorded Cressy’s journey and the publication had an impact that passionately and powerfully helped give a voice to the canals in an era of decline.
It’s now time to retrace your route back to the marina from a different perspective.
Max: 4 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 8 People
Max: 10 People