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TOTAL LOCKS: 8
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 9 HOURS (30 TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: N3, P6, L13 | Click here buy maps
This is a peaceful journey of junctions and battles between two rival canals, the Oxford and the Grand Union through one of Britain’s canals’ most loved hubs. A relaxing mostly lock-free cruise through open countryside, you’ll discover sporting history, Horseley iron bridges and symbolic windmills.
Turn southwards out of the 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, which used to pump water up from a well to the canal. The original Newcomen steam engine, called rather appropriately ‘Lady Godiva’ and dating back to 1725, is now on display in Dartmouth Museum in Devon, birthplace of its engineer Thomas Newcomen. The Junction is also known as Sutton’s Stop, after Richard and Henry Sutton who were lock-keepers here between 1807 and 1876. The Junction is a designated Conservation Area, and most of the buildings and bridges are Grade II-listed. Overlooking the junction and built in 1825, the Greyhound Inn was first run by a local farmer, and used to provide food for the boatmen and stabling for their horses. If time allows, a detour along the remaining 5 or so miles of the Coventry Canal into Coventry may tempt you here. The ruins of the original cathedral are a stark voice on the skyline of Coventry's own 'ground zero' left from the horror of World War II. In the 1960s a light of hope was built in the new cathedral. A bond between these two buildings that lean side by side is a powerful and emotional paradox.
Heading through the lock at the junction, the Oxford Canal now heads southeast 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 the Oxford Canal now continues southwards. Moor up at or near the junction to explore the area.
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 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 a windmill symbol was stamped into the bricks and tiles before being transported away on canal boats. Napton’s 13th-century church is adjacent on the hill and has great views.
It is well worth the walk up the nine locks of the Napton Flight which carry the canal up to the summit level in glorious surroundings. There is a 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.
After soaking in the views, it’s time to cruise back to Springwood Haven Marina enjoying this journey from a different viewpoint.
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