Oxford to Banbury

Leaving Oxford…

Leaving College Cruisers behind you will now be travelling North towards Thrupp, cruising through the hidden world of North Oxford – allowing glimpses into other people’s lives and gardens as you float by. You will also travel through the heart of the resident canal community in Oxford so we ask you to take care and go slowly past these moored boats – they are people’s homes!

Arriving at Wolvercote, you will come across your first lock, so it’s time to get your crew into action! Just before the lock you will have seen The Plough Inn, a good place to stop for the night on your return journey as it is not far from our boatyard. (Another good last night stop is the Anchor, at bridge 240, or you can moor opposite our boatyard itself – just 15 minutes’ walk from the city centre.) Lots of people come back to Oxford a day early so they can explore the famous university city.

We advise that at least one member of the crew stays off the boat after operating Wolvercote lock (this stretch is good for walking any dog members of the crew) as you will soon be opening your first lift bridge, quickly followed by another, then Dukes Lock and finally another lift bridge, it is then OK to get all the crew back on board.

After 2 more locks and approx 2 hours, passing by Kidlington and Yarnton, you will come across another canal community at Langford Lane, again we ask you to slow down and respect their homes. Once around the bend, Thrupp will be coming into sight.


Thrupp is a very pretty canal-side village with two good places to eat, The Jolly Boatman and The Boat with visitor moorings near both pubs. There are many private boats moored here so once again care is needed when passing by. Thrupp is a very popular spot for walkers and boaters and a bus can be caught on the main road to visit nearby Blenheim Palace in Woodstock. Episodes of the popular television series Inspector Morse were filmed here in Thrupp (and at the house just outside our boatyard gates in Oxford!).

Passing under another lift bridge and along the Thrupp Wide you find yourselves in the Cherwell Valley and you will begin to see why the canal is referred to as a contour canal. You will see the church of Shipston-on-Cherwell up on the bank to your left. The canal curls its way around the church yard and under the bridge, to your right are the meadows and the River Cherwell.

The next lock is Shipston Weir, a diamond shape. After this lock the canal and the River Cherwell share the same course for approximately a mile. Make sure you keep to the right in case a boat is coming from the North – it is difficult to see around the bends. This is another good dog walking opportunity up to Bakers lock, where the river leaves the canal under a pretty iron bridge but soon to return and run parallel for most of the journey to Banbury. You and the canal continue through Bakers Lock and onward to Enslow and the Rock of Gibraltar pub.

The Rock of Gibraltar has moorings and a delightful garden so is a good stopping off point for lunch or dinner. After the Rock you will pass boats moored in the marina at Enslow. Again, cruise gently past these boats, please – they are their owners’ pride and joy! Past the marina you will see the winding hole (it is not at the marina!).


The Route now becomes much more wooded and the over-hanging trees form a tunnel for you to pass through. To your left the river has now joined you on your course. The canal from here gently continues on its way taking you to Pigeons lock passing by the golf course; look out for the swans that have picked the tee as their home.

Around a few more bends you will see in front of you Pigeons Lock. From here you can leave your boat and walk into the village of Tackley about 1 mile or up the hill to KIrtlington, where there are two excellent gastro pubs – The Dashwood and The Oxford Arms – great if you have a special occasion or if you just want to enjoy a good meal.

Once through Pigeons Lock, and after passing a rather individual tea room on your right (where on a Sunday you can sit and devour a homemade cream tea), you enter a rather magical world of water and trees, like climbing into the pages of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. Kirtlington quarry is a child’s paradise, with woods and paths to explore and a huge open space for getting rid of any excess energy. It’s also a great place to have an evening barbecue – you will feel a million miles from anywhere and on a clear night the sky is full of stars.

Next is Northbrook Lock, a delightful lock and the end of your hidden wooded section. You become aware of the hills around, and the river is easily accessed here. After the lock there is a very tight bend with a pretty stone bridge; be aware of boats coming from the North, so go slowly. The canal now begins to climb and the locks begin to get deeper.

From Dashwood Lock there is a glorious view of the open countryside all around. All along the next pound you get delightful glimpses of the River Cherwell with lots of interesting little mooring spots and once again you get the feeling of being the first people to discover the canal as you make your way between the reeds.

Lower Heyford

Your next port of call is Lower Heyford. Here you can touch the real world if only for a short time. The train station is handy if you need to drop off or collect crew. Oxfordshire Narrowboats have a good shop and Kizzies bistro for a spot of lunch. If you just fancy a walk there is a circular walk around the delightful village of Lower Heyford.

Travelling on, it is “slowly goes”, while you negotiate the moored boats and a rather narrow section of canal. Once again you have the opportunity to look in on other people’s back gardens, and pass an exciting, rickety tree house. There is a lift bridge to be opened and – if you need refreshment or a well cooked evening meal – you can cross the canal here and walk up to The Bell where you will be given a warm welcome.

The canal continues North through the Cherwell Valley and begins the serious business of climbing and – with the exception of Allen’s – the locks are rather remote. You will be travelling through water meadows and cows may wander down to take a look at you, although the hedges along the towpath can obscure the delightful views.

After Heyford Common Lock the canal enters a short cutting and then moves out into open pastureland. This is another good place for overnight mooring and a barbecue, with space for children to let off steam. (If you do it on your return journey you can call in at Marks and Spencer in Banbury first and buy lots of goodies to eat.) Be aware the cows can be rather nosey but they mean no harm!


Between here and the next lock, look out for a series of wooden sculptures by Michael Fairfax carved from old lock timbers. They are inscribed with a poem called Lock written by James McKendrick. Somerton Lock is the deepest on the canal, you will climb 12 feet while inside and once the lock has filled and you have risen, look around you at the glorious view.

Once through Somerton Deep Lock, the canal continues its pretty way on to Aynho. Along the way the canal is flanked by the flat flood plain of the River Cherwell on one side and the railway lines on the other. You will notice the impressive viaduct. The canal is protected from winter flooding by an embankment which also gives a good viewing platform of the surrounding country side.


When you reach Aynho you will again be passing moored canal boats so as always, go slowly! At Aynho is the excellent Great Western Arms, another good pub/restaurant right alongside the canal. Another pub is the Duke of Cumberland; it’s a bit of a walk from the canal but if you call them they may collect you from your boat.

Passing by Aynho Wharf the canal passes under another of the lift bridges peculiar to the Oxford Canal and some good overnight moorings. At Aynho Weir, another diamond shaped lock, the River Cherwell crosses the canal. Notice the difference in the colour of the water.

After only a very short distance you arrive at Nells Bridge. If you are on foot you will have to cross a very busy main road in order to work the lock. Care is required especially if cruising with children and/or animals; there is no gate between the towpath and the road. The entrance to the lock is narrow. Once through, you are on your way to Banbury.


The canal once again becomes woody and seemingly remote but you will suddenly become conscious of the roar of traffic as you pass under the M40 motorway. Happily you are soon able to leave this behind. King’s Sutton Lock is soon upon you, with its delightful lock cottage and pretty surrounding countryside, before you head through to the outskirts of Banbury, and into the hustle and bustle of the town centre. (You can moor in the town centre with shops galore just outside your window!)

Banbury is full of history and it is well worth spending time exploring and restocking the fridge for your return or onward journey. It also has a large park with playground, plenty of dog-friendly areas and interesting conservation zones.

If you are only with us for a short break this is where we suggest you turn around and begin your journey South back to the dreaming spires of Oxford. The journey home will be every bit as interesting; you will be able to call in on the pubs you missed or even re-visit ones you enjoyed. Moor in the place where someone said “that would be a good spot to stop”, but just that bit too late for you to put the brakes on. And don’t forget to barbecue on the meadow at Somerton Mill. See you back in Oxford!

Any questions?

Call us on 01865 554343 (+44 18 65 55 43 43 from outside the UK). We’re happy to help!