Leaving College Cruisers behind you will now be travelling north towards Thrupp, cruising through the hidden world of North Oxford, allowing peeps into other people’s lives and admire their gardens as you float by. You will also travel through the heart of the 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 time to get your crew into action. Just before the lock you will have seen The Plough, a good place to stop for the night on your return journey as it is not far from the Boat yard, another good last night stop is the Anchor, at bridge 240 with good moorings or you can moor opposite our base, only a 15 min walk from the city centre. Lots of people come back to Oxford a day early so they can visit and explore the University City which is so famous.

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 ”Morse” where filmed here in Thrupp and at the house just outside our gates in Oxford.

swansPassing 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 approx 1 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, again 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.

The Rock of Gibraltar public house has moorings and a delightful garden so 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, 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.

somerton-barbecueAround 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 great if you have a special occasion or if you just want to enjoy a good meal, these are The Dashwood and The Oxford Arms. Once through Pigeons lock you enter the rather magical world of water and trees. On your right is a rather individual tea room, where on a Sunday you can sit and devour a homemade cream tea. You then begin to feel you have climbed into the pages of Swallows and Amazons. Kirtlington quarry is a child’s paradise with woods and paths to be explored and a huge open space where any excess energy can be got rid of. Also a great place to have an evening barbecue, you 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.

dashwoods-lockYour 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 Narrow Boats 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. Once again you have the opportunity to look in on other people’s back gardens, always interesting and pass a very exciting if not a little 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; the cows will wander down to take a look at you, although the hedges along the tow path can obscure the delightful views. After Heyford Common lock the canal enters a short cutting and then moves out into open pasture land. Again, a good place for an overnight mooring, with space for children to let off steam and another good barbecue spot. Do it on your return journey you can then call in Marks and Spencer in Banbury and buy the goodies to eat. Be aware the cows can be rather nosey but mean no harm.

somerton-deep-lockBetween 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 foot 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. Then you will reach Aynho, again you will be cruising by moored canal boats so as always, go slowly! At Aynho is the excellent Great Western Arms, another good restaurant right alongside the canal. Another pub is the Duke of Cumberland , a walk from the canal but with a phone call 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 over night moorings. At the next lock, 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, and once through, you are on your way to Banbury.

banburyDuring the next pound, the canal once again becomes woody and seemingly remote but suddenly you are conscious of the roar of traffic as you pass under the M40. Happily you are able to leave it behind and continue on your journey. Kings Sutton lock is soon upon you, a delightful lock cottage and pretty surrounding countryside before you meander your way through to the outskirts of Banbury, and into the hustle and bustle of Banbury town. Here you can moor in the centre of the town 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 play ground, plenty of do friendly areas and interesting conservation areas.

If you are only having a short break with us this is where we suggest you turn around and begin to make your journey south and 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 bit where someone said “that would be a good spot to stop”, but just that bit too late for you to put the brakes on, not forgetting the barbecue on the meadow at Somerton Mill. See you back in Oxford!

Next – Banbury to Napton.