South to Fenny Compton
4 Night Break
This route takes you along the Oxford Canal in the general direction of Banbury, covering 32 miles and 12 locks in each direction – about 25hours total cruising.
The Oxford Canal was engineered by James Brindley and built as a “contour canal” which means that the line follows the contours of land with a minimum of earthworks. This created a very tortuous route and the northern section of the canal was modernised in the 1830’s, almost halving the distance from Coventry to Braunston, striding across the countryside with a series of impressive arrow straight cuttings and embankments interspersed with winding sections of the original canal.
The first one and a half hours is a meander through pretty, wooded countryside before the short tunnel at Newbold. Here there is a pub which is set at right angles to the canal – The Barley Mow with good moorings here just before or after the next bridge. The original cut ran in front of the pub, but is now a lane. Through Newbold churchyard you can still see the line of the tunnel from Brindley’s original route. As well as The Barley Mow there is also the Old Crown near the shops, which include a Post Office, fish and chips, a supermarket and also a cash machine. (Turn left out of the lane in front of the Barley Mow and walk downhill about 100 yards.)
Between Stretton and Hillmorton there are many short “arms” of the canal – short seemingly purposeless length of water which are actually some of the remains of the original route of the canal. They were retained to serve industry – normally flour mills or lime kilns – which had been built alongside the old line. Where necessary these are crossed by graceful cast iron bridges. These bridges are all identical and some of the earliest examples of mass production in the world.
About half an hour after leaving Newbold you pass one of these bridges and arms (now leading to a boatyard) and cross two aqueducts. After these you can moor for the Harvester Inn or the Tesco supermarket nearby (with cash dispenser). There is a picnic area just through the bridge after the Harvester Inn. This is the best place to moor if you wish to visit Rugby.
The next hour features more woodland, a boatyard and a golf course as the canal skirts attractively around Rugby towards Hillmorton Locks. The Oxford Canal climbs from Coventry to its summit over a spur of the Cotswolds just south of Napton (and then drops all the way down to the Thames), so these three locks take you uphill. Shortly after the locks is the Old Royal Oak pub and restaurant which has a canalside garden and a safe “soft” indoor play area for young children downstairs.
After this the canal changes character as the countryside opens out, passing Barby Hill to the left and Dunsmoor (the moor named after the legendary medieval Dun Cow) to the right. It takes just under two hours from the locks (about six hours total from our boatyard) to reach the historic canal junction and village at Braunston. There’s lots here; pubs include the Boat House, canalside just by the junction, The Old Plough and the Wheatsheaf in the High Street and The Admiral Nelson beside the third lock up towards Braunston Tunnel. There is a supermarket (with cash dispenser inside), Post Office and a butchers on the High St.
If you are stopping at Braunston, try to moor between bridges 89 and 90 as shortly after Br. 90 you make the sharp right turn under the twin iron bridges to continue on towards Napton. If you can’t moor before the turn, you can stop on the “puddle banks” (so called as the embankment is made of puddled clay) just beyond Bridge 95.
As you head away from Braunston on the last straightened section you pass the abandoned medieval village of Wolfhamcote on your left hand side as you head towards Napton. Careful study of the fields on the right hand side will reveal some unusual craters: these are far more recent history, being made by German bombs in WW2 – an unwelcome testament to the canals continuing importance as an industrial transport link well into the 20th century. One bomb did hit the embankment but it was quickly repaired and the canal reopened in a matter of weeks.
At Napton the canal climbs a flight of 9 locks on to the most easterly edge of the Cotwolds before winding its way in glorious isolation across the 10 ¾ mile long summit level to Claydon. The canal now is almost entirely as built and this gives you the experience of two very different styles of waterway on your holiday as the canal reverts to a meandering course almost like that of a small river.
You will need to turn at Fenny Compton, the only habitation of any note adjacent to the canal on this stretch, though Wormeleighton and Priors Marston are only a short walk from the canal and well worth a visit. There is an excellent pub and restaurant, The Hollybush at Priors Marston and a pub next to bridge 136, opposite the winding hole (turning point).