Spotlight on the Canals – The Oxford Canal

Meandering waterways, peaceful villages and scenes from Harry Potter

The picturesque 77-mile long Oxford Canal was completed in 1790, linking the university City of Oxford and the River Thames, with the Cathedral City of Coventry at Hawkesbury Junction.

Following the contours around hills, rather than using cuttings and embankments like later canals, this largely rural waterway meanders gently through the countryside, dotted with pretty villages, rural pubs, black-and-white lift bridges and nature reserves.

Once the main transport route from the Midlands to the south of England, it’s now one of the most popular and beautiful canal boat holidays routes.

Best for beginners

From our Oxford base, a trip to Lower Heyford and back is the perfect mid-week or week-long break for beginners.

Setting out from our boatyard on the River Thames at Eynsham, near Witney, it’s a delightful three-hour cruise along the River Thames to Oxford.

At Isis Lock, transfer onto the Oxford Canal, moor up for the night near Hythe Bridge, and it’s a short walk to many of this historic city’s famous landmarks, including the Ashmolean Museum and Carfax Tower.

If you are a Harry Potter fan, several scenes from the movies were shot in Oxford, including the Hogwarts Sanatorium in Oxford University’s stunning Bodleian Library, and Hogwarts dining hall in Christ Church College’s dining hall, still used for meals by students today.

Travelling up the southern section of the Oxford Canal, boaters first pass through the historic suburb of Jericho, once an industrial area and now one of Oxford’s most sought-after residential areas.

Three miles later, the canal passes the Plough pub, and soon after travelling through Wolvercote Lock and Perry’s Lift Bridge, boaters can stop off to explore Oxey Mead nature reserve, an ancient floodplain meadow which dates back to before the Domesday Book.

The historic village of Kidlington is two miles further along, with shops, a post office, several pubs, including the canalside Highwayman, and the Grade I Listed St Mary’s Church with its striking 67-metre high spire.

A mile further along, boaters reach the pretty canalside hamlet of Thrupp, with its Jolly Boatman and Boat Inn, both serving good food and real ales. Soon after the waterway widens for a short time (Thrupp Wide), when it merges with the River Cherwell for a short while, before continuing to once again run closely by.

From Thrupp, it’s eight miles to Lower Heyford, passing through five locks, and a the villages of Shipton-on-Cherwell with its SSSI former quarry, known for its crocodile fossils, and Enslow, with its Rock of Gibraltar pub and Satellite Earth Station.

There are visitor moorings at Lower Heyford and a choice of places to turn. The Bell Inn offers good food and beer on tap, and the beautifully preserved 18th century gardens at nearby Rousham House include cascades, a walled garden, parterre and pigeon house.

This journey, there and back, takes a total of 18 hours and travels through 28 locks

Best for experienced boaters

On a week’s break, experienced boaters can continue north a further 12 miles and eight locks to Banbury, passing through Upper Heyford with its popular Barley Mow pub, and Anyho with its Great Western Arms country pub, nestled between the canal and the railway and serving excellent food.

The medieval market town of Banbury with its famous neo-Gothic Cross has plenty of visitor moorings, many fine old pubs and Tooley’s Boatyard, the oldest working dry dock on the inland waterways, with a blacksmith’s forge and restored workshops open to visitors.

This journey takes a total of 29 hours, travelling through 32 locks

On a 10-day or two-week break, narrowboat holiday-makers can explore the rest of the Oxford Canal, reaching the village of Cropredy after a further five miles and three locks. The English Civil War Battle of Cropredy Bridge took place here in 1644, but today the village is best known for its annual music festival and historic country pubs, including the 17th century Brasenose Arms.

Two miles further north, the canal passes close to the village of Claydon with its fascinating Museum of Bygones at Butlin Farm, and the Claydon Flight of five locks.

Next, it’s Fenny Compton with its tunnel, marina, Wharf Inn and Fenny Compton Tunnels nature reserve, with rare grasslands important for a range of wildlife, including the endangered Grizzled Skipper butterfly.

Eleven miles and nine locks later, the canal reaches its junction with the Grand Union Canal, at Napton on the Hill, with stunning views of Napton Windmill and the surrounding countryside, plus the Folly, Crown and King’s Head pubs for refreshment.

Joined for the next five miles with the Grand Union, here the Oxford Canal becomes a broad waterway. At the Braunston Turn, the Grand Union Canal splits away from the Oxford, heading south to London. For boaters continuing north along the Oxford Canal, there are places to moor for a visit to Braunston’s pubs, marina and fish and chip shop.

Now travelling along the North Oxford Canal, the waterway once again becomes a narrow canal and passes underneath the busy M45 motorway before reaching the village of Hillmorton, with its flight of three locks, plus Old Royal Oak and Stag & Pheasant pubs.

The canal next passes through the outskirts of Rugby, with a Tesco store and Cineworld nearby at Brownsover. The 186-metre long Newbold Tunnel, with Barley Mow and Boat pubs just before, takes boaters back out into the countryside.

Three miles later, it’s worth stopping at Brinklow to visit the remains of Brinklow Castle, a Norman earthwork motte and bailey fortress, and one of the village pubs – The Raven or White Lion.

Soon after, the canal passes beneath the M6 motorway before reaching the pretty canal village of Ansty with moorings and Rose & Castle pub. From here, it’s only another three miles to Hawkesbury Junction on the edge of Coventry, where the Oxford Canal meets its terminus at the Coventry Canal. There is a winding hole here, visitor moorings with a sanitary station and water point, plus The Greyhound and Elephant & Castle pubs.

This journey, there and back, takes a total of 77 hours, travelling through 84 locks

To make a booking or to get friendly advice on canal holidays, please call our Booking Office on 0117 304 1122.


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