Spring time on the River – perfect for a family micro-adventure afloat
Spring is a great time to go canal boating. The countryside is alive with new life – spring lambs, ducklings and goslings, hawthorn in the hedgerows and bluebells in the woods.
At 3pm on Friday afternoon, we – my nine-year old son Archie, husband Jonathan and fox terrier Patchey – picked up our four-berth boat ‘Romney’ from Anglo Welsh’s Oxford narrowboat hire base on the River Thames near Witney.
Nick showed us everything we needed to know about handling and maintaining the boat, and gave us a tour of its facilities.
The 48ft long ‘Romney’ has a double cabin and two single beds in the saloon. She has central heating, a hot shower, flushing toilet, bedding, towels, and a well-equipped kitchen with an oven, microwave, fridge, plus plenty of pots, pans, crockery, cutlery, glasses and mugs. There’s also WiFi and a TV/DVD player.
Nick also gave us some advice on where to moor and, most importantly, the best pubs.
We decided to head east up the River towards Oxford. The river was calm and quiet, winding through meadows and farmland.
The first lock at Eynsham was unmanned, but as part of their handover and tuition, novices are taken through the first lock.
Three miles on we reached King’s Lock just after 5pm so the lock keeper had gone off duty – at this time of year, they start at 9am and finish at 5pm. But we shared the lock with another Anglo Welsh boat, crewed by a couple who were on their first canal boat holiday.
A mile later, we found moorings alongside the ruins of Godstow Abbey, just above Godstow lock and walked across the bridge to the Trout Inn.
This hugely popular 17th century gastropub, which appeared in many episodes of TV’s ‘Inspector Morse’, has masses of indoor tables, as well as a pretty riverside terrace for outdoor dining with a friendly resident peacock. The food and service were very good, so it’s definitely worth booking-ahead.
The next morning, after being greeted by cows checking us out from the field alongside the boat, and the sounds of a large gaggle of geese, we set off and made our way through Godstow Lock.
We travelled on a further two miles, taking turns to steer the boat. Archie loved learning how to navigate and work the locks, and wanted to be involved in every aspect of looking after our narrowboat, including greasing the rudder and filling up with water.
Soon after passing the River’s junction with the Oxford Canal, we moored-up just above Osney Lock and set off to explore Oxford on foot.
We reached the main shopping area in just 10 minutes and continued on to Broad Street to take a look at the beautiful Bodleian Library buildings, including its stunning 17th century Schools Quadrangle.
On the walk back, we stopped to pick up some lunch from a café and walked to the top of the mound of Oxford Castle – an 11th century motte-and-bailey castle built by the Norman baron Robert D’Oyly the elder.
Back on the boat, we set off for Abingdon, passing along the edge of Oxford and sharing the river with lots of rowers.
After four miles and three locks we were back out in open countryside. At Radley, we spotted a kingfisher darting across the river and passed a beautiful bluebell wood.
All along the way we saw herons fishing, swans, families of ducks and ducklings, and geese and their goslings swimming along in the Spring sunshine. And cruising alongside the meadows at Abingdon, we heard the beautiful sound of a cuckoo.
From Osney to Abingdon Lock, it’s a nine-mile, three-lock journey, which takes around three hours. At Abingdon, we moored alongside the parkland just below the lock and took a stroll around the town. This charming market town really makes the most of its Thames setting with riverside walks, parks and eateries, including the popular Nag’s Head, where we ate on Saturday evening.
Sunday morning we woke to bright sunny weather and noticed a series of very tired looking people walking along the towpath. We soon found out they were tackling the final stages of the Thames Path 100 mile trail race from London to Oxford, which had started in Richmond the morning before – a very different way to enjoy the river!
We turned the boat and headed west back to Eynsham, sharing all the locks with another Anglo Welsh boat, skippered and crewed by eight women enjoying a hen-do narrowboat holiday.
For our last night, we moored up close to Eynsham Lock and took a 10-minute stroll up to the Talbot Inn in the village.
The next morning, we completed the last mile of our journey to return the boat by 9am, and spent the car journey home reviewing the highlights of our trip and planning our next micro-adventure afloat.