Victor joins the motorway

Published: Tuesday, 29 May 2018

NO, NO, NO, not the real motorway but the Oxford Canal link of the Grand Union.

We had joined the link up to Braunston at Napton Junction and from seeing so few moving boats on our journey from Birmingham, were overwhelmed with them even in the rain, counting over 40 on the move in one afternoon.

DDunchurch Pools filling upNapton Flight closed

Perhaps such activity was because of the day's stoppage when a lock gave up the ghost on Napton Flight, then our meeting a boater who had taken to the Grand Union instead after being told of a 'two hours window' the following day.

Then we came across yet another new marina, this time on the Oxford Canal around Bridge 81, named Dunchurch Pools. There are still new marinas being constructed, that I find strange considering the static state of the industry at the moment, and the dramatic rise in continuous cruisers away from permanent moorings, perhaps why this new one has plenty of empty berths.

HILLMORTON MESSHillmorton melee

So on to the Hillmorton Locks, and what chaos. There were no boats at the top or the first pound down, yet all over the place on the next pound, with one couple telling us that they had been told by the lock keeper (volunteer) that of the twinned locks one side was for 'up' and one side for 'down', which would certainly account for the melee.

The couple could be correct, for as we approached a bottom empty lock the volunteer put up both arms waving us back, but as the lock was full and the gates open, a boat just having left, we ignored him and went in, and down. But whatever, the two volunteers were both on the bottom pair of locks sending boats up, and if the many hirers understood that the next locks were one up one down, it would have accounted for the chaos, compounded by the permanently moored boats also in the short pound.

Hillmorton a puntSurely it would have been more sensible for the volunteers working a couple of the three locks instead of both being at the bottom, but perhaps the services there are too much of a necessity.

On the Cam?

One boater at least brought a bit of humour into it all by deciding to punt his boat forward, telling 'I thought I would have a punt', obviously believing that that was was the pole was for!  And at least he was moving.

Our experience of volunteers this trip has not been too favourable, except for those at Curdworth, the only others  we met were on the easily operable locks, and not a single one on the many flights, and only one on the 21 lock flight at Hatton. Perhaps they have more sense!

Marker still hereNorth Oxford

The North Oxford is not one of my favourite canals, hemmed-in as it is by endless trees and cuttings, leaving few views of the countryside, but at least the two buoys warning of a sunken hazard give a bit of colour, that are a permanent fixture, our seeing them on our first trip down the Oxford way back in 1998, though one of them as since broken away.

A bit of improvement at Rugby, are new rings along the stretch of towpath above the path down to Tesco, but it seems installed by the local council who had too many complaints of the damage being done by mooring pins.


You know, as I mentioned before, that statement by Cart that unlicensed boats only represent 2%—or whatever it was—is sheer crap, as once again I discovered a haven for unlicenced boats along the North Oxford, even one displaying a 2013 licence, that I reckon is a bit out of date, amongst the batch above Bridge 26.

Obviously another inaccurate statistic from those well known purveyors of inaccurate statistics, who perhaps employ a firm that produces them to suit.

Another inaccurate statistic

onley1Which brings me to another of Cart's inaccurate statistic, when way back on our last cruise here in September 2015 on the North Oxford I mentioned that we only saw two people on the towpath over a day's cruise—though there was an improvement as this time it was a Saturday and our total count was 15 people on the towpath from Rugby to Ansty, over the nine miles. Mind you the towpath tells its own story, no matter what others would like us to believe.

Sorry if I have bored you about the lack of visitors to the waterways, so that is my lot. But I am so annoyed that what is supposed to be a responsible organisation can make such an outlandish statement as it having 450,000,000 visits to its waterway a year, that onvoiously is totally impossible.

The fast track

The North Oxford is certainly the place for hire boats, their coming in their dozens and many very fast too, the Saturday meaning they were still at normal road speed. As we are early starters, mooring around noon, after which most are passing, we are well tied-up with three ropes including a 'triangle' one, a string and a couple of good fenders so are not so much affected.

Ansty boat hitOne hire boat, with two women at the stern on Brecon from Union Canal Carriers came past at a very fast rate of knots out of a bridge hole into a right hand bend but mistakenly  pushed the tiller over to the right. Resulting of course turning  to the left subsequently crashing into the boat moored at the front of us, knocking off his television and breaking it as well as scattering other objects. Then a fella took over from the woman, reversed, and would you believed made sure of a good job by again turning the tiller the wrong way and crashing into him again! The picture shows him going in for the second 'kill'!

Words and details were exchanged and a complaint made to the company with someone stating they would ring back, but he leaving some while later, still had not heard. Mind you, its licence was shown as expiring on 03/18, so does this mean the boat was not insured? 

Ashby strange mooringsNot too bad

Quite a few stretches of the North Oxford were not too bad as far as dredging was concerned, our making decent progress, but soon back on the Coventry things became worse though thankfully nowhere near as bad as that at Catherine De Barnes in Birmingham.

And so to our last lap and the Ashby, with some strange moorings, as the picture above shows with 'boxes' of tarmac, complete with rings, but not well populated. Mooring is difficult as its banks are covered in high vegetation, but there are still a few places with piling where the canal seems well dredged.

speeding man on topNo locks for 44 miles

It was 1999 when we last ventured this way, our not being too enamoured of a 22 miles up and another 22 miles back with no locks to amuse. This time we have solved the problem by having it brought back for us from the terminus by others.

Another of the speedsters was the boat pictured with the steerer rather erratic, that I thought not too sensible with the daft fella on top.

I well remember the Trinity Marina on the Ashby being built many years ago with plenty of facilities, but I see it is advertising moorings available, as are so many others.

RustyFieldThe countryside

Near the end of the trip now, that has certainly been an 'interesting' one. Not being on a couple of the canals for such a long while makes them seem like a new venture to us.

There is one thing I do not understand—no, no, no, nothing to do with visitors or licences—but the attitude to the countryside from most of the moored boaters.

Footpath or bridleway

We purposely moor each day near a shown footpath or bridleway to enjoy a walk with the dog, making it around a couple of miles, yet though we have moored with over 100 others over the 16 days, many of them with dogs yet have only once seen one boater taking a walk away from the towpath into the countryside.

The picture above shows one of the many fallow fields with footpaths running through them below Ansty on the Coventry (sorry—North Oxford) whilst the one below shows the path into woods at Wooden Top Bridge (31) on the Ashby, but with no sign however of any wood on the bridge.

Ashby Wooden Top BridgeMost we have spoken to are obviously 'townies' and one would have though the countryside to be of interest, but no. Time and time again we have noticed people taking dogs a short walk along the towpath and back, completely ignoring the beauty offered by the footpaths through fields and woods off the canal.

Perhaps to most people the canal is the countryside, but to me it is all too often a dirty ditch usually hemmed in by trees and cuttings populated by unsightly battered moored boats, so is anything but...  And what about the poor dogs starved of decent exercise?

It was Bank Holiday Monday when we moored near the Wooden Top Bridge, and 56 boats passed us from noon, which makes me wonder if many are playing safe, so prefer a lock-free cruise this week-end!

Ashby bridges cutSplendid views

We found the Ashby an interesting 'open' canal with splendid views, but all too often sadly in need of dredging. At least it means when boaters pull in to moor they have little problem with speeding boats, as they are most likely secure on the bottom!

Some dredging has been done, as going through a bridge the way will suddenly become easier, as it seems dredging is undertaken from bridge to bridge.

In favour

Something very much in favour of the Ashby is there is no possibility of scratching your boat on brambles when going through a bridge hole as the volunteers of the Ashby Canal Association have cleared all the vegetation from all around the bridges as can be seen from the picture above. Pity those at the Macclesfield don't have the same treatment...

Ashby endEventually we made it to the new swing bridge then walked to the end of the restored section of the canal about three quarters of a mile, that was just a depression in the ground when we last walked it 19 years ago.

I realise a lock has been constructed beyond the restored section, but cannot help but feel that three quarters of a mile of restoration that cannot be used anyway as no winding hole, is not a lot to show for 19 years.

The lock-free Ashby is obviously very popular with hirers as we saw many more hire boats than private boats on the waterway. Another thing we noticed was quite a few discarded GPR boats tied up by the towpath, all of which had been vandalised, so obviously a dumping ground.

That's it folks, hope I have kept you entertained...

Victor Swift