Twenty-odd years later...

Published: Monday, 01 October 2018

I FIRST rented a narrowboat in 1986, from Braunston Boats, myself, wife and two teenage daughters, who were less than enthusiastic! Writes Geoff Low.

As a couple we continued to rent from various companies but mostly Braunston or Sovereign at Pitstone then Banbury. In 1994 after a career change I took the plunge and bought a 52 ft Colecraft Trad. We moored the boat at Welton, Aynho, Boveny on the Thames (my home village), and finally Sovereign at Banbury for many years until we sold it in 2006.

Got the bug back

Twenty-odd years later my daughters bought me a dayboat hire for fathers' day last year, from Aldermaston on the K&A, the boat was big enough for six adults and four grandkids. Needless to say daughters, and their spouses, were unimpressed, the grandkids loved it but were too small to allow off the boat, cakes solved the issue. I have to admit that she who must and myself got the bug back, even though it was characteristically raining, I was showing off my steering prowess and she who was setting the locks and getting her daily workout.

So this year we decided to rent a boat, we chose the Oxford Canal because we know it so well, albeit 12 years out of date, unusually we picked a balmy week in September where the weather was more like Biarritz than Banbury.

Chucking spoil in canal

So we meandered out of Oxford, lots of new development, the factory replaced by a massive block of flats, still loads of what we used to call hippy boats, but very much more upmarket than before, and even displaying licences! (with a few exceptions). The towpath side was strimmed—until we met the strimmers just shy of Dukes Lock, who were strimming off two to three foot of growth and chucking the spoil in the canal, I guess Cart would call it biodiversity or something, anyway keep to the centre unless you want to be chucking it into reverse every few minutes. Because of the revised mooring arrangements around Oxford there are a plethora of Cart signs explaining (more about that later).

The next issue we encountered before and after Dukes lock were lift bridges, Numbers 221, 231 and 234 to be precise, to call them a health hazard would be an understatement, each of the bridges has mooring posts either side, I would strongly recommend that you loop a centre line at the posts and approach the bridge two handed. The bridge locks are either broken, nearly working or it takes 25 goes to get working, sending a lock wheeler forward alone is a waste of time, each one must be approached with forensic skills.

Out of date

We then got to Kidlington, which I approached with some trepidation having picked up one of Witneys finest carpets on my prop there years ago, pleased to report its all neat and tidy now and the new estate dwellers seem to have adopted the canal. At the top of Kidlington, approaching Thrupp, another line of permanent moorings, with a less salubrious boat quality than Oxford. We now go into a history quiz, what is significant about the dates 1115 and 1212? No takers? They are the dates of the two oldest licences I saw displayed, many other boats displayed none.

And then we get to Thrupp, a delightful stop, all Inspector Morse and nostalgia, three pubs, a Co-op, a tea rooms, the best water point/services around, and Thrupp Cruising Club running their own posh moorings also. Getting back to signs (as promised) Thrupp has pretty complex mooring arrangements (as Oxford), and thus a multitude of signs, which are completely understandable and exist for good reason. My point is, what is the cost of replacing those signs at Thrupp and Oxford, just because Cart change their logo from a bridge to a submerged car tyre? More than enough to cut some towpath grass I would wager.

Still moored

As I mentioned earlier, I bought my boat in 1994, during my search for a boat another one that I viewed, with a distinctive name, was at Thrupp, a 42 foot Colecraft Trad. To my complete surprise I passed it, still moored at Thrupp, licenced but looking like it had sat there for the last 24 years and done nothing, sad.

Then Shipton upon Cherwell, where I pointed out to she who that Richard Branson had his first recording studio in the big posh house there and that this was the site of England's worst rail crash, when her eyes glazed over I sent her off the do the lock onto the Cherwell.

The Cherwell section is a delight, deep water! Only for ten minutes or so then into Bakers Lock and up to Gibraltar!

Worth a stop

I don’t wish to publicise businesses but I have to say the Rock of Gibraltar is worth a stop, there are very few moorings towpath side, but as they say, if you can see one take it.

We then move on to the Zambezi river section, towpaths completely covered and bamboo like growth in the canal mainline, take great care when passing and don’t get your back end in the bamboo because apparently its a bugger to get off the prop. Chug sweetly onwards to Pigeons Lock, where the energetic can tie up and have a one mile road walk to Kirtlington or a more pleasant cross country walk to Tackley.

Delightful canal village

And finally we got to Lower Heyford, what a delightful canal village which I have known for years, the boatyard has a shop, which stocks newspapers, booze, Corned Beef and Fray Bentos pies, what else does a proper boater need? The boatyard also has a cafe/restaurant and there is also the Bell in the village.

Visitor moorings in Lower Heyford were blanked out as ‘reserved’ by Cart signs, none of them used. So I had to go 100 yards further on to tie up. Next morning still no boats on the moorings and I had to reverse 100 yards back to the turning point, now why don’t we like them?

My trip back was a reversal of same so would be boring, but we had an afternoon in Oxford, and I’m not promoting anything here but the Grapes is still brilliant.


Cut the bloody grass
Maintain the system, unsafe lift bridges are unacceptable/illegal
Leave the signs as they are who gives a toss whether its a bridge or a car tyre? Save money and cut the grass.
Boatyard owner in discussion on leaving stated that she felt the Southern Oxford was not being maintained and fit for purpose, have to agree, and this is one of the most picturesque waterways in the country!


Lovely weather, lovely trip , not one angry boater met, she who did two  locks for Yanks from LA who felt that our canal network should be a heritage type site.