Victor takes to the Coventry and Oxford canals again

Published: Friday, 15 September 2023

WE DECIDED to take to the Coventry and Oxford canals as not so many locks to cause stoppages.

Supping tea

That was of course with the exception of Atherstone Flight, that had volunteers to help boaters though the locks. But alas there were only two, opening and closing the gate and paddles and that was it. They then retired sitting down outside the cabin supping tea. Not so much help.

When we told them of a woman with a suspected broken shoulder at the seventh lock down they were not interested, we presume as beyond their jurisdiction.

BranstonLockBut coming back the help was worse though there were three volunteers on the flight and two worked the top lock paddles for us, and that was that. Two of them disappearing down the flight collecting litter.

But even worse  there was a a woman with a fella really struggling to close a top lock gate I heard say "At 93 I am getting too old for this" with the volunteer helping him close it, then disappearing leaving him to it. That was bad, very bad. Our Jan related "How is it Fradley has a volunteer on every lock whilst Atherstone equally busy has two or three."


But I'm ahead of myself as I must report on what was once my favourite lock, Branston, below Burton, where as you can see the gate is bodged and with its collar completely adrift.  Wondering if it will still be open when we return.  Hope so, otherwise there is no knowing how long we will be stuck.

BranstonLockRingThe two pictures show the bodged lock beam and the other the 'floating' collar. And it was most difficult to get the water to level to enable us to vacate the lock.

It was once my favourite lock as the second narrow lock after the 'terrible six' broad locks up from Sawley, so Branston is easy to operate and in the middle of nowhere. 

At the moment we are well on our way back and so can tell that throughout there were boats, with obviously deep draughs going very slowly, though in many cases their props were going like the clappers. Then we realised the silt had piled-up over the many years since last dredged, so with little water, revving their engines only pulled the boat down furtherand slower.

Not too bad for mooring

Where TowpathYet

The Coventry. as many will know, has lots of piling so not too bad to find mooringsthough that particular first week we all wanted large trees to moor underfor which you can well understand.

As to the North Oxford it was a terrible place to find moorings, going mile after mile with a virtual forest of vegetation between the towpath and canal with no chance of a mooring.  Time after time we had to use pins as the very few moorings were packed, something we have not done for many a year.

Another problem is that nearly every bridge has foliage hanging over its end, so difficult to judge were its actual side is situated.

ThatsTheTowpathPerhaps it was that hot weather, but there was no more than a handful of visitors to the towpaths of both the Coventry and Oxford canal towpaths every day, but as there were no more visitors when the temperature came back to normal, they were obviously not very popular for either walkers or cyclists.

Saw none

The pictures show that in that part of the system visitors are few and far between, in fact on some days we saw none, as is obvious from the state of the towpaths as clearly seen in the pictures.

NarroTowpathBethBut soon the trust will be claiming a billion a year!

So believe that if you will, I certainly don't.

We had intended to get to Braunston but with one thing and another, no way, but managed to get to Rugby for the Tesco, were we turned at the short winding hole against the bridge, but had to reverse past four boats to a space that was a tight fit indeed.

DrunksGoWrongWayWorse for wear!

One interesting incident on the way down was five menthere are five, if you look carefullywho had obviously been on a pub crawl, as they were turning into the wrong bridge believing it was the way to their base, and were very jolly. We put them right, and had them reverse outwith some difficultyand carry on their proper way!

We often  came across boats grounded on the side when attempting to moor, all with their engines going at full pelt to try to get out, which of course clears the silt allowing the boat to sink lower. So we shouted—"Stop the engine, get everyone onto this side then push the front out with the pole." Except for one case this freed them, and they gave us the 'thumbs-up' sign.

What obviously occurs is that coming in to moor the higher front of boats slides over the accumulation of silt but the stern that is lower in the water will not, so sticks. Piling on the revs simply gets it stuck further, and obviously one of those boats had done this. So it has to be realised that its the stern that is stuck. So getting every one over on the opposite side of the boat to get it sway in deeper water, allows the frontthat is not stuckto be pushed out into the stream with the stern followingsimple! And yes, it happened to usand more than once, the Oxford being so shallow. Even getting stuck on lock moorings after a boater filled the lock below, lowering the level in the pound, that was already low.

What to do when grounded

Which brings me to the article by Stephanie Horton of River Canal Rescue on what to do when grounded, which is sensible enough, but I'm afraid was more concerned with the bow of the boats getting stuck, and missed out the advice of when the stern gets grounded, that happens all too often when attempting to moor on our heavily silted canals.

WideWaterAnother thing is that I wish people would not advise to cruise in the middle of the canal—this is not the deepest, the continuous washing away of the offside, over centuries  making the deepest nearer to the bank, as our often used picture of the empty Coventry shows. (Not included.)

It was 26 years ago that we first cruised the Coventry and Oxford Canals on our way onto the Thames, and have done so many times since, and from memory and conferring with our log they have both become very much worse over the years through obvious lack of maintenance. Something rather proved in the state of them today, with so far this month over a stoppage a day as in many months before.  Little wonder we are so worried about getting back!

On their way out

This time we made the choice to ask other boaters of their thoughts of the state of the waterways, with their answers that I reckon will be nothing like the expected comments that Canal & River Trust will give in its suspect survey!  Many thought the canals were being closed, and one telling that he was going to upgrade his boat but decided against it as he did not believe the canals would last much longer. Another told that within three years with vegetation being given free rein to save cash, many of the country canal towpaths will be impassible. Many more comments with not a single boater in favour of how the waterways are faring.

Face to face

I could well believe them, especially with a stoppage a day during the summer months, most lasting for weeks on end. The boaters' comments were most revealing, and told of the true state of the waterways being face to face and not the answers to the loaded questions of a survey.

And my thanks to our Keith Gudgin in keeping up with the stoppages24 in 12 days!

Victor Swifttelling tales for 23 years