Canal boat holidays—Oxford Canal

Published: Wednesday, 19 January 2011

THE Oxford Canal is another that is very popular, particularly with holiday makers, being a narrow lock canal that is not too difficult to work by canal boat hirers, though some locks are quite deep.

The exception however is that some locks have a single gate at the bottom end of the lock as well as the top, so being much longer they are of course harder to operate than the normal ones with two mitre gates.

The Oxford has a bit of everything, a tunnel, aqueducts, river section, the twists and turns of a Brindley waterway combined with the straights of a Telford waterway. It must have the most varied selection of paddle gear of any waterway. Newbold Tunnel is lit by multicoloured lights, but alas these are failing and are dirty, so not as dramatic as when first installed.

The entire Oxford Canal from Hawkesbury Junction to the Thames was constructed by Brindley as a contour canal, known as the North Oxford from the junction with the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury to Braunston, and as the South Oxford below Braunston. Being a contour canal it had time-wasting twists (the original line is shown in the above picture) as it followed the contour of the countryside, so Telford was brought in to construct embankments and cuttings to straighten out the waterway.

This can be experienced above Braunston, which only has the three Hillmorton Locks, that are twinned to ease traffic flow. Straightening out the many bends of the original waterway has left various arms and sights of the old course that give the canal added interest.

Much of the Oxford Canal winds for mile after mile through remote countryside, which is its great attraction, with just an occasional village, so gives plenty of choice of remote mooring.

With Grand Union

Between Braunston and Napton junctions the canal shares with the Grand Union Canal for five miles, whilst towards its southern end there is a short river section where the canal joins the Cherwell.

The river locks are unusual as they are diamond shape, with the purpose of holding a great deal of water, with the advantage that they can take a number of narrowboats, as seen in the picture below.

It is after Napton that the many twists of Brindley's original canal can really be experienced, being able to look through the hedges and see boats travelling in the opposite direction though actually going the same way.

There is a handy supermarket a few hundred yards from the moorings at Rugby, with dedicated mooring by a park. The canal passes through the centre of Banbury with a very extensive waterside shopping precinct by its side. There is a  supermarket just beyond, South of the town. There are official moorings in the towns, though Oxford itself is somewhat taken up by resident boats, and access to the city is limited being on the opposite side to the towpath.

There are many boatyards and marinas over the length of the waterway so no shortage of facilities for boaters.

The canal is famous for its many lift bridges, though quite a few are in the raised position, so present no problem. Others are quite easy to operate, causing little or no problems, except possibly with locking devices.

There are just two lock flights—Napton and Claydon, but present no great difficulty.  Nearer to Oxford the lift bridges are mechanised.

It is considered a 'safe' canal with the exception of Banbury, where a waterside high wall and a footbridge over the waterway seems to tempt people to throw things onto either moored or passing boats. It is advised not to moor overnight in those areas, or even close to the wall in daytime, as the temptation to drop items on boats seems to be too much of a temptation for some.


Many boaters use the canal for access to and from the Thames, with a split in the waterway at Oxford giving two choices, taking  the original line by the side of the city through Isis Lock (pictured) for travelling East on the Thames, or Duke's Cut that joins the river further West.

The Oxford Canal is recommended for new hirers and for get-away short breaks, but being so popular has the reputation of being very crowded at peak times, especially at the two flights, which can be closed at certain times during exceptionally dry weather due to water shortage. There are numerous boatyards along the waterway and plenty of services.

The combined North and South is 77 miles long with 43 locks and numerous lift bridges. It has a tunnel and two aqueducts, one being quite impressive.

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