Tuesday 15 May 2018


Today's Canals - Oxford, Grand Union

We awoke to another glorious day with not a cloud in the sky. As the forecast for tomorrow is a much lower temperature, we made the most of this spell in the twenties!

Last night we looked up some of the details of the original route of the Oxford Canal between Braunston and Napton. The Oxford was mush the earlier canal and, as was the engineering of that time, followed contours as much as possible. Hence what is now quite straight was once a much longer winding route that began where Braunston Marina now sits and joined in near Wolfhampcote (a deserted medieval village) We looked hard for signs of the old canal as they are visible on maps and Google Aerial. However, all that we could see was where the line came back onto the present route - it originally run through this hedge. If you know what you are looking at it is just possible to make it out. However, two short stretches in water completely eluded us even though we passed them as slowly as we could! Perhaps another time we may stop and take a closer look.

It was still not quite ten o'clock as we passed under the turnover bridge just before the present junction.

The cast iron bridges that sit at the junction itself were some of the earliest kit bridges - brought to the site as a set of parts to be assembled and erected. We were in urgent need of an elsan point so initially turned under the further bridge in the photo only to see one boat on the service point and another waiting. Knowing that there is another point just around the corner to Braunston itself, we backed up and came through the other bridge. The towpath at first looked well filled with moored boats so we took the first available space just before the bridge that carries the main road. We later heard that the first one was out of action so we were pleased that we had not waited only to be disappointed.

Instead we set off up the hill to the village itself, mainly for shopping but also to take a look at the church which we have not looked inside before. Its unusually tall steeple is a well known landmark for approaching boaters, especially when coming down the northern part of the Oxford.

We were a little surprised to discover that the present church was completed in 1848 and replaced an older building that had become so badly decayed that it was completely demolished before re-building. However the new design was meant to be replica of the 14C predecessor - but bigger and better, of course!

Outside we spotted the main structure of a former 18C mill - which has been converted to hioliday accommodation - on five floors. However, the advertising does warn "Due to the stairs the Windmill may not be suitable for the infirm or very small children"

On the main road we then spotted the former Mill House.

We called at the two shops - a general mall supermarket and a specialist butcher. We did not need a lot beyond a few essentials so we were not too burdened as we walked back down the footpath to Butcher's Bridge.

Along the towpath we saw a splendid family of cygnets being taught the survival techniques that they will soon need when their parents send them on their way!

From the bridge over the entrance to the marina we could see straight ahead the original line of the Oxford Canal - straight ahead and through what is now one of several dry docks.

We had seen a sign for Tradline, a well-known fender maker who is based in once of the old workshops. We wanted to take advice to see if a better front fender would avoid the problem which is obvious from the photo looking from above! He was unsure but suggested we take a few photos to send to him and he would advise but it would be a bespoke order and August was the earliest he could offer.

We returned to the boat and moved the short distance to the elsan point, after which we moored next to the marina entrance. Mike returned to Tradline and took with him photos and also one of our centre lines that was unfortunately frayed by catching on the sharp handle of the stove chimney cap - it no longer catches the rope as it was flattened in that encounter! Peter Flockhart, the fender maker, was unable to suggest an alternative and took the view that the behaviour was inevitable given the way in which the attachment points had been constructed. However, they did have a suitable centre line but it  was just a little longer than the present one so Karen, his wife, shortened it for us.

We also spotted there something which we think is unique to them -  a soft shackle for attaching the centre lines to the roof mounting. They are amazingly simple and it is claimed that they are sufficiently strong for the purpose - so we will see. It should reduce the wear on both the ropes and the mount.

We have to say that we found Tradline to be very friendly and helpful - their prices are quite competitive as well. Highly recommended on the basis of this visit!

Another short move found a slightly better lunch mooring before we set off to tackle the Braunston flight of six locks.

A short distance across a field from the locks we could just see a former railway bridge. At one time two lines passed through Braunston although it seems unlikely that either came this way especially for the village. However, the line above passed though Braunston Wharf which is now the rear of the marina. Incidentally, the marina itself was initially constructed as reservoirs for the canal.

We passed through the first three locks on our own although a steady stream of boats coming down helped - except when they didn't!

Alongside the third lock is the Admiral Nelson pub. Even on maps from over a century ago, it was some way from the main village so we assume that it was intended primarily to make money from passing boaters.

Attached to the private house alongside the pub (probably a former lock cottage) this hut caught our attention. Just felt slightly quirky, even if it was probably once the privy!

A boat moored between the third and fourth locks opted to set off as we passed and they accompanied us to the top.

A short distance along the summit pound is the long Braunston Tunnel. We left the bright sunshine to enter its Stygian gloom! We only met just one oncoming boat whilst in the tunnel itself - a little surprising as otherwise there had been quite a stream of traffic.

We did noit feel like tackling the Buckby flight today as it would be quite late when we could moor. Just below the locks the canal is close to the motorway and we would have wanted to go on until away from the continual noise which never stops 24 hours a day.

However, the last part of the section between the tunnel and Norton Junction we have found before has a couple of problems. In many places it is difficult to get a boat close enough to the bank to moor and also the tall hedge obscures the tv signal. We had a couple of attempts before eventually mooring. Despite a thin hope of tv, the gap was not sufficient and the summer leaves are now too well developed.

As well as following Tradline's advice on re-shaping the front fender, Mike walked along the towpath to the previous bridge - a splendid sunny evening.

7.2 Miles - 6 Locks


  1. I don’t think you mean for your title to be Napton, do you?

  2. Indeed but I am always mixing Norton and Naoton unless I think twice! Thanks I will fix it asap