Sunday 15 August 2021


 Today's Navigations - River Thames, Oxford Canal

Today would see us bring to an end our exploration of the River Thames for this year. We only had the remaining couple of lock before we would be in the centre of Oxford and leaving the river.

Our overnight mooring at Sandford Lock was very good - despite being right opposite a popular pub with plenty of outdoor facilities. Clearly the customer base remain very different from before the pandemic and it seemed to have all but closed  by 10 o'clock.

Soon we passed the voco Oxford Tames hotel which has extensive grounds. As well as conventional marquees settings for weddings they also seem to have this ornate boat for events.

Iffley Lock is noted for its large displays of lavender - even if the steerer cannot see the lock keeper. The bow rope handler can! (Either that or she is talking to a ghost)

Nearing Oxford we passed the base for the famous Salters Steamers trip boats - may be we shall see some filling up with customers later on. They have been operating here since 1858. As well as trips they also offer self drive small boats.

We started to pass the rowing club houses - at first them came one at a time but then a whole row of them! Very few rowers were out this morning but it must get very congested in term time.

Folly Bridge offers two ways forward and this time we chose to go to the right, passing a couple of trip boats loading their passengers. The two channels merge back together a little further up.

And so through Osney Lock. the last Thames lock for this trip. We have found all of the lock keepers very helpful and, generally, a cheerful addition to the lock experience. But we have seen a few cases where they have had to be firm with boaters that seem to feel that they are entitled to push their way through.

Osney Bridge is low and sets the upper limit for many of the cruisers with high flybridges. We had also heard that a few days ago there had been a short closure whilst a broken pipe was re-repaired (a patch had been tried previously). Alas, there still seems to be a  problem as we just managed to avoid being drenched in the shower.

We turned off the river onto a short arm - Sheepwash Channel - that connects with the Oxford Canal at Isis Lock. 

Part way along there used to be a unique railway swing bridge built in 1850 that has long since been removed from service. However, a restoration group are hard at work to preserve it. Almost a million pounds has been raised.

And so we arrived at Isis Lock, the start of the Oxford Canal. It seemed a little strange working a narrow lock - apart from Foxton and Watford staircases, we have been through wide locks since we reached Burton many weeks ago.

Jericho boatyard was bought out and demolished many years ago, since then there have been various plans from developers (a long story!)wanting to make large sums of money from the site but none have come to fruition. The loss of the boatyard is sorely missed and, we recall, only permitted on the promise of a replacement very quickly. Now, yet another community survey seems to be needed - or just to buy time?

Close by is the base for College Cruisers. The boats look attractive but the site would put many people off?

The southern Oxford Canal is famous for its particular design of lift bridge. Here was the first of may but at least it is always left open.

Last year there was no Bridge 231 - we understood that another attempt was being made to fit the replacement. However, today it was back in action with it own particular means of opening - one of the BW designs of hydraulic mechanisms. (It says BWB embossed on the main casting for the drive) At the moment it works well but others we have used can become rather heavy work.

The towpath from Isis Lock through to Kidlington has long been a source of difficulty for BW and its successor. Long lines of moored boats once made it all but impossible to moor overnight in Oxford. Some years ago an action plan led to some stretches being officially allocated for visitors and others as Conservation Areas. Agenda 21 is a unique arrangement between the navigation authority and a community group. The new plan does seem to have made a great impact and the designations are being recognised and enforced. Many of the boats may well be long best their prime but the pressure for housing means that the demand for these particular residential moorings is not going away any time soon. Overall, the canal out of Oxford no longer deserves the reputation it once had.

8.7 Miles - 6 Locks

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