Tuesday 2 May 2023


Today's Navigations - Oxford Canal, Duke's Cut, River Thames

During out cruising time today, the sky remained stubbornly grey which was a bit of a disappointment as it meant that photos are not brilliant. This was all the more unwanted as it is 13 years since we last did the section of the Thames between Duke;s Cut and Sheepwash.

The last of the lift bridges for us on this trip came soon after we set off. A boat came from the other direction just shortly before we arrived and kindly let us through once he had opened it. Since we last came here in 2021 Drinkwaters Bridge has had yet another makeover and this time converted to a manual hydraulic mechanism. Previously attempts were made to balance it so that it could be operated wholly manually in t he traditional way. It looked quite hard work now!

Immediately after the lift bridge is a former railway bridge. This formed part of an L & NWR loop line that linked the Oxford - Bletchley line with that to Worcester.

On then to Duke's Lock - below here we  turned onto Duke's Cut, rather than taking the remainder of the Oxford Canal down to Isis Lock.

Immediately after the turn comes Dukes Cut Lock - the last part of the CaRT canal. Beyond here is under the management of the Environment Agency (as with the rest of the non-tidal River Thames) It sits underneath a railway bridge and is not much more than a stop lock. At some point the gates were moved about half a metre. The Historic England Listing says, "2 sets of gate recesses at the western end indicate an early lengthening or once accommodated reverse flow gates"

The non-standard top paddle mechanism was repaired last year and a notice warns not to attempt to wind more than three turns. We only made one and half!

On a river, most of the bank belongs to the local landowner who controls mooring. Much of this cut is lined with boats of dubious state - one was very badly moored and almost drifted across to prevent passage. We only just squeezed through, nudging one of the boats to make room for us. We found it hard to believe when the lock keeper at Kings told us that he understands that almost all of them are occupied.

The junction between Duke's Cut and the river was for a long time marked with a simple flash lock alongside a weir. This is the route that the river took at that time.

At the junction we had a very sharp turn left and immediately onto the landing for King's Lock. Fortunately the lock keeper had just arrived - luckily for Mike he spotted what we missed, that a boat which had just gone down on Self Service had left the bottom paddles up! He was able to issue us with a licence for a week - in return for the suitable application of plastic to his machine! He has spent most of his working life at Thames locks, the last 13 here at Kings. 

This was one of the last proper pound locks (those with gates at both ends) and was only opened in 1928 - an event commemorated in a large plaque at the lower approach.

The remains of Godstow Abbey stand close to  next lock and to the ancient Godstow Bridge.

The famous Trout Inn can be glimpsed through the trees - it looks as if extensive works are taking place in the grounds. Unlikely to be any filming of Morse, prequel or sequel, for the moment! The pub, especially its outdoor terrace, has been a location shot on several occasions.

After the lock the river runs alongside Port Meadow. There are two marker posts which can be used to measure speed - with the present flow rate and our engine on little more than tickover, we almost broke the speed limit!

From this footbridge beside Bossom's Boatyard, part of the river goes down a long mill stream and the navigable route is quite narrow. This was one of the last parts to re-open a few days ago.

The two routes from the Oxford Canal to the river join up at the end of the Sheepwash Channel.

Unfortunately Osney Lock was Self Service - this is not on our favourite lock list. The lock landing (known here as the layby) is opposite and close to one of the two overflow weirs. Even in more benign conditions, the pull is strong and mooring needs to be done quickly!

We were not unpleased to wave farewell to this lock! (Actually, knowing the difficulties and preparing meant that we passed through without any problem)

Sadly, at this point the camera battery decided that it needed kits lunch break so we have no more photos until after we moored! 

We came under Folly Bridge, taking the slightly less used western side and only just avoided one of the Salters trip boats that were moored without much regard for the fact that boats are now on the move again.

We were concerned that all the possible mooring sites seemed to be fully occupied so we were beginning to wonder if we might have to eat on-the-go. However, just before Iffley Lock was a great space with only a few boats moored and we quickly bagged a slot. A little later another narrowboat joined us.

After lunch - which was a bit late - we came to the conclusion  that, as we do not have a tight schedule, we would stay put for tonight. We could not contact Sandford Lock (where we planned to stop - we had a good spot there last time we came up the river) - so traded a non-cruising afternoon for the certainty of a satisfactory mooring.

The afternoon gradually became sunnier although thin cloud kept the temperature down. Mike managed a couple of small maintenance tasks and Christine caught up on emails. She later walked down the river bank to Iffley Lock.

The footbridge over the by-pass stream at the lock is known as Mathematical Bridge, reflecting its unusual design. Although it creates an arch structure, all of the timbers are straight and mostly in compression. Hence it is unusually strong for the materials used.

Iffley Lock was originally one of the first three flash locks built in the 17C to improve navigability of the river. It also still has one of the five remaining Paddle and Rhymer weirs. 

8.8 Miles - 5 Locks

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