The Oxford Canal is a 78 mile long (126 km) narrow canal in central England, built between 1769 and 1790, linking Oxford, on the River Thames, with Coventry via Banbury and Rugby. It connects the River Thames at Oxford to the Grand Union Canal at the villages of Braunston and Napton-on-the-Hill. It also links with the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction in Bedworth just North of Coventry. The Canal passes mainly through Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire countryside, and is often considered to be one of the most scenic canals in Britain.
The canal was once an important artery of trade between the English Midlands and London but is now highly popular among pleasure boaters. North of Napton-on-the-Hill the canal forms part of the Warwickshire ring.
Cruising along the Oxford Canal, characterised by its quaint lift bridges, pretty canal side villages such as Cropredy, is idyllic; you can either cruise south to the city of Oxford with its many dreaming spires and Colleges and on to the River Thames, enjoying the upper reaches to the village of Lechlade or proceed east to Henley-on-Thames and Windsor.
If you choose to go north you will pass through the town of Banbury, where the canal joins with the River Cherwell at Cropredy and up the Claydon flight of locks. Then you will ‘wind’ your way for 11 miles between two points that are only 5 miles apart. This was because the summit was never straightened and remains one of the most twisty canal sections in England. You will then pass through the Fenny Compton tunnel which is in fact a narrow cutting and pass an old wharf with a pub at the village of Fenny Compton.
From here you will wind around the summit of the Canal, Napton Hill, and descend the Napton flight of locks (9) where the Canal connects with the Grand Union Canal at Napton Junction. Here you share a 5 mile stretch with the Grand Union until you arrive at Braunston.
From here you can head on to Rugby, passing for short distances into Northamptonshire where the canal passes through rural scenery and doubles back on itself for several miles until you head northwards again. As you approach the village of Newbold-on-Avon you will be able to see the remains of the original tunnel dating back to the 1770’s. Now you will pass through the 250 metre long Newbold Tunnel after a set of 3 locks at Hillmorton, just east of Rugby. From here the Canal is relatively straight having been straightened in the 1820’s; you will see much of the original, less direct route that still remains in places. The route between Rugby and Coventry is on a level, with no locks, apart from the stop lock at the junction of Hawkesbury Village at Hawesbury Junction, also known as Sutton Stop, where the Oxford Canal connects with the Coventry Canal, four miles from the centre of Coventry.
If you choose to go South from ‘The Old Barn’ you will descend the river valley (River Cherwell) all the way to Oxford (2 days cruising). You will pass close by to the villages of Kings Sutton and Kidlington, joining the River Cherwell for a 5 mile stretch. You will descend a number of deep locks and pass under a number of lift bridges, built instead of expensive brick ones. At Oxford, the Canal has two connections to the River Thames. The first is three miles north of the city where Dukes Cut leads to King’s Lock; the second is a few hundred metres from the city centre below Isis Lock (known to boatmen as ‘Louse Lock’) through Sheepwash Channel. This leads to an unusual river crossroads at the Thames called ‘Four Rivers’ just above Osney Lock.
Three hundred metres below Isis Lock the Oxford Canal ends abruply at Hythe Bridge Street near to the current Hythe Bridge over the Castle Mill Stream, a backwater of the River Thames that runs parallel to the Oxford Canal for its most southern section.