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Our guide to the waterways of the UK in detail.

The Oxford Canal.


This canal of seventy-seven miles was built to connect Oxford and the River Thames via the Coventry canal to the Trent and Mersey and thus to the Rivers Severn, Trent and Mersey. As new canals were built it developed into three sections each with their own distinct character. Generally only one or two sections are cruised at a time. It is rare for anyone to travel all three sections in a single cruise.


The southern section. This runs from Oxford itself north up to Braunston. Once the direct connection from Braunston to London was developed by the Grand Junction canal, this became generally a by-water only serving Oxford. This tendency was increased by the poor quality of the River Thames as a navigation from Oxford to London for much of the canal age. This has lead to the survival of many of the features of an early canal. The only real improvements being connections to the River Thames and the removal, by opening out, of the summit tunnel at Fenny Compton. It consists of two very isolated rural stretches broken in the middle by Banbury and the M40, however of the forty nine miles of this section only seventeen miles are impinged upon by modern life, for the remaining thirty-two miles it is very very rural and isolated.

The Oxford canal now starts hidden behind the railway station. It's original basin being a car park for a college! There are plans and hopes to recover this one day. Traffic from the River Thames coming via Sheepwash channel joins the canal through Issis lock. It takes much of a days' run, six miles, six locks and six lift bridges to get completely clear of Oxford and its suburb of Kidlington but even this is well split up with fields and parks, it is never an inner city canal.

For one mile the canal then uses the River Cherwell as its course, for the eighteen further miles to Banbury it follows the River Cherwel but it only once joins it briefly to cross it on the level otherwise it is independent. All but the last mile are out in the country. However for the last five miles of this the M40 intrudes on the peace and quiet. Despite this the canal is a beautiful rural waterway with villages and farms alongside and with twelve locks well spread out along the eighteen miles, there are also eleven lift bridges on this stretch but all but one are normally in the up position.

Banbury, when reached, is a large market town and the moorings are in the centre right outside the back doors of Woolworth's and the main shopping arcade. There is a lock and lift bridge right in the centre. Alongside the canal is Tooleys a historic dry dock preserved as a working boatyard.

It takes another three miles and two locks to get clear of the outskirts of Banbury and the noise of the motorway. After that the rest of the nineteen miles to Napton is peaceful rural canal. Nine locks lift you up to the summit level in the first five miles passing through the delightful village of Cropredy.

Then follows the eleven mile summit pound We pass through the steep sided, often rock cut, thickly wooded Fenny Compton tunnel. A tunnel which has now had it's roof removed. Nothing bigger than a farm comes near the canal. The canal itself is the classic example of a contour canal, meandering all over the countryside.

Finally Napton is reached and the canal drops down the Napton flight of nine locks under the watchful eye of the Windmill set on the top of Napton Hill, a further two miles takes us to Napton junction with the Grand Union.


Napton to Braunston. When the Grand Junction was built as a direct line from Braunston to London the Oxford canal company persuaded the Warwick to Braunston canal company, which was, with its sister company the Warwick to Birmingham creating a much shorter route to Birmingham to join the Oxford at Napton and use a few miles of the Oxford as part of the London to Birmingham route. In later years the tolls levied on this traffic became one of the main sources of income for the Oxford canal Company.

For these five miles the canal is still busy, being part of the Grand Union route, however little bigger than a farm comes near the canal it is set right out the countryside.. Finally it arrives at the canal centre of Braunston.


The northern section This runs from Braunston to near Coventry and is so different it is almost a new canal. One of its chief features is the straight engineered route. This is a result of modernising in the late 1820's and early 1830's. Braunston to Coventry is now twenty-two miles, it used to have a meandering contour following a course of over thirty-six miles. The result of this improvement is long straight stretches, but it has also created deep cuttings and high embankments and aqueducts and intriguing glimpses of the former route heading off under iron towpath bridges. Even the one tunnel has been modernised.

From Braunston six miles takes you to the top of Hilmorton locks a country stretch. At Hilmorton the locks have a second set alongside them built to speed up passage of the locks. The next four miles take us through the outskirts of Rugby. The improvements mean some of it is on an embankment, some is in cuttings there are two aqueducts and Newbold tunnel, 250 yards, improved to be broad and high and recently coloured floodlighting has been installed.

It is a further eleven miles to Hawkesbury junction through the country although both the M5 and the railway make intrusive appearances. The lift bridges of the Southern Oxford and the well spread out locks have all disappeared. It is much faster to travel, but still below 4 miles per hour! The southern Oxford canal is one of the most popular destinations for those hoilidaying on the canal, justly so. The northern end tends to be seen just as a through route, but it is still a rural canal in its own right



We will be on this canal in 2012 during cruises

16, 23 and 24


Some pictures of this canal?

Oxford to Napton / Napton to Braunston / Braunston to Hawkesbury.


More information from Reed Boats about this canal.

A history of this canal.


Find our information about other canals on the canal index page.


If you have any questions then do ring us on 07977 229103
or email us at

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