This is a diary for a weeks canal trip on the Oxford Canal with John Edmonds, his son Ian, Fred (Neil) Varney, Clive Richards, Norman Goodall, Bert (Gilbert) Morrey and me Adrian Bower. I was picked up by John at 10.30. Ian and Bert were in the car, it had just started to rain. We went up through East Ilsley to Chilton to Judy and Norman’s house. We all said hallo to Judy and left with Norman and headed up A34 to Abingdon and into Tesco, where we shopped for 2 days food. On then north, there were small traffic jams on A 34 and out to Lower Heyford and to Oxfordshire Narrowboats boatyard. By now it was tipping with rain. We had lunch in Kizzies Bistro at the boatyard - I had a cheese and ham baguette. Afterwards we loaded all our stuff onto the boat. We had about a one hour talk on the boat when Norman (as hirer) had to sign about 10 forms about it and we finally left about 2.30 p.m.
John and Ian piloted boat in the pouring rain northwards, almost immediately through Lower Heyford lift bridge.
We leave Oxford Narowboats Boatyard, Lower Heyford
Through Allen's Lock and Heyford Common Lock.
John operating Lower heyford lift bridge - in the rain!
I rang through to Great Western Arms pub at 4.15, to book a table for 7 as being Friday night we were worried it might be full. It stopped raining a little so when we reached Somerton Deep Lock at 5.15, Norman and I ventured out to help. It was as a very deep lock (12ft) with stiff gates and paddles and half way though it tipped down again and we both got very wet (John and Ian were already soaked).
Arriving at Lower Heyford and John opening the lock gates - on his own in the rain!
Then on to Aynho Wharf, where we stopped for the night. We walked along to the Great Western Arms to a very busy canalside pub. I had a couple pints of Old Hooky - very nice and a small, quite expensive (£24) Sea bream and prawn meal, very nice. We left about 9.15 and came back to the boat where we had wine (me) and whisky (others) and chatted till 11.30 and then to bed on very narrow, fairly hard beds. Bert snored all night!
Stalwart Ian (and John) piloting the boat through the Chisnell lift bridge - still in the rain
Saturday 15th July
Awoke before 6.00 a.m. Bert still snoring, but stayed in bed till 7.00 and finished yesterdays diary. We had breakfast and didn't leave until about 9.30 and headed north. We went through pleasant rural countryside and 4 locks as the canal wandered and under the M40 twice towards Banbury. I had a 'steer' for some time but didn't actual go through any of the locks, The weather was often sunny and it was never cold, but we had a number of heavy shower. The canal was slightly busier today – we passed 3 or 4 boats! The locks on this section were Aynho Weir Lock, Nell Bridge Lock, King's Sutton Lock and Grant's Lock.
We reached Banbury about 1.30 and managed to park partly illegally just before a bridge almost in the centre. We walked into the town to a Morrisons to get some provisions, but found it was only a petrol station, but did manage to get some bread and matches (the lighter on the boat didn't work!). Now 1.50 we wandered right into the centre and found a' modern pub, ’The Cherwell' which called itself a traditional pub'. It did have some nice beer and I had scampi and chips for £10. It rained whilst we were inside. We walked back to the boat and left about 2.30.
Leaving our mooring at Ayhno Wharf
Ian steering leaving Aynho Wharf
In the diamond Aynho Weir lock
Passing under lift bridge 189
The lock cottage at Kings Sutton Lock
Lift bridge 173 that you can see from the M40
We left Banbury through a busy section of the canal and Banbury Lock, where we had trouble with the wind that had blown up. The boat is 70ft long and can easily be blown sideways and as there is usually less than 1ft clearance sideways and 4ft at either end in a lock, so there is not much room for error.
Our boat mooring in Banbury and returning to it
Returning to the boat
The urbanisation went on for some way with the occasional shower and under the M40 for the last time, then rural countryside again. Then 3 more locks at Hardwick Lock, Bourton Lock and Slat Mill Lock and we arrived at Cropredy (of Fairport Convention fame) where having moored once, changed our mind and then went though Cropredy Lock, and moored just above the village. There were two pubs here, and I had rung ahead again and found that one did not do meals on Saturday evening (how strange) so had just managed to get us squeezed in at the Brasenose Arms. We walked back along the canal to pub for 7.00 and found quite a 'posh' pub, very busy and had a not to expensive meal of sardines £18, nicely presented but really too 'hot and spicy 'for most of those who had it which was a bit of a shame.
In Banbury lock
It rained heavily whilst we were in the pub, but was dry by the time we walked back, it was beginning to get dark by the time we arrived back about 8.45. Later we sat around and chatted and drunk a little whisky again (the others) and me white wine and all went to bed early soon after 10.30. ( getting old!).
In the Brasenose Arms at Cropredy
Sunday 16th July
Awoke about 7.00 after a reasonable nights sleep. (less snoring from Bert) to a bright morning and got up about 8.00 had breakfast and left about 9.15.
We soon came to Broadmoor Lock and as Fred was 'driving' we came to Varney Lock and bridge which he found very 'disappointing' with not even a derelict lock cottage and no flags of welcome!
Our mooring at Cropredy
On though Elkingtons Lock and just as I had boiled the kettle we carried at Claydon Lock which turned out to be five! So it was more than half an hour later when I finally made tea/ coffee. Then it was a straight two miles to Fenny Compton, after retrieving ourselves from being stuck on a bank! We arrived at Fenny Compton just after one o'clock and while the others filled the boat with water, I went to look for a place the other side of the bridge to tie up. Having sorted that ( I thought!) I went into the pub to see if we could have lunch. The pub was smaller than last night and packed out - hence no food available. They were advertised as having a shop there, but to say it was minimal would be an understatement. I retuned to the boat and after a discussion, Fred and I returned to the shop and bought a loaf (only one available) and 3 small tins of tuna. We returned to find the others had taken the boat on through the bridge to the mooring. This turned out to be permit holders only and so they had moved a long way on. As there we no more pubs, John had decided we would have beans on toast for lunch, but by the time we had reached where they had finally stopped, they had decided even that wasn't suitable and so we moved on again. John started making lunch and we finally stopped near bridge 133 opposite the Medieval Village of Wormleighton (site of) about 2.00 and had a beer and beans on toast! After lunch they was a 6 mile stretch without any locks and winding round and round in circles. At one point there was even a ‘hairpin bend’. At another point the HS2 route crossed us and we went right round it in a circle at bridge 127. There were no villages or even farms on this section, although we did pass a Clamping Camp which amused us, as the was one tent, a bath 'setup' and a horse box with place name on the side, which we think was advertising it (The actual site was across the fields). Just before a place called Marston Doles (nothing much there but a couple of houses and a small road), we pulled and parked for the night. John wasn't very happy with this spot and having 'tied up' a boat went past quite fast and one of the mooring 'pins' pulled out and whilst Ian was trying the catch the rope the pin fell in the water. There were only 3 on the boat, so now we only had 2 – just enough to tie up the boat. We moved on a bit and found a slightly better mooring point at 6.00 p.m.
Fred at Varney's Lock
And at Varney's bridge
As we knew there were no more pubs for a meal tonight, John had been making a mince casserole for tonight for some time whilst we were travelling. Even this was difficult as he had only 3 small dishes which he made 2 for meat and one for Quorn but they wouldn't all fit in the oven at the same time! He eventually succeeded and we had casserole and pasta about 7.30 with wine. Later we chatted and I had a beer and the others had some more of the whisky's. We retired to bed about 11. 00.
Bulrushes and the boat tied up at Marston Doles
Monday 17th July
A quiet night (except for Bert's snoring) and I awoke about 7.00 a.m. and finished yesterday diary. We had breakfast and left early before 9.00.
We soon came to Napton Top lock and went though that and another soon after which was part of the Napton Hill flight. These locks were now going down, all the other locks so far had been going up. We passed the short and narrow 'Old Engine House' arm and then down 7 more locks to bridge 113 at Napton, where we moored up.
Early morning at Marston Doles
The others walked into the pretty village of Napton, looked in at the pub where we had hoped to go for lunch, but was closed on Mondays! and then up to the post office/shop. They said it was the most well stocked shop for a village they had ever been in and came back with some provisions and 7 pieces of cheese and tomato quiche.
On the Napton flight of locks
Buffalo in the fields beside the canal
It was now about 12.30 and we set off straight away through the Napton Bottom lock where a local Canal Trust man helped us through. We then proceeded another quarter of a mile to a winding hole where John expertly turned us around (it is very difficult to turn a 72ft boat around, even with a winding hole). Then it was back up the six locks of the Napton Hill flight. These locks had become very busy and a couple of the lads helped a lady on her own to follow us up. It was quite hard work, but with boats coming down as well and leaving the gates open for us and everyone helping and setting the next lock, we did it quite quickly. Then it was through Adkins Lock and the two Marston Doles locks.
Fred, John & Clive
I organised the quiche and tea which we had travelling along at about 2.00 p.m. The reason for the rush was to get back to Fenny Compton for a pub meal tonight and I phoned a number of times to book a table, but the phone signal was poor and I kept getting out off. I did establish that they were open and had room but that was as far as I got before being cut-off, when there was a pinging /banging noise from the propeller. We managed to pull in and moor and John and Ian had the mucky job of opening the 'prop hatch’ and found some rope and metal wrapped around the propeller which they managed to remove. So they wrapped all up and off we all went again. We continued to travel along this long stretch (7.5 miles total) without a lock, winding round and round as the canal followed the contour of the land. Past HS2 and the Clamping camp and reached Fenney Compton soon after 6' o clock.
Ian in a regular position
The weather had been quite hot and sunny most of the day with the odd short shower. We moored up and got ready and walked along the towpath to the Wharf Inn, where we had a couple of pints and a nice meal (me a starter of halloumi and then sea bass again).
HS2 crossing the canal
The Glamping Camp - not sure about the bath!
We left and got back to the boat about 9.00. We sat and chatted, the others having whisky again, before I started falling asleep and we all retired about 10.45. It had been a long and energetic day.
In the Wharf Inn
Arriving back at the boat
Tuesday 18th July
Didn't finally wake up till 7.30 and wrote yesterdays diary. Had a leisurely breakfast - no rush today and left at 10.30 and stopped almost immediately in Fenny Compton for water, finally leaving at 10.50.
I had a 'steer' at first, the canal started wide but soon become very narrow where the canal went through an 'opened out' tunnel. We passed another boat in this section that had pulled in, but then pulled out as we went by and found another boat behind us (we had tried to indicate it to them). They ended up across the canal and a' domestic' dispute ensued as are went past! I handed back to John and it was then on down the 5 Claydon locks. We stopped in the middle of these locks on a short straight section. A Canal and River Trust volunteer came past and said we could tie up there for a short stop, but were no longer allowed to stop there overnight since last year after the canal had accidentally emptied overnight due to leakage ( presumably someone had left a slice open) and a boat had ended up on its side. We had lunch of toast/ tuna/ left over mince and cheese and left about 2.00. While we were travelling through the Claydon locks, Ian accidentally dropped one of the lock keys in the water, fortunately near Fred who marked the spot so he knew roughly where it was and whilst they were fishing with a boat hook, the man in the boat behind said he had a big magnet. So lan went and collected it and after a little bit of fishing about, voila! he found it and pulled it out – quite an amazing bit of luck, both being lent the magnet and finding the key in 1m of water.
Taking on water and Fenny Compton
Having left the bottom lock it was a mile or so to Elkington's Lock and then on to the famous Varneys Lock (well to Fred anyway) and finally through Broadmoor lock.
Ian fishing for, and Fred holding the lock key triumphantly
The weather had been pleasant and sunny till then but it started to rain a little through these last locks. It was then less than a mile to Cropredy during which time I had a shower, which made having a shower in my lxy campervan look easy. It was very small and nowhere to put anything. We arrived at Cropredy and moored up at about 4.30 and some of us walked along the canal to the 'Bridge Stores' at the far end of the village where we bought some necessary stores (including toilet rolls). On the way back we called in at the 'Red Lion' pub which seemed to be filled with locals already and booked a table for later. We returned to the boat and sorted ourselves out and I wrote some diary and had a little kip. About 6.30 we walked up to the pub for what tuned out to be a hilarious evening. The landlady was called Dee (Denise) who was hobbling about and had fallen over a year ago and broken her hip. An emergency hip replacement had gone wrong and despite a number of attempts to put it right, it had still had left her limping. She was in her 50 's and certainly was a character. We all ordered pints,mostly a beer called UBU (utterly bloody useless!) and sat down to eat. The pub was quite small but busy and she took our orders. There wasn't a lot of choice and we all ordered whitebait for starters and various things for mains for which I ordered fish and clips along with Ian. The pub as I said was small and the kitchen turned out to be upstairs kitchen turned out to be upstairs with a ‘lift' (dumbwaiter) for the food to come down. After a little while she came back down and said they unfortunately hadn’t got any whitebait and wanted to substitute garlic mushrooms, which I wasn't very excited about (it turned out that they weren't garlicky anyway with complaints by some, but suited me fine). There was also only one fish e chips, so I said I would have scampi. We had tried to go to this pub last Saturday and they said they didn't do food on Saturdays which we thought was strange,but it turned out they only did food on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On further enquiring, they had only been here 5 years and since it was very pub food, it relied on the passing canal hire boat trade. Boats either leaving Heyford or Napton arrived here on Tuesdays or Wednesdays and Thursdays was out because it was 'Aunt Sally day! Friday and Saturdays were busy with locals drinking (not sure about Sundays and Mondays). So we had starters /mains entertained by the landlady's stories. When it came to pudding everybody said they didn't want one and John got up preparing to leave. I said I wanted another pint it was so good. It ended up with others having 2 puds, 3 shorts and a coffee!
Walking between locks and entering Claydon bottom lock
Fred at Varney's lock, despondent as there was no flags out again
We finally left after a good evening about 9.30 and walked back to the boat. We sat and chatted for some time before four of us left for bed about 10.30 and John, Ian went to bed after 11.00.
The Red Lion, Cropredy
Walking back from the pub
Wednesday 19th July
I awoke about 7.00 a.m. and wrote the long diary for yesterday and got up for breakfast at 8:15. There was no rush this morning again and we finally left about 10.30. We immediately went through Cropredy lock.
We continued south for a mile or so to Slat Mill Lock. After this we were told the next lock was close so Fred, Bert and I walked on. Nearly three quarters of a mile later we came to Bourton Lock!
The weather was fine this morning apart from one short shower, but there were quite a lot of boats today and we had to wait at all the locks for boats either going up or down. We went under the M40 again and to Hardwick Lock and just as we reached Banbury moored up just after the Holman Bridge. With a clever bit of map reading (by me) we managed to getup to and over the bridge, along a path for a little way and across the busy A4023 and into Tesco. This Shop was enormous, making Newbury's Tesco Extra look like a Tesco Metro. We made for the cafe and some had a modest Panini and others a full English breakfast! We went downstairs after and bought food hopefully to last to the end, and then left and crossed back across the road and back to the boat. We left there and soon reached Banbury Lock right in the centre. A very busy area and we had again to to wait get into the lock. After this we went through the drab area of outer Banbury and then a couple of miles through countryside under the M40 to Grants Lock. Then another mile to Kings Sutton Lock where we moored up just after.
The boat sails past as we walk!
Bridge 158 at Bourton - we're still walking!
We had hoped to take a track/road from here across to Alderbury to the pub, but the Canal and River Trust had put up a notice saying it was not a public right of way, so I walked along a bit further to a lift, bridge, but it was open, without a rope and in any case the track from it was totally overgrown, so we all retired to the boat for a beer! Later John cooked scampi and chips and tinned veg, although again he had trouble with the cooker. We had this with wine. Later still we sat around and chatted and with whisky (the others) and went on till after midnight.
Coming out of Banbury Lock
A quiet sunny evening at our mooring near Kings Sutton
Thursday 20th July
Even after a late night I awoke at 6.00. I tried to go back to sleep but Bert’s snoring was even worse! so I put some music on till 7.00 then finished yesterdays diary. We had breakfast in no hurry as we haven't got that for to go and so did some clearing up and left about 10.30.
We soon passed under the M40 (for the last time). Just after we pulled into the Pigs cafe to get some water, but the chap apologetically said they were not on mains water and the rainwater tanks were empty, so no water! We did however walk up to the cafe and have tea/ coffee.
A typical breakfast
We left there and after about a ¾ mile came to Nell Lock
At Pigs Cafe
Soon after at Aynho Weir, where the River Cherwell crosses, we came to Aynho Weir Lock. This is a funny lock in that it was diamond shaped and the boat only fitted at an angle and also it was only just over a 1ft drop presumably connected with the river level just before.
Coming out of Nell Lock
Then on to Aynho Wharf where we went to the Great Western Arms pub again and had a lovely pint of Old Hooky again and I had a small fish and chips. Afterwards we managed to finally get some water, at the boatyard, which meant manoeuvring the boat from the opposite side of the canal. We left Aynho Wharf and after about 1.5 miles came to Somerton Deep lock and it was, some 12ft, and was a bit scary and the paddles and gates were again very hard work. There was a lock cottage there - for sale, but there didn't seem to be any road access. The man was cutting his lawn and two dogs were yapping!
Passing Aynho Wier into Aynho Weir lock
It was difficult to fit into Aynho Weir Lock
Then it was on through Heyford Common lock and Allen’s lock both of which had a bit of a queue - although we were first in it.
Coming out of Somerton Deep Lock
Past Upper Heyford to Lower Heyford where we moored just before lift bridge at about 6.15. We left almost immediately walking along the towpath and over the lift bridge into Lower Heyford with Norman carrying his bag. We reached the Bell Inn and after some searching met up with Norman's wife Judy and her sister Pam. Norman has a hospital appointment in the morning and is going home tonight. Pam left as she had only come to show Judy the way. We had a good social evening and the beer was good, but the food was not so good. We had heard that the Sou Chef had left earlier in the week, and the food took a long time to come. Those that had steaks for an end of trip treat said they were not good, and my Mediterranean tart had much too much onion in it for me. We left about 9.30, Judy and Norman went home and we retuned to the boat. The others finished off the whisky and after a bit I started falling asleep, so went to bed about 10.45 in Norman's bed to get away from Bert's snoring!
Friday 21st July
However I did not have as good a sleep as I had hoped for, after all the exercise of 'boating' yesterday. I think it was the onions which never agree with me. I awoke soon after 6.00 a.m (I could still hear Bert’s snoring but it sounded nowhere near as bad). I got up at 7.00. We had breakfast with just cereal, bread and marmalade, no toast as we had to leave to get to the boatyard before 9.00. Then it was collect all the bedding, a quick sweep of the floor - we did the main job yesterday, pack up all the surplus food, pack away all the crockery and off along the 800m or so to the boatyard.
We arrived soon after 8.30 along with 4 other boats. Fred heard one of the men say "why does everyone arrive at the same time, I've been here since 7.30?" - well nobody had told us an earliest time, only that if one didn't arrive by 9.00, they would charge us £30 for every 15mins late. We all felt they weren't a very friendly company. Then suddenly there were workers everywhere, one filling the boats with fuel (we had to pay for it before we left), cleaners, emptiers etc. John sorted the payment and all settled with him.
Arriving back at the boatyard - a moorhen came to say hello
Then it was goodbye's to everyone, Fred and Clive left to go to Cheltenham and Clive on to Wales. The other 3 left with John to drop off a sock that he had left behind at Normans at Chilton and then me at Hermitage, John and lan home to Newbury and Bert on to Swanage. It had been a great little holiday.
The cleaners move in
We hired the boat from Oxford Narrowboats at Lower Heyford. It was a conventional narrowboat 72ft long called Cropredy
Those on the trip John Edmonds - my friend from college in Portsmouth His son Ian Fred (Neil) Varney Clive Richards Norman Goodall Bert (Gilbert) Morrey Adrian (me) Bower All the others were at secondary school together at Southfields School Oxford. I had been friends with all of them after two holidays in old cars to Lands End in 1963 and 1964.
The average age of the' crew' apart from Ian (47) was 79.
Most except me had been on canal trips for the last 8 years (except for Covid times).
I had a lovely time and it was great to be back with old pals again.
We went from Lower Heyford to Napton on the Oxford Canal. This canal was started near Coventry in 1770 and was an early narrow contour canal which was started by James Brindley and later by Samuel Simcock and James Barnes. It did not reach Oxford until 1790.
The weather was not particularly good. It rained all the first afternoon/ evening and there were heavy showers the next day. After that there was the odd shower, but mostly sunny/ cloudy. It was not cold - average about 20°C.
I had the odd time at steering the boat, but I found it much too long (72 ft) to be comfortable and the tiller/rudder was much too heavy on my back. Most of the steering was done by John and lan.
Pubs and shops were very difficult to find as there were few villages on the route. The others told me this was not so on their other trips.
We hadn't realised how dictatorial the hire company was until we read some of the rules. Norman had had to sign his name on various forms saying what we could and couldn't do and somebody witness it (me) perhaps 10 times at the beginning.
The attention to detail on the boat was minimal - like some motorhomes we have hired - with nowhere to hang /put anything particularly by ones bed.