Oxford, Coventry & Ashby Canals
1 Week Route
The Oxford Canal was engineered by James Brindley and built as a “contour canal” which means that the line follows the contours of land with a minimum of earthworks. This created a very tortuous route and the northern section of the canal was modernised in the 1830’s, almost halving the distance from Coventry to Braunston. The canal strides across the countryside with a series of impressive arrow straight cuttings and embankments interspersed with winding sections of the original canal.
Rose Narrowboats to Hawkesbury Junction
Starting from our boatyard at Stretton Stop, the first part of your journey is along mostly “new” canal (only about 180 years old!) on embankments. After passing through some impressive cuttings and high above open farmland you reach Ansty in about 1 ½ hours.
The canal just before Ansty was the site of a serious breach in November 1963 when the 30ft high embankment gave way and washed 10,000 tons of clay and sand onto adjoining land. Fortunately the problem was spotted by a farmer who, out for an early morning walk with his dog, noticed one of his fields was now under water. He raised the alarm and quick action by British Waterways staff prevented the breach becoming a serious catastrophe. This could have closed the Oxford Canal for a long time. Repairs were completed quickly and the canal re-opened for traffic.
The site of the repair is still visible, look for the concrete section of wall. This location today makes a good place to tie up and visit the pay-and-play golf course (with an excellent club house). You reach Ansty in about one hour. The Rose and Castle and the Ansty Club both serve food.
After Ansty you approach the outskirts of Coventry, but the canal still manages to retain a rural character for much of the one and a half hour run into Hawkesbury Junction (also known as Sutton Stop). Hawkesbury Junction was designated a conservation area in 1976 and is something of an industrial archaeology haven despite much development around it.
Hawkesbury Junction to the Ashby Canal
There is an impressive cast iron bridge, an engine house that once housed a Newcomen Beam Engine, a colourful pub (the Greyhound), and a 6 inch deep “stop lock”. This is a lock designed to keep the waters of the Oxford and Coventry Canals separated. Just down the road is a charming Victorian pub, the Boat. This area is rich in industrial history. You can discover the mysteries of the Newdigate Arm, Arbury Hall and the various quarries and coal mines that were the raison d’etre of the canal in the first place.
Go right around the junction, a 180 degree right turn to test the helmsman’s skill! Then continue north along the Coventry Canal, opened in 1769 and also originally engineered by James Brindley. Heading towards Marston Junction, going through a long wooded cutting before skirting Bedworth and passing the historic Charity Dock.
Soon you come to Marston Junction. The Coventry Canal continues straight on here to link up with the Trent & Mersey canal at Fradley, but you turn right into the Ashby Canal.
The entrance is very narrow as there was once a stop lock here as well. Canal companies guarded their water supplies very carefully and convention was that any new canal company wishing to connect must do so at a higher level.
Unusually, the Ashby, opened in 1794, was 6” lower than the older Coventry Canal. The lock gates, and the lock keeper’s house were removed in the 1960’s. This was after work had been undertaken along the Ashby to raise the banks where necessary. This is about one hour from Hawkesbury and about three and a half hours from Rose Narrowboats.
The Ashby Canal offers twenty two miles of lock-free cruising and becomes prettier and prettier the further you go. The last 6 miles or so epitomising all that is best about the English countryside, especially in autumn. There is a canalside pub, the Limekilns, where the A5 Watling Street crosses the canal close to Hinckley.
Beyond Hinckley the canal becomes very rural indeed. There are, however, some lovely villages only a short walk away from the canal, particularly at Stoke Golding, Market Bosworth and Shackerstone.
Sutton Cheney to Snarestone
A very popular cafe is at Sutton Cheney Wharf and the fascinating site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, near bridge 35 is well worth visiting. Here there is a visitor centre where you can trace how King Richard III lost his crown to Henry Tudor in 1485.
Adjacent to the canal is a steam heritage railway and museum. Opening times are restricted, but there are steam trips on most Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.
After the sharp turn at Shackerstone is a fine cast iron aqueduct over the River Sense. Here are good moorings and a pub, The Rising Sun, a short walk in to the village. The best of the scenery is from here to the terminus of the canal just beyond Snarestone, where the canal runs under the village in a tunnel.
There is another pub, The Globe, conveniently built just above the southern portal! From Snarestone there is a bus service to Twycross Zoo about 3 miles away.
Work is in hand to re-open the Ashby Canal to Moira from the present terminus. The first stages of this work can be seen just beyond the winding hole but for now you must turn here and re-trace your voyage back to Hawkesbury Junction.
You should have time if you wish to boat into Coventry, or you can make the 180 degree turn back on to the Oxford Canal and head straight for Braunston.
The 5 ½ miles in to Coventry are urban and of no scenic note whatsoever. As compensation there are excellent moorings in the restored basin at the end of the canal, very close to the centre of the city. Coventry was nearly obliterated by bombing in World War 2 but there are still many fine buildings. The old cathedral was destroyed by bombing and left as a poignant monument with a new modernist cathedral built next to it.
Coventry was the heart of the British motor industry. There is an excellent motor museum (http://www.transport-museum.com/ ) housing examples of many of the famous marques built there. The museum also houses two Land Speed Record breakers, Thrust 2 and the current record holder, Thrust SSC. Like most museums in the UK, entry is free.
Coventry to Newbold on Avon
Once you are on the Oxford Canal heading away from Coventry you soon pass our base at Stretton Stop. The next one and a half hours is a meander through pretty wooded countryside before a short tunnel at Newbold. Here there were two pubs set at right angles to the canal, The Boat and The Barley Mow, which has now absorbed it’s smaller neighbour. Good moorings are just before or after the next bridge.
The original line of the canal ran in front of the pubs, but is now a lane. Through Newbold churchyard opposite you can still see the line of the tunnel from Brindley’s original route. If you turn left out of the lane in front of the Barley Mow and walk downhill a short way into the village there is the Old Crown pub. There are some shops, which include a Post Office, a supermarket and also a cash machine.
Newbold on Avon to Hillmorton Locks
Between Stretton and Hillmorton there are many short “arms” of the canal. Short seemingly purposeless lengths of water which are actually some of the remains of the original route of the canal. They were retained to serve industry – normally flour mills or lime kilns – which had been built alongside the old line. Where necessary these are crossed by graceful cast iron bridges. These bridges are all identical and some of the earliest examples of mass production in the world.
About half an hour after leaving Newbold you pass one of these bridges and arms (now leading to a boatyard) and cross two aqueducts. After these you can moor for the Harvester Inn or the Tesco supermarket nearby (with cash dispenser). There is a picnic area just through the bridge after the Harvester Inn. This is the best place to moor if you wish to visit Rugby.
The next hour features more woodland, a boatyard and a golf course as the canal skirts attractively around Rugby towards Hillmorton Locks. The Oxford Canal climbs from Coventry to its summit over a spur of the Cotswolds just south of Napton (and then drops all the way down to the Thames), so these three locks take you uphill. Shortly after the locks is the Old Royal Oak pub and restaurant which has a canalside garden.
Hillmorton to Braunston
After this the canal changes character as the countryside opens out. Passing Barby Hill to the left and Dunsmoor (the moor named after the legendary medieval Dun Cow) to the right. It takes just under two hours from the locks (about six hours total from our boatyard) to reach the historic canal junction and village at Braunston.
There is lots to see and do here. Pubs include the Boat House, canalside just by the junction, The Old Plough and the Wheatsheaf in the High Street and The Admiral Nelson beside the third lock up towards Braunston Tunnel. There is a supermarket (with cash dispenser inside), Post Office and a butcher’s shop on the High St.
The historic boatyard has been developed into a busy marina and has a shop and various small businesses. You may have time to go further along the Oxford Canal to Napton, about 2 hours beyond Braunston before turning and heading back to end your holiday at Stretton Stop.