Walking Route, free entry
A long-distance path, the 77-mile Oxford Canal Walk, follows the waterway from Oxford to Hawkesbury. The gentle engineering of the canal, with few lock flights, means that the walking is always easy.
The Oxford Canal Walk links the cathedral cities of Oxford and Coventry, passing through the quiet rural landscape of the South Midlands.
It passes beside 43 locks, numerous wooden lift bridges (a unique feature), cast iron bridges and through one tunnel, yet crosses only one road. There are few hills to speak of - the canal summit is only 400 feet above the start on the Thames.
The towpath is continuous throughout its length. The path is in good condition all the way along, and the route is waymarked throughout with 'Oxford Canal Walk' signs. It is particularly attractive to those seeking rural tranquility whilst offering a valuable legacy from our industrial past.
The walk begins at Isis (or 'Louse') Lock, by Hythe Bridge Street in Oxford - 10 minutes due east of Oxford railway station. Worcester Street Car Park behind you was the site of the original canal basin, now the subject of a restoration plan. The towpath wanders through Jericho, an affluent suburb of Oxford that still retains a Bohemian atmosphere, memorably recreated by author Philip Pullman in the His Dark Materials trilogy. After the busy A34 bypass bridge, look out for Duke's Cut, a short cut to the Thames which heads off to the left. The main line of the canal continues past Kidlington, home of Richard Branson. The towpath is in excellent condition throughout, with a hard and even surface for the majority of this stretch.
At Thrupp, the canal is joined by the River Cherwell, which will accompany it all the way to Cropredy - even sharing the same channel for a while. Thrupp itself is the epitome of a canalside village and is always busy with moored boats. This is a delightful rural stretch with several appealing canalside pubs. The towpath condition is mostly very good: it retains the characteristics of a rural footpath and consequently, there are occasional minor obstructions from overhanging trees and bushes.
3. Lower Heyford
The canal north of the Heyfords is pleasantly rural, with only the roar of the M40 to disturb the solitude. Attractive villages litter the Cherwell valley, and Aynho, for one, is certainly worth a mile's detour (turn right at bridge 190). The towpath is similar in condition to a country footpath, and occasionally short stretches may be slightly overgrown and/or narrow. Around Somerton Lock, the towpath merges with a farmer's field for approximately two miles, so don't be alarmed by discovering you share your route with the odd sheep! Here, the walking surface becomes more uneven, but again remains at the standard of a country footpath.
Banbury's canalside has been transformed in recent years. The historic Tooley's Boatyard - cradle of the canal revival movement - has been renovated; a new shopping centre has sprung up; and a glass bridge, home to Banbury's museum and waterways gallery, spans the canal. The towpath is in good condition for the four miles to Cropredy, a canalside village with good pubs which plays host to Fairport Convention's annual folk music festival.
Leaving Cropredy, the canal is at its most isolated. The section of towpath that follows the line of the old Fenny Compton Tunnel often becomes overgrown and slightly eroded in places. This shouldn't cause too many problems, but walkers are advised to take care when negotiating this section. Excluding this stretch, the surface is very good, particularly in Cropredy itself where there is a hard surface. Walkers should expect occasional overhanging branches and overgrown hedges but otherwise, no major obstructions.
6. Fenny Compton Wharf
The canal here follows James Brindley's original sinuous course around Wormleighton Hill, taking four miles to cover an as-the-crow-flies distance of just two. Napton Locks, and the windmill on Napton Hill, make one of England's most memorable canalscapes. Walkers should expect overhanging branches, resulting in a narrowing of surface width, around the areas of Priors Hardwick and Wormleighton. Extra care should be taken at these points. Around Napton Junction, the towpath may become slightly eroded in places, and again, walkers are urged to be cautious. These obstructions are limited to very short sections however, and recent towpath improvements have been made. Overall, surface quality is fine and remains at the level of a country footpath.
Here, the Oxford Canal and the Grand Union Canal share their course for four miles. Braunston itself, a half-mile diversion along the Grand Union from the canal junction at Braunston Turn, is just as thriving a canal village as it has ever been, with a busy marina, several canal businesses, and a useful village centre. Walkers should expect a narrowing of surface width due to erosion and overhanging branches a couple of miles south west of Braunston and extra care should be taken. Towpath condition is very good on the Grand Union Canal.
8. Braunston Turn
The mellow landscape gradually gives way to more built-up surroundings in Rugby, starting with the attractive suburb of Hillmorton, where the locks were duplicated to speed the passage of traffic. Historic canal buildings are joined by an attractive development of new craft workshops. This section of towpath was once the most problematic on the canal, but thanks to recent improvements by British Waterways, this is no longer the case. Short sections of towpath around Barby and Willoughby may be slightly narrow and in some areas small indents in the towpath mean that the surface is not always as even and stable as it might appear. These are not likely to cause many problems however, and on approaching Rugby the surface is much improved.
From Ansty to Hawkesbury the towpath is very good and for the majority of the stretch it has a hard surface.
10. Hawkesbury Junction
This delightful canal junction is the end of the Oxford Canal: the Coventry Canal runs south into Coventry itself, and north towards canal junctions at Fazeley and Fradley. You can finish your journey here, or add an enjoyable five-mile walk into Coventry along the Coventry Canal Art Trail
The Oxford Canal
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