If, like Mr. Toad in Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows,” you think you might enjoy messing about on the river, then a holiday afloat on Britain’s inland waterways could be just what you need. I used to spend a lot of time on a narrow boat which had been purpose built, but which retained the basic features of a traditional narrow boat. The boat was more or less permanently moored on the Grand Union Canal close to the Warwickshire village of Long Itchington, outside the canal-side pub, The Blue Lias.
You can get there from Rugby, Manchester, Birmingham, or Oxford. The Oxford canal links to the River Thames and later to the Grand Union Canal. It is one of the oldest canals in Britain, having been opened in 1790. It starts at the Oxford Isis Lock in the middle of the city of Oxford and goes on for 77 miles to Hawkesbury Junction which is close to Coventry. On the way you pass some delightful villages which you wouldn’t necessarily see if you were on a car journey – Braunston, and Cropredy for example.
The joys of canal travel are that you relax as you have to adhere to the speed limit of 4 mph, and you can stop where you want to. You should plan your route beforehand so that you have an idea of where you would like to stop. The Oxford canal takes you through some idyllic countryside and you pass quite close to the village of Woodstock and Blenheim palace – birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. You can also stop at Banbury and old mediaeval town with a cross – remember the nursery rhyme, “Ride a cock horse to Banbury cross”? You can see it for yourself if you take a narrow boat along the Oxford canal.
Braunston is an old canal town and a gathering place for narrow boat owners. Cropredy is home to the folk festival in which Fairport Convention appear every year. The Red Lion in Cropredy is a good watering hole and it sells food too.
There are 43 lock systems on the Oxford canal and going through these can be a time-consuming business, so you will have to be patient. There may be queues to go through them too. One of the good things about locks is that there is usually a convenient watering hole close by where you can relax.
If you are a little daunted about opening and closing lock gates you can hire a narrow boat complete with a skipper. You will be asked to help sometimes, but it does take the strain off you while you are on a narrow boat holiday. Why not do some research and find out more about narrow boat holidays?