Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article Oxford to Boston is the copyright of Jim Shead - the second of "Jim's Jottings" covering the journey from Oxford to Boston. Published in Waterways World August 1998
Oxford to Boston
Oxford seems to have a special attraction for hotel boats. Before going up the Oxford Canal we moored on the Thames, above Osney Lock, in the company of three pairs of hotel boats and on our way up the canal we met yet another pair heading towards Oxford.
As we were making this trip less than a month after the severe flooding of the Oxford Canal I checked with BW about navigation restrictions and was told there were no stoppages. There were no obvious signs that there had been any floods, except for a sunken BW workboat at Cropredy. The whole waterway looked as good as it ever did, indeed better than I ever remember seeing it, for the hawthorn bushes were covered in May flower, like spring snow, so thick that the green leaves could be hardly seen. The banks were also lined with Cow Parsley in full flower, its scent mingling with that of the May to provide a feast for both nose and eye.
Although there were no scheduled stoppages we were held up for 25 minutes at Grant's Lock, just before Banbury, where BW were replacing the lock sill plate which had been damaged. The moorings below Banbury Lock, which were once designated long term moorings and were little used, are now visitor moorings. This is a useful addition to the mooring space near the town centre even though the surroundings could not be called pretty. Additional moorings are also being provided on the Northern Oxford Canal above Hillmorton Locks with mooring rings attached to the top of the steel piling, a method that is often seen on the Northern Oxford and Coventry canals but is not widely used elsewhere.
We went through Braunston a week before the boat show and already boats were arriving and all the 14-day moorings were full. At Norton Junction we turned off of the Grand Union Main Line onto the Leicestershire Section. It was like going from a busy thoroughfare into a tranquil byway. What we now call the Leicestershire Section was originally six different canal and river navigations. The first part of the journey takes us over the route of the old "Grand Union" canal which ran from Norton Junction to Foxton and is the only part having narrow locks. Between the staircase locks at Watford and Foxton is a 21-mile summit pound of truly rural character and full of interest; two tunnels, the Welford Arm, villages and boatyards.
After Foxton the locks are all wide but we continue through countryside until Wigston, where the outer edges of Leicester casts its shadow. Just after this we met mud hoppers and lighters, pushed by tugs, taking dredging to a dumping site. Due to the increased use of the locks several pounds were low, even though water was being back pumped. The temporary chaos was ended below Kings Lock when we passed the dredger. The canal through the centre of Leicester is wide and straight and all along the side, as they have been for over thirty years to my knowledge, are mooring rings. In recent years BW have added smartly painted bollards and a new pontoon mooring by the park. As on my previous visits to the city all these moorings were completely empty. There can be few less inviting sights to a boater than rows of unused urban moorings. We did not stop until we got to Birstall Lock, just north of the city.
From here to the Trent there is more pleasant cruising down the Soar valley. We stopped at Mountsorrel, Barrow-upon-Soar and Kegworth on this trip. At Normanton on Soar the Soar Boating Club were holding a rally and the banks were crowded with people and the river full of boats. It was now the Bank Holiday Weekend and boating activity had visibly increased, not just here on the Soar but also when we turned onto the Trent and met another boat club, from Lichfield, on their way to Holme Pierrepont, The National Watersports Centre and country park on the Trent near Nottingham.
Three days on the Trent took us down to Torksey where we entered the Fossdyke, a waterway of an entirely different character from any of those we have travelled this year. The Fossdyke was originally a Roman canal and it seems that the Romans liked to build their canals, like their roads, as straight as possible. There are bends but each tends to be followed by another wide and straight length. The navigation runs between high banks, the meanders of a contour canal being entirely absent. There are contours shown on the map but the land looks flat. The notable exception is the hill on which Lincoln stands. Several miles before the city we can see the Cathedral on top of the hill. If you are not impressed by this little hill in the middle of a flat landscape try walking to the cathedral from the Glory Hole on the River, up Steep Hill. You will find it aptly named and will be rewarded by seeing the historic centre of the city. After Lincoln the navigation changes from the Fossdyke to the River Witham although it looks the much the same. Often you can see over a mile of straight river in front of you, high banks on either side. Some people find this boring but it is countryside all the way and only two locks in the 42 miles from Torksey to Boston.
From the River Witham we made an excursion up the Kyme Eau. After travelling six miles we could get no further due to the weed and the unusually strong flow so we had to back up 4 1/2 miles to the first lock before we could turn around. I ended last month's jottings being held up on the Thames, after failing to get to the end of the Basingstoke Canal. Now I have problems on Kyme Eau. You may think I am always getting stuck but not at all - sometimes I come unstuck.
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