Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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ROUND THE GRAND JUNCTION AND OXFORD CANALS. 250 Miles over interesting waterways in a 6 h.p. Daimler Launch.
THE trip described below was really our first and earliest experience of canal travelling. The novelty of the cruise greatly enhanced the enjoyment it gave to the crew, making it an ever memorable and pleasant holiday. Starting from Henley-on-Thames in our 27-foot petrol motor boat for Oxford, staying at Shillingford Bridge Hotel (a charming spot to stop at) our waterway experience began. Leaving Folly Bridge at noon on the Saturday - where, by the way, Mr. Salter, of Oxford fame, saw us off, giving us the necessary directions - we entered the Oxford Canal about a mile or so above the bridge, where the Canal company sent a man to let us into the first lock and to give us the necessary winch to open the locks with. Most of these locks one has to negotiate oneself, but this is rather a pleasure than a toil, as it varies the day's routine.
The party consisted of two friends, myself and two youths, one being the motor engineer and the other the handy man, who also attended to our inner requirements.
The Oxford Canal (to Braunston 54 miles, with 39 locks) one can easily manage, as the locks generally are not deep, and with good steering there is no difficulty. The locks are just wide enough to let the launch through comfortably (our beam is 6ft. 3in.), and I should mention that there are numerous low wooden bridges which are balanced and can be lifted from one end, but these we got through easily, as we had our top awning taken down. After passing many locks we reached Banbury (Oxon) about 9.30 p.m., having accomplished 27 miles, and here we moored our boat at the Canal Co.'s wharf.
On doing such a journey as this, one must be prepared for mishaps, and of these during the run we had our share. First of all we discovered we had lost one of our two propeller blades, and our boat suddenly started leaking at the stern tube. The loss of the blade did not affect us much, apart from the extra vibration, as we did 4 miles or more per hour - about as fast as one can travel in the Oxford Canal.
With regard, however, to the leak, this was more serious, as the boat nearly sank during the night. This cost us a lot of trouble, both to our engines and electric work. However, after getting assistance from a motor engineer and many willing hands to get the boat on to the hard, we eventually got under way about noon bound for Napton (Warwick). Banbury, I should say, is well worthy of a visit.
For those who have any appreciation of rural life and a desire to get away from everything for a time, such a trip as this is to be recommended, for the country surroundings are very interesting as one travels along. The delightful quietude away from the busy haunts of men is in itself a treat. I should think that during the whole canal journey of 150 miles, apart from the towns we stopped at and the barge folk we passed, we did not meet on an average one person to the mile.
Our intention was to stay at Napton (22 miles), but we had done so well, despite our late start, that we proceeded to Braunston (Northampton) 5 miles farther on, which place we reached about 9.30 p.m. The navigation between Napton and Braunston requires careful pilotage, as, here the depth of water is not so great. One of our party was told off to look for rooms, but came back with the report that no accommodation was available, notwithstanding it is a good-sized village of 850 inhabitants. However, the land lord of one of the inns drove us to Daventry, some 4 miles distant, which we reached about 11.30, and found the town all quiet and asleep. We proceeded to the Peacock Hotel, where, after considerable knocking, we roused the landlord (a genial Scot), who took us in and gave us a welcome, and glad we were to receive a bread and cheese supper and to get to bed, but not before discussing everything with our host.
The next day, after our drive back to Braunston, we started on our journey by the Grand Junction Canal (93 miles, with 101 locks) to Brentford (Middlesex). The locks are numerous, but there are several long stretches on the levels which compensate for the work.
This was a most interesting day, and we covered 27 miles, including two tunnels of 1¼ and 2 miles respectively, in themselves constituting quite a novel experience. The first one we motored through, but for the other we took advantage of the tug which passes through about once every hour. The locks here on starting are very frequent, with a group of six locks in the course of 1¼ miles. Here we got the service of a bargee, who came to open these locks, and he made himself so useful as pilot and proved to be so full of local information that we took him all the way to our destination. After our experience at Braunston, the question arose as to where to sleep, and our pilot decided on Stony Stratford (Bucks), 28 miles down. We had a splendid day's work with the boat, but in the evening, when some 5 miles from our destination, our electric work went out of gear, and thence we had to use our tube ignition. Stony Stratford, a mile from the main canal, we reached at 11 p.m. Here two of us started on the hunt for rooms, and we were fortunate to find the landlord of the Cock Hotel had not retired to rest, and so he kindly provided us with the best the house could afford.
The next morning we were fortunate to get the assistance of an intelligent motor expert and electrician, who overhauled everything, and we proceeded at about noon on our journey, Leighton Buzzard (Bedfordshire), 18 miles, being our next stopping place, and this town we reached about 6 p.m. For the guidance of anyone doing the trip, it is as well to state that the towns, for a part of the way, are few and far between, and this we found rather awkward, as we were rather pressed for time, otherwise with more leisure it would have been more satisfactory. We started early from Leighton Buzzard, as we had to encounter some heavy lock work. This, by the way, keeps one busy, and it is then. that one benefits by having a full crew, which permits of turns being taken with the work. In the afternoon we reached Bulbourne (Herts), which is the engineering department of the Grand Junction Canal Co., and here we received every kindness from the management, who were good enough to do some repairs for us.
We then proceeded on our way, calling at Berkhampstead (Herts) for petrol, and afterwards reached Boxmoor (Herts) about 8 p.m., where we stopped for the night. The weather, which had been fine in the morning, turned out very wet in the afternoon, and this was the only inclement weather we experienced. On the Thursday, which was to be our last day on the canals, we made an 8 o'clock start, with 29 miles and innumerable locks before us. We went on well and reached Rickmansworth (Herts) at about noon, where we landed for some stores. The scenery for a distance below this is very fine; particularly coming through Cassiobury Park.
The canal traffic, when one gets towards Uxbridge (Middlesex), develops greatly, and this continues for the remainder of the journey to Brentford, which was duly reached by us at about 9 p.m., after passing a series of 12 locks grouped together, and finishing what was one of the pleasantest trips it has been my lot to undertake. In fact, given fine weather, a handy crew, and ample time, one could not have a more interesting holiday.
The Grand Junction is a fine canal, with plenty of water, generally speaking, and is much wider than the Oxford Canal.
For our part, the trip was quite a revelation as regards canals and canal traffic. I was rather surprised in several places to learn that, with the exception of a few private launches on the canal, we were said to be the first pleasure craft to pass through this route. To do these canal journeys, it is advisable to go as early in the season as possible, to avoid the weeds, and to study the time when the moon is full, in case of any delays which might necessitate late work. A piece of matting round the boat is advisable to prevent chafing in the locks and tunnels, and it is well also to look to your spare gear, etc., for the engines.
Our consumption of petrol for the canal journey was 24 gallons (Bowley's motor spirit). I should like to say that wherever we went we were shown the greatest kindness from everyone we came in contact with, the lock-keepers included, all through our tour.
I would just add, in finishing, that the counties we passed through en route were Oxon, Warwick, Northampton, Bedford, Bucks, Hertford and Middlesex.
Our canal runs were as follow :-
Making, with the Thames round of 101 miles, a total distance of 250 miles.
Hotels recommended : - '' White Lion,'' Banbury; Peacock,'' Daventry ; " Cock,'' Stony Stratford " Swan," Leighton Buzzard; and " Heath Park," Boxmoor.
Pictures related to this cruise