Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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ROUND THE CANALS: Continued. FROM BIRMINGHAM TO CHERTSEY. Through the lovely Oxford Canal and thence by the River Thames.
GOING along the fine and easily navigable Worcester and Birmingham Canal to King's Norton the scenery is of a pleasing rural character, and in some places in the latter half is very fine indeed, where one is away from towns or villages. At this point is the junction for the Stratford-on-Avon Canal, which we then entered en route to Hockley Heath (Warwick), some ten miles on, and where we stayed the night.
This canal is quite as picturesque as any that we have been through, and all the way the foliage on the banks is very luxuriant, making a very pleasing and charming run. The water is not so deep as some of the others traversed, so that our progress was not so great. However, for pleasing aspect, if one is in these parts, this canal should not be missed.
Next day was a memorable one, the 21st of June, the longest day of the year, and a long day it was, too, for us. We thought we were in for another soaker by the early morning aspect, but in the fore-noon it turned out fine, with plenty of sunshine, which was acceptable after our day with the "sou'westers." Leaving Hockley Heath at nine sharp, we at once encountered 19 locks in 2¾ miles, doing this in 1 hour and 35 minutes. This finished the Stratford-on-Avon Canal. We were then shunted on to the Warwick and Birmingham Canal, on which we did some eight miles with 24 locks to Budbrooke Junction. This canal is well kept up, and has some fine bits of wooded scenery as one gets along. In the afternoon we made a passing call at the ancient town of Warwick, which is well worthy of a visit. In doing a trip such as this one feels inclined to land at many places en route to view the cathedrals and explore the towns thoroughly, but we found to adopt this would entail a serious loss of time, our route being pretty well mapped out for each day's programme.
It was at this fine old town that we entered the Warwick and Napton Canal (14 miles with 25 locks), which took us down to the junction of the Oxford Canal, passing the well-known town of Leamington (Warwick) on the way. This canal we found also in good condition. A lot of traffic passes through here in transit between Birmingham and London.
We were really rather pleased with our run on that day, as altogether we had done 25 miles over part of the three canal companies' properties, and the very large number of 66 locks - an excellent piece of work, we considered - constituting, as far as we know, a record for a single day's lock work. On approaching, Napton-on-the-Hill (Warwick), our stopping place, we had a little coil trouble, which delayed our arrival about an hour; however, we duly reached our destination about 11 p.m. One of our friends landed at once and hurried up to the Crown Inn, some little distance off the canal, to procure rooms, and he was fortunate enough to catch the landlord just on the point of retiring for the night; after explaining the reason for disturbing him at such an unseemly hour, the necessary accommodation for all of us was procured. On our getting there, after toiling up the Hill (of Napton) - some 500 feet above sea-level-we were regaled at the inn with a savoury ham-and-egg supper by the obliging hostess. We were all glad to turn in after our "longest day " exertions. Napton-on-the-Hill is a lovely spot, and the view for miles and miles around from the old church at the summit of the hill stands almost unsurpassed. The weather now was superb, and we saw the surroundings to the greatest advantage.
In delightful weather we made a 10 o'clock start next day for our run on the Oxford Canal to Banbury (Oxon), leaving Napton-on-the-Hill with some regrets, as it is a quiet, dreamy, out-of-the-way spot where one could appreciate a few days' stop and rest. As our run for the day was a short one, viz., 22 miles with 21 locks, we did not hurry ourselves, but took things leisurely, partaking of lunch on the banks in picnic fashion, instead of, as usual, in the boat as we travelled along. The Oxford Canal we had previously done from Oxford, when we did the Grand Junction circuit via Braunston to London, but we think we appreciated the reverse route from the Napton end even more. There is an absence of artificiality about this canal which one cannot help admiring; the fine open country with delightful solitude as one meanders round the bends into rural scenes is very refreshing. We arrived at Banbury about 7.30 p.m., after a particularly enjoyable day. Before dinner we took a stroll through this fine old and interesting town, and visited an ancient room of historic interest used in Oliver Cromwell's time. Visitors from all parts come to see this and likewise the celebrated Banbury Cross, and no visit is complete without purchasing some of the famous Banbury cakes. This we, of course, did to keep up the old traditions connected with the town.
It was here that we dispensed with the services of our lock opener from Worcester after he had been with us four days. He was a gallant old South African reservist by the way, and the possessor of two war medals with five bars - and he proved to us very valuable. This additional lock assistance makes the trip run more smoothly, and prevents delays if time is an object. One of our party was quite an expert chef, and as he had brought a Primus stove with him we had many little delicacies à la Savoy, so we fared well in that respect. He was quite an acquisition on the voyage, and of course was a popular man on board. Afternoon tea was also a regular institution on board the good ship.
Leaving the Town of Cakes (Banbury) the following morning, Oxford was our next destination-28½ miles with 19 locks. The weather again being perfect we did not hurry unduly on our journey. The second half of this canal was equally enjoyable, and we considered it as pleasant to travel on as any we had yet done, although the Golden Valley on the Thames and Severn Canal and the entire Stratford-on-Avon Canal are certainly very fine.Generally speaking, canals are more or less hedged in, and the traveller does not get full advantage in viewing the country around. In the Oxford Canal one cannot get up the speed owing to the nature of the cutting, but the canal itself is particularly well cared for. Oxford we duly reached about 9.30, and stayed the night there. Proceeding, on this our 14th day, on Old Father Thames once again, we shaped our way down from Oxford, where we were joined by three ladies who came down with us from this point to Henley-on-Thames homeward bound, and the weather once again being ideal we had a very pleasant day, reaching Henley late in the evening.
This circular tour may be pronounced a great success, and if one is so bent a more delightful holiday could hardly be taken. It dispels, too, the erroneous impressions that some people have about canals and travelling thereon, as one passes through lovely country that it is the lot of very few to take advantage of. The great charm is that one is far from the beaten track, and human beings are few and far between. The adjacent country generally is conspicuous by the absence of population for miles around. This we found also to be the case on our previous travels on the waterways in rural England. One is practically beyond the bounds of civilization, and yet still within hail of large towns. The ever-changing scenery keeps one alive all the way along, and the panoramic effect is very fine. In travelling thus one must put up with things as they are found, and be content at that; and all thoughts of " Metropoles " and " Cecils " must, of course, be left behind.
Perhaps the following suggestions may be useful to any intending motorists of the canal waterways. Take plenty of petrol on board, as it is not everywhere procurable. Our consumption was about 40 gallons for the four hundred miles. A piece of canvas about two feet deep round the boat is advisable, especially in going through the narrow locks. See that you have an ample supply of waterproofs or oil-skins for bad weather, and do not forget to procure the necessary winches for the respective canals. On our journey we grounded in getting alongside the bank to land our man to open the locks and draw bridges more often than we cared for, and had we not had a particularly strong skeg our propeller blades must have gone many times; spare blades should therefore be carried in case of emergency. It would be advisable if possible to have a specially made guard to prevent the weed trouble at the propeller if it should be encountered. It is no use undertaking a canal cruise like this unless the boat is thoroughly well manned, otherwise it becomes a toil. Although we had three men for a part of the journey, and with our-selves aboard, the work was all cut out for us, as there is always something to be done " on board ship," even if it is not to forget the catering department. We came to the conclusion that the most suitable craft for such cruising would be a motor boat or punt of shallow draught, and such we saw at Chertsey designed by Mr. James Taylor. In this patent boat, with the light draught of a few inches only, one would be enabled to travel at a much faster speed; besides, such a boat could always be conveyed easily by rail, or even taken out of the water if anything wanted seeing to, or if there was any hitch on the route.
With one or two exceptions only, the motor boat on the canals, we found, was practically unknown, and we take it that we were virtually the pioneers of these waterways under such conditions. To the managers of the respective canal companies with whom we have been in communication we have to tender our sincere thanks for the courteous manner in which they have treated us - nothing was a trouble to them, and every facility was granted to us to make our trip run smoothly. The journey was practically a non-stop run, the Daimler behaving splendidly all the way round. Our launch is 27ft. by 6ft. 3in., with a draught of 2ft. 9in. aft, which latter is about the most one can safely rely on for such a trip as that described. We should like to add that wherever we' went we were loyally and hospitably received by all with whom we came in contact. And our tour drew to a close, as on our 15th and final day we made Chertsey our destination, thereby completing a most satisfactory cruise, so much so that the party and crew were ready to start off again for another trip, but that was not to be, as "Business is Business," and we all hied back to town, all the better for our holiday.
A very good idea of our rate of progress can be gathered from the figures given herewith, relative to the distances travelled, and the number of locks, tunnels or weirs encountered. The short list of hotels where we stayed should prove useful to prospective tourists of our inland waterways, as we found one of our greatest difficulties was to arrange our hotels beforehand. It will also be seen that the number of counties we passed through amounted to no fewer than ten.
The counties we passed through were :-Middlesex, Surrey, Berks, Bucks, Oxon, Gloucester, Wiltshire, Worcester, Northampton, and Warwickshire.
Hotels we stopped at :-Shillingford Bridge, near Wallingford; King's Arms, Oxford; Red Lion, Eynsham; Trout Inn, Lechlade; Fleece, Cirencester; Royal George, Stroud; Crown, Worcester; Park Hotel, Droitwich; Orchard House (C.T.C.); Hockley Heath (Warwick); Crown Inn, Napton-on the-Hill; Red Lion, Banbury.Pictures related to this cruise