Following Jonathan’s cycling precedent, I decided to undertake walking the entire Oxford Canal, renowned for its rural beauty and remote charm as it winds its way from Coventry down to its end near Hythe Bridge Street in Oxford. The canal, opened in 1790, was one of the earliest canals built to provide cheap transport of coal and timber for the burgeoning industrial revolution; not that Oxford had any industry then, but it was the gateway to the River Thames and London. To reduce the cost of construction, the principal engineer, James Brindley, chose to utilise the path of the River Cherwell south of Banbury, and this was to provide the canal with its quiet character as it wound through north Oxfordshire; north of Banbury he chose to follow the contour of the land for the same reason, resulting in a waterway that seems more like a river !
I began the 90-odd miles in Coventry itself, and walked in almost total isolation along a flat course that took me through Rugby, near Daventry, Napton, through Banbury and on to Oxford. No longer a commercial canal, it has fortunately survived due to the immense increase in pleasure boating from the 1960s onwards – nearly all the traffic is now holidaymakers in gaily painted narrowboats with names like “Old Age Traveller, Life of Riley, Driftwood, Slow Gin, Dunrushin and Awayfromit Owl” !! Walkers were few, and so were pubs, since many have closed down, so I relied on three ghastly motels, but also some lovely B&B, and just two inns. Progress was usually nine to twelve miles a day, and I was fortunate with the weather, having to suffer only three showers and one hailstorm…. but there were a myriad of small bridges to shelter under. The most remarkable aspect of the canal walk, apart from its rural isolation, was the near total silence when away from the M6 and M40. Mallards, geese, coot, swans, herons, rooks, crows and jackdaws abounded; sheep, cattle and horses everywhere.
At one point I stayed in Wormleighton Hall, now a working farm with over one hundred horses, and other nights the “Great Western Arms” in Aynho, and the “Brasenose Arms” in Cropredy.
I employed an old Boy Scouts trick to stave off blisters…. liberal amounts of Vaseline on my feet each morning, which I knew from experience would be effective. Eventually I slogged the last eight miles to Oxford in bright sunshine, and the end of my journey…. I could have done with the Horspath Bus !! My thanks go out to all of you who have supported me – and St. Giles!
by Brian Lowe, Churchwarden of St Giles’ Horspath
Congratulations Brian on your historic walk and for raising over £1,000 for St Giles’.