Thursday, April 30, 2009

A damp trip onto the Oxford Canal

Today started OK, but by the time we’d filled with water at the BW yard, it had started to rain.

Topping up the tank at Hartshill
We got on the move properly at 10:30, on the last leg of the Coventry Canal to Hawkesbury Junction. The canal was built initially to carry coal from the many collieries in the area north of Coventry. It is now mainly rural, but there are glimpses of an industrial past with disused railway bridges and odd concrete structures of indeterminate function along the navigation.

Disused odds and sods.
These bits contrast sharply with views over the farmland in the River Anker valley to the west.
Nuneaton was reached all too quickly, and it hasn’t changed it’s nature since the last time we came through. There’s a settee and 2 chairs in the water near Bridge 19, and a TV a bit further on. Still, it’s good to see the locals have found a use for this amenity.

Hazard to navigation?
There was one saving grace. Just outside the town I spotted our first brood of cygnets.
Out of the town, there’s a short section of open country that still bears the scars of quarrying in places, then the Ashby Canal joins from the right at Marston Junction. This is another navigation that was built to carry the black diamonds, this time from the coalfields around Moira and Ashby de la Zouch.

Marston Junction.
Sir Francis Newdigate had discovered coal on his extensive estates around Nuneaton and Bedworth, and constructed a network of canals and tramways to ship it to the Coventry Canal. Some of these are still visible in Arbury Park.
The only evidence from the canal though is the remains of the linking arms for Griff Colliery and Newdigate Colliery.

Griff Colliery Arm near Bridge 18
Newdigate Colliery Arm near Bedworth Hill Bridge, no 13.
From Marston Junction the canal makes it’s way to Hawkesbury Junction in straight sections, with bends to left or right separating them.

On one of the bends is Charity Dock, which still seems to be in a timewarp. It doesn’t appear to have changed since we first came this way, 2½ years ago.

Charity Dock
I wish!
Hawkesbury Junction, with it’s engine house for pumping water up from a well to the navigation, is about 2 miles from Marston Junction.

The engine house used to be occupied by a steam engine (called “Lady Godiva”), which spent the first 100 years of it’s (her) life pumping water from the levels of Griff Colliery. Another 92 years later, in 1913, the old girl was retired and now rests in Dartmouth Museum. Why Dartmouth, I don’t know.

Approaching Hawkesbury Junction.
The distinctive (and much photographed) towpath bridge over the junction with the Coventry Canal.
It was at the junction, in Sephton’s Yard, that Frank and Rose Skinner’s boat, “Friendship”, was built in 1924. I took a photo of her, now under cover at the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum.

Having filled with water at Hartshill, we just got rid of the rubbish and emptied a loo tank before climbing the 12” rise at the stop lock onto the Oxford Canal.

Onto the Oxford Canal.
Having initially described a series of sharp bends under a mess of electricity pylons, the canal then makes it’s mind up which way it’s going and heads off south east, alongside the M6. The rain on the tarmac made it noisier than normal today.

Then it loses it’s way again for a bit, wiggling along to Ansty, and ducking under the M69 on route.
We pulled over here, just before Bridge 15.

They start begging early around here!
It’s rained pretty much all day, with varying degrees of intensity. But with only the one lock (?) to do, it’s not been so bad.

Apart from the short section between Braunston Turn and Napton Junction, (now part of the Grand Union network), we’ll be staying on the Oxford Canal till – you guessed it – Oxford. About 2 weeks away.

Locks 1, miles 12

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