We had Jaq and les aboard last night for a drink or two. Les and I spent the evening talking about the original line of the Oxford, while the ladies spoke of other things. I’ve no idea what, but both topics of conversation were so absorbing that it was nearly 11 by the time we called it a day.
We had a bit of a lie-in this morning, it was raining first thing anyway. Les and Jaq got away first, we left shortly afterwards but going in the opposite direction.
As I mentioned, Les and I were talking about the old line of the canal last night. The Oxford was completed in 1778, planned and surveyed by the redoubtable James Brindley. As with his previous projects, the 91 mile long navigation was laid out as a contour canal, avoiding the construction of cuttings and embankments. Unfortunately this meant that the canal wove a devious route across the countryside. But this method of construction was outdated, the modern technique of cut and fill used successfully further south provided a much faster, more direct route from source to destination.
By the 1820s, with competition from alternative routes, the winding route of the Oxford was a severe handicap to trade so the canal company decided to re-survey the route and offer improvements. The survey recommended massive changes, chopping through the loops and bends of Brindley’s line and reducing the distance from Hawkesbury to Braunston by a third.
After nearly 200 years a lot of the old route has been lost, but the evidence is there if you know where to look…
Just up from where we’d moored was a loop that swung out to the south, returning to the current route after half a mile.
Leaving just beyond the entrance to the Coventry Cruising Club moorings on an old colliery arm…
…it returned just to the south of Stone Bridge.
Unusually this redundant loop didn’t fall into disrepair immediately. It serviced the Craven, Alexandria and Old Main Collieries so was kept open while the pits were still working.
Sometimes the old loops are almost undiscernible…
…at other times a cast iron bridge carrying the towpath marks their position.
Sunshine and showers were the order of the day, and the breeze steadily increased, gusty across the exposed embankments.
The canal line remained unchanged through the village of Ansty, but to the south and east it runs on a long embankment then into a deep cutting through Nettle Hill.
The M6 crossing the cutting near Nettle Hill
There’s a short section of the “old cut”, with a line of permanent moorings on the offside, alongside Colehurst Farm, then the new line is encountered again as the canal approaches Stretton Stop.
Approaching Stretton Stop
Stretton is home to Rose Narrowboats, with a hire fleet, moorings and good workshops. There’s also a little swing footbridge across the canal to deal with.
We’d planned to moor in a popular spot, near All Oaks Wood, but it looked a bit busy as we approached…
There were gaps, though, and we pulled into one of these. Not without a struggle, mind. One of the heaviest showers of the day was on it’s way preceded by a squally wind. It was a struggle to pull the boat in against it, but we got there in the end.
On through Rugby tomorrow, with a stop to top up the larder.
Locks 0, miles 6¾