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Banburyshire Rambles Journal:

‘From Green Lane to Weeping Cross’

A missing canal, the late Autumn colours, and a ‘walk of two-halves’ with too much light and then too little.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘From Green Lane to Weeping Cross’ – route map, 18th November 2022
click for a larger image
– mapping courtesy of OpenStreetmap

Not a planned walk: it was ‘now or never’ for the next few days. Dazzlingly bright sun made the Autumn leaves glow; not good for photography as I’ll be struggling between extremes of light and shadow. Then crossing the canal I notice something unusual… most of it wasn’t there!

Route: Banbury, Green Lane, Oxford Canal, Dick Smith’s Bridge (and turn back), Twyford Wharf, Bodicote, Banbury.

Metrics: Distance, 10.4km/6½ miles; ascension, 70m/230ft; duration, 3½ hours.

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Slides from the walk:

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I knew what was wrong with the canal when I saw it: someone had left-open the lock paddle at the next lock (Grant’s Lock). Though annoying for the boaters, and the resident bargees who have to live life on the tilt for the rest of the day, I found it really interesting. A chance to see what people might have thrown into the canal, and to see the large stone blocks of the original retaining wall of the ‘navigation’, built around 1788.

It takes longer to escape the town now the sprawl has spread southward along the canal. The contour of the canal here is one to two metres above the flood plain running down to the Cherwell (hence the retaining wall), and so it’s always been a good place to walk and get a view over the fields to spot wildlife. But now, with the advent of houses and dog-walkers, the landowners have strengthened the boundary with fences and gates to keep the ‘townies’ out – and so both to the left and right the route feels a lot more enclosed.

I soon reach Canal Lane (definitely Medieval, possibly Roman), which runs straight across the valley from Bodicote to Warkworth. I hadn’t intended to come this way: I wanted to go east today. So I take a left on Canal Lane and head for the footbridge – ‘Dick Smith’s Bridge’ (named after a local rambler who did a lot to improve local paths in the 1970s and 1980s) – that will take me into Northamptonshire.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘The Northamptonshire Moat’, 18th November 2022
‘The Northamptonshire Moat’: The impassable deep water on the Northamptonshire side of Dick Smith’s Bridge.

We’ve had a month’s rain in the last week or so. The bridge straddles the county boundary which runs down the centre of the river:

On the Oxfordshire side access to the bridge is at field level – and if the fields are flooded, you’re not going to reach the bridge anyway.

The problem is the Northamptonshire side, which is about a metre below the field level. When the river channel fills the end of the bridge gets marooned, and so a jump on to the bank-side is required.

Today though, no chance. The Northamptonshire end is submerged, almost to the top of the stile; and the jump to the bank is just a tad too far (slip, and you’re waist-deep in water). I've a general rule for floods: I will walk though deep water if necessary, if I can see into it; but I never walk on a bridge deck which I can’t see, and never wade through deep murky water that quite likely contains ditches, fencing, or barbed wire.

Change of plan: I’ll head south, not east, today.

Back onto the canal, under the M40, and I’m soon at Grant’s Lock. As expected, on the far side the water level is normal.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘The Northamptonshire Moat’, 18th November 2022
An empty Grant’s Lock, looking along the empty canal towards Banbury.

I meet a disgruntled boat owner who is moored just below the lock. “Vandals”, he says. I pull a face: “Do vandals usually carry a windlass to a lock in the middle of nowhere?”, I say.

The water is filling behind the lock, not running through: Someone has obviously sorted the problem by closing the paddles. And as the water was flowing in the canal behind me, I assume the watermen have opened the lock in Banbury to allow this section to refill (it’s actually quite a problem to refill a long section, and can require opening many locks to get enough water to flow through without draining further sections above).

The canal is about eight metres wide. It’s lost at least a metre of water. It’s about 3½km from Banbury to Grant’s lock. That’s about 28,000m3, or 6 million gallons, of water. The paddles must have been open all night; for that reason, it’s going to take half-a-day to fill it again.

I arrive at Twyford Wharf and sit on the bridge parapet. Knowing I could come and sit here, instead of going to Overthorpe Hill as planned, was one of the reasons I wasn’t to fussed about having to turn back earlier. From here there’s a view across the water meadows, which today are flooded for a good distance from Twyford Mill past Kings Sutton. I take out my monocular and peruse at the bird life that’s gathering around the fringes of the flood.

Twyford Mill & Kings Sutton Water Meadows

Use the slider to move the panorama from side to side

Quite suddenly, while munching a biscuit and watching a passing freight train, the light behind me disappears: A cloud front is moving in very quickly on the strong wind. Within ten or fifteen minutes what was a dazzlingly bright day turns dark and dingy.

I pack my bag and head-off up the hill.

The second half of the walk is the complete reverse of the first: The dazzling Autumn colours are now dark and drab; what were strong shadows, making photography difficult, have disappeared into a monotone grey, making photography difficult; and whereas I’d removed my outer layer covering my arms because of the heat from the sun, now I put it on again as the wind-chill bites into my skin.

Ramblinactivist’s Videos: ‘From Green Lane to Weeping Cross’ (with deep green ‘luddite’ subtitles), 18th November 2022
Click to view the video for this walk!

No matter: As the sun is now tilting towards the horizon, the clouds are being backlit in way that accentuates the waves of weather coming in from the West; and though the landscape has lost its lustre, at least I can now look at it without having to squint!

After parting from the noise of the M40 I relax, plodding along the route of ‘Salt Way’ back towards the town. I feel something I haven’t felt for months: A cold wind! I haven’t been out much this Summer because, with hayfever and not liking the heat, it’s not been tempting. Feeling that damp, cool wind makes me happy, because I know that there's a lot more walking to do in the next few months!

I emerge at Weeping Cross into a barrage of road noise, and the visual spectacle of the awful replica of what was once the ancient Medieval wayfaring cross. I turn off my senses, engage my legs in ‘cruise mode’, and before I have to give a second thought to the growing rush-hour traffic on the Oxford Road, I’m home.

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