This Blog is not about me, nor is it about a duck. And it has nothing to do with a character named Larry Duck. The story you are about to read is about bridges….bridges of the Oxford Canal and their near decapitation of yours truly. Had it not been for the quick thinking people I was with, I would have lost my head. The correct title of this Blg might better have been ‘The Bridges of Oxfordshire County’, but that may not have been comic enough. Certainly not for me.
I lied. It actually is about me….well, sort of. But it’s more about the bridges. A little levity, a little drama and some history. What more could you ask for? So, let’s get me out of the way first. The bridges on the Oxford canal between Thrupp and Cropredy tend to be very low….the overhead I mean. Anything sticking up from the roof of a boat has to be lowered or risk being knocked off or broken. Boats have become wedged under these bridges before. Not very bright, but it happens. It’s the not paying attention thing you see.
And I wasn’t….paying attention. I had my camera with me and I wasn’t steering, being a guest of our good friends Tony and Deb on their fine boat. So absorbed was I with taking exquisite photos of this magnificent canal with its breathtaking beauty, I forgot to duck as we approached those low bridges. I was usually pulled away from my eye looking through the camera lens by a three person shout of, “LARRY DUCK!!!!” I did, just in time and kept my head. Literally. Now, the practical, rational thinkers among you might wonder if I learned my lesson after the first couple of near misses. I didn’t. “LARRY DUCK!!!” became the oft repeated joke of the day. I still hear it every time I go near a bridge….any bridge.
To the bridges themselves. Wonderful, old and remarkably in good shape I’d say. All bridges have a number. It identifies the placement of the bridges along the canals. It helps boaters mark their position too. Let’s have a look at a few shall we?
The picture above is Bridge No. 187, Nell Bridge, near Pig Place (don’t ask) is one of the oldest bridges on the Oxford canal, having survived a number of attempts to widen the road about and the bridge with it. Narrow and very low overhead….nearly got me. Straight under the bridge into the lock. Tricky.
We began our journey at Thrupp, soon passing under the Shipton Lift Bridge No. 219 (for those counting).
Nothing remarkable at the lift bridge itself, but walk away, across the fields and come across an Elizabethan manor house. The interior was gutted by fire in 1887 and has remained uninhabited since that time. You can stand outside and gaze at its exterior magnificence, but a sign warns not to enter as ‘the ruins is private’.
Bridge 216,The Old Enslow on the left (above) and Bridge 214, Pinsey, held some surprises. When this canal was cut through the land at the end of the 18th century, it ran through farmers’ fields. To compensate the farmers, bridges of stone were built to connect fields and allow farmers to move their livestock about. The chap who started it all was James Brindley and the bridges along the Oxford are called Brindley Bridges, either in grey stone or red. Why so many have such little headroom, I haven’t been able to discover. Perhaps Brindley wasn’t very tall. He obviously never saw me coming.
The canal parallels the River Cherwell and joins it for a short time….because it was cheaper this way….for a short time from Baker’s Lock to Bridge No. 218, Shipton Weir, a newer version of the old bridge (the iron part anyway) and thankfully raised enough to nearly stand up while passing under.
The next bridges, No. 209, Dashwood’s Bridge, No. 207, Cleeve’s Bridge and No. 206, the Heyford Wharf Bridge are further examples of beautiful Brindley Bridges. Mind your head though.
Brick bridges were expensive to build and last a long time….nothing like today’s construction….so, when money got tight, the wooden swing or lift bridges were brought in along the canal. These are very low but are usually open when you get top them….usually.
In the case of Bridge No. 205, yours truly had to hop off the boat while it was moving, lift the bridge and hold it open for the boat to pass under, lower it and then hop back on the moving boat. Do not try this at home.
My best friend took that hoto as I tried to look cool. I took a picture of her for the record. The best damned lock opener in Britain. And that’s her glass of Pimms, not mine.
But I digress. We travelled from Thrupp to the marina in Cropredy over a weekend. Let’s have a look at some of those brick bridges that nearly got me shall we?
Just ahead, under No. 195, is the Somerton Deep Lock Bridge No. 194. The lock sides are 12 feet deep, the deepest on the Oxford Canal. Here we go. “Larry Duck!”
But the beast of them all was Nell bridge No. 187. See how close I got before I realised we were about to go under? All three yelled, “Larry Duck!”
Things got back to normal until Tarvers Bridge No. 179.
We moored up near Nadkey Bridge, which was erected in 1899. The bridge is new, but the supports are original. They show the rope marks of the horses that used to pull the narrow boats along the canal when they were used for commerce and before engines were added to the boats. Thought you might like to see that.
And so you have it. The dangerous bridges of Oxfordshire County. But they’re not all like that. Going through Banbury, we saw some lovely bridges, road bridges and passed under them without incident.
But less we forget, not far along, outside Banbury lay another trap.