Day 2. Narrowboating from Oxford to Abingdon

We’d enjoyed a peaceful first night’s sleep tucked up in our comfy beds on board Cunningham, our 65ft narrowboat on hire from Drifters Waterways Holidays, Anglo Welsh base in Eynsham.

Twin cabin on board Cunningham, Admiral Class Anglo Welsh boat
The twin cabin on board our boat

Up first was David, my husband who performed the daily engine checks which had been demonstrated to us during the previous afternoon’s handover.  He then turned the engine on briefly so that there was plenty of hot water for all four of us to have showers by the time we’d got up.

Breakfast on board Cunningham, Drifters Boating
Breakfast on board

I took on the role of galley maid and rustled up some tasty bacon sandwiches whilst the boys set the table.  I was very impressed with the quality of the pots and pans provided and that there was even a large cafetière enabling us to start the day with a pot of fresh coffee.

East Street mornings, Oxford
Leaving our overnight mooring in Oxford

It was just before 10.00 a.m. when we slipped out of our East Street moorings in Oxford and within five minutes we were entering Osney Lock, another of the Thames self-service button operated ones.  After passing through several locks the previous day we were getting accustomed to the procedure and with Simon having joined us the night before, it was easier still.

Osney Lock, River Thames
Leaving Osney Lock

It took us just 15 minutes to pass through the lock because we didn’t have to close the gates afterwards as there was another boat waiting to come through in the opposite direction.

Folly Bridge, Oxford
Passing through Folly Bridge, Oxford

Our journey then continued in a narrow channel to Folly Bridge. Here the river widens as the Cherwell joins the Thames.  The view is the epitome of Oxford: dreaming spires, the Salters Steamer base and university boathouses along Christchurch Meadows.

Houseboats moored along the Thames at Oxford
Houseboats moored along the Thames at Oxford

After the next bend we passed many houseboats of varying sizes, some looking in need of repair.  It was so interesting to view Oxford from the perspective of the water.

University of Oxford Rowing Club Boathouses along the Thames
University of Oxford Rowing Club Boathouses along the Thames

The Oxford University boathouses continued for quite a stretch, I didn’t have chance to count them all but each of them had their college name and coat of arms displayed above their doors.

A heron on the banks of the Thames near Oxford
A heron on the banks of the Thames near Oxford

This stretch of river was full of bird life; the blue flash of kingfishers along the banks; and the frequent but more sedate presence of herons, cormorants and geese.

Taking the helm of our Drifters narrowboat on the Thames
Younger son taking his turn at the helm

A short distance further on we arrived at Iffley Lock which had the prettiest lockkeeper’s cottage we’d seen so far and as we entered the lock several people gathered round to watch.  I’m not sure if they were hoping for a little drama but we got through without incident.  There was another Anglo Welsh boat already in the lock coming the other way so we didn’t need to open the lock gates enabling us to pass through slightly faster.

Iffley Lock, Oxford
The picturesque lock-keepers cottage at Iffley Lock

A lock keeper was supposed to be on duty but as no-one was there, we operated the auto press button lock ourselves.

Moored at Iffley Lock, Oxford
Moored at Iffley Lock

Just beyond the lock we secured the boat on bollards and took the opportunity of stretching our legs by strolling around the lock.  An information board indicated that Iffley Lock was one of the first three locks to be built on the Thames way back in 1632.  When the current lock was re-built it was opened by Lord Desborough and this was commemorated by a small stone arched bridge and landing stage to one side of the lock.

Stone bridge at Iffley Lock
The commemorative stone bridge at Iffley Lock

Back on the boat we were soon on our way again glimpsing some very desirable riverside properties with their large gardens sloping down to the water’s edge.  I’ve no idea how much they would cost, but I think most of us would need to win the lottery to be able to afford one of those!

Riverside properties along the Thames near Oxford
Desirable riverside properties that we passed

Dark clouds threatened and it rained for the next 20 minutes or so as our journey took us through open countryside for the next few miles.  Sandford Lock then came into view which was labelled self-service but actually had a lock-keeper on duty.  We spotted a gorgeous riverside pub there so made a note of it as a possible stopping point on our way back.  Despite the lock being manned it still took us half an hour to pass through but it didn’t matter as we’d come to realise that boating is all about taking it easy and not rushing around.

Lunch on board our narrowboat
Lunch on board on our approach to Abingdon

At Abingdon we moored just above the lock to offload the rubbish and replenish our water supplies – a process which seemed to take forever as the flow from the tap was very slow.

Filling our narrowboat with water on the Thames
Re-filling our water tank near Abingdon Lock

We then moved a short distance downstream, securing the boat by hammering in metal pegs whilst we looked around the town.  Abingdon is an attractive town and we combined our sightseeing stop with a chance to stock up on provisions in Waitrose.  On the way back we noticed logs for sale so bought a bagful so we could light our onboard wood burning stove.

Securing the boat by pegs above Abingdon Bridge
Securing the boat by pegs above Abingdon Bridge

Abingdon is definitely worth a look around with it’s market square surrounded by a range of small shops and cafes.  To one end stands the impressive County Hall, a splendid Baroque building erected in the late 17th century.  It formerly housed a courtroom upstairs with a market taking place beneath its large arches.

Moored close to Abingdon Bridge
Safely moored close to Abingdon Bridge

Nowadays it’s home to the town’s museum.  We didn’t have time for a look around though as we wanted to travel a little further downstream whilst it was still light.

Abingdon Market Place
Abingdon Market Place

Back on board, we untied the ropes and set off again.  Shortly afterwards we turned into a narrow channel towards Culham Lock.  Here we found a lock-keeper in attendance and as he had seen our boat approaching, had opened the lock gates in readiness so that we could go straight in.  We were through the lock within eight minutes, our speediest of the trip so far.

Abingdon as viewed from the Thames
Passing Abingdon in our narrowboat

It was then on to Clifton, our final lock of the day, arriving there at 5.25 p.m. and getting through 30 minutes later.  It took so long because we couldn’t get the automatic buttons to work at this self-service lock but eventually we managed to get the temperamental gates to open allowing us to go through.

Culham Lock, River Thames
Culham Lock

We moored slightly further on, close to an attractive red brick bridge complete with six arches.  The bridge, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott c864 is said to resemble the medieval bridge at Abi south of Nantes in France.  It actually took us quite a while to find a suitable mooring as there wasn’t one big enough to accommodate our boat so we ended up turning the boat around (not an easy task at 65ft long) and tying up further back against the bank using pegs for the second time of the day.

Looking for a mooring at Clifton Hampden
Looking for a mooring at Clifton Hampden

I wasn’t looking forward to getting off as there was a bit of a gap between the bank and the boat which we’d left on purpose as we didn’t want to get stuck in the reeds as the water levels were quite low.  With a push from one son and a pull from the other I made it safely across and it was worth the effort as we spent the evening in the Barley Mow, a characterful pub complete with thatched roof.

The Barley Mow, Clifton Hampden
The cosy Barley Mow pub

It seemed quite busy for a Wednesday night but despite not ringing ahead we were shown to a nice big table in a cosy alcove.  There was a good choice on the menu and my garlic mushrooms and steak and ale pie were just what I needed on a cool autumn evening.

Our evening meal at the Barley Mow, Clifton Hampden
Our evening meal at the Barley Mow

As we followed the towpath back to the boat it was completely dark and we needed to use torches to find our way.  After my problems getting off the boat, it seemed much easier getting back on, aided by a push off the bank from one son and a pull on board from the other.

Sitting cosily around our wood-burning stove on the Cunningham narrowboat
Sitting cosily around our wood burning stove with glasses of wine

After popping the heating on we lit the wood-burning stove with the kindling and logs we’d bought earlier.  The fire soon got going and it felt lovely and cosy sitting around the warm glow of the stove with a glass of wine before bedtime.  The end of a lovely day of boating on the Thames.


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A day in Abingdon, Oxfordshire

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55 thoughts on “Day 2. Narrowboating from Oxford to Abingdon

  1. jasonlikestotravel

    Having to turn a 65ft boat around sounds like such a hassle. I’m glad you were able to get off the boat and find a nice spot for dinner though, the food looks great and being so busy during the week probably suggests that it was 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Meg. Taking a narrowboat holiday was one of our best ideas ever. Beautiful scenery and fun for all ages with boat handling and lock manoeuvres. Hope Christmas is going well. Unfortunately I started with a cold on Christmas Eve. Terrible timing!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Our narrow-boating trip took place in October Alison and we had a fabulous time. I couldn’t have believed that I’d enjoy motoring along at a sedate 4mph so much but we were never bored and it was a super family holiday with us all taking our turns at steering, working the locks etc. and mooring up alongside riverside pubs was the perfect way to end each day. Hope you’ve enjoyed a lovely Christmas.


  2. I have long fancied the idea of a break on a narrow boat but we haven’t managed it – yet! I think it would be great fun to do as a family and I believe that some boats will allow dogs. I can imagine Zeph ‘lording’ it on the boat! I love the look of the wood burner, the bacon sarnies and the pub pie!
    I do hope that you all recover from your colds soon. June x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you would enjoy a narrowboat holiday June and I believe dogs are permitted on many of the boats. It would be so much fun for you to do as a family as none of us were ever bored steering the boat, working the locks and spending the evening in cosy pubs. I’d love to do it all over again. As for our colds, it was very bad timing starting to feel ill at about 6.00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. I usually have boundless energy but it’s taken me all my time to cook the turkey and prepare the vegetables. I missed half the things on television too as I dropped off to sleep! Hopefully be better by tomorrow.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like you’re getting into the rhythm of things with the locks. Being on a boat definitely gives you a different perspective of the water and surrounding scenery and properties. I love that there’s even a small wood burning stove onboard. Hope you had a Merry Christmas! Enjoy the rest of the holidays. Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Narrowboating is such a great family activity and we were snug and warm on board with the boat’s heating and the wood burning stove both on in the evenings. We have been enjoying a quiet Christmas at home. Unfortunately both me and our older son came down with heavy colds which couldn’t have started at a worse time as we started feeling ill late on Christmas Eve. Delaying our usual Boxing Day walk until tomorrow this year as hopefully we’ll feel better by then. Hope your Christmas is going well.


      1. Sorry to hear that you are sick over Christmas. Talk about terrible timing! But hey, at least you have a good excuse to catch up on some sleep and take it easy. We’ve had four days in a row of family gatherings. But today we have no plans, which will be a nice change of pace. Feel better soon.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Breakfast looks great – yummy bacon sandwiches! Once again, the views are spectacular – I like that cottage at Iffley Lock too, as well as the red brick bridge. Yes, boating is certainly a great way of relaxing, while enjoying nature – yours reminded me a lot of our houseboat weekend we had earlier this year. I love that you could sit next to a cosy fire on board … and it seems, it’s good to have to big boys to help one get on and off the boat 😉. Nice post Marion! Oh, and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A canal boat holiday is a wonderful way to bring the family together as there is something for every age group to enjoy. With constantly changing scenery and a new destination daily – if you choose – narrowboat holidays offer an amazing variety of sights, attractions and activities. Thanks for sharing, Marion 🙂 May your holiday’s sparkle with joy and laughter. Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We adored our narrowboat holiday and it was indeed a wonderful way to bring all the family together with working the locks, steering the boat and tying up duties. It felt so relaxing drifting along at just 4mph seeing ducks, swans, cattle as we progressed. Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas. Marion x

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, this is a different type of travel that I’ve seen from you– boating! I’ve had my fair share of taking boat rides on my travels, but never an extended one along the river. Definitely a unique way of seeing the sights from town to town, and I’m glad you had a fun and adventurous time. That steak and ale pie looks right up my alley!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your interest in our boating trip Rebecca. We adored every minute of our narrowboat trip and soon got the hang of handling the boat and working the locks. I liked it so much because we could all work together as a family and never got bored. Wishing you a Happy Christmas.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. How wonderful John that this stretch of river holds so many fond memories for you. It was our first ever narrow-boating holiday but it definitely won’t be our last as we adored every minute of the trip especially as we had our sons on board Wishing you a very Happy Christmas. Marion


  7. What an adventure, Marion! I am so impressed with how you guys maneuvered that long boat through some narrow passages and locks – and then turning it around! I am also impressed with your “galley maid” skills – pretty sandwiches and all. I wish you and yours the happies of holidays and a very happy 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. Narrow boating is so much fun and it was great that the whole family could be involved. Wishing you both the happiest of Christmases too. We’re home for the holidays with our family around us, just as it’s meant to be.


  8. Oh my- I’ve always wanted to do this Marion! There was a company not far from us in northern New York that rented canal boats for use in the Champlain Canal but they are no longer in business. I think it would require a lot of patience and great willingness to accept the slow speed! Wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Another fine day of narrowboating, Marion. Love the breakfast scene, very cosy and oh lord, bacon sandwiches! I do love a lock-keepers cottage, such charming structures and you did well to grab a shot of the heron. It looks like you really went for it at the Barley Mow, a fine spread!

    Liked by 1 person

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