A close-up of the sunk boat on the adjacent mooring, ironically the owner has recently undercoated the shell and begun to renovate the interior, much of it is now ruined by flood water…

Viewed from the fore-end she’s an equally sad sight. Thankfully the canal at this point is very shallow indeed, it saved the boat from being further inundated…
Though the canal was swollen, and covered much of the towpath, under way and powering down the canal with the flow of flood water, it was relatively simple to maintain steerage, even on the sharp corners that characterise this section of the Oxford Canal…
Joe and Claire joined me at the stern to survey the scene…
After the run-off weir just above Grimsbury Wharf had siphoned off thousands of gallons of water, the canal seemingly calmed down, though the water still boiled over particularly shallow sections. I began to relax a little and enjoy the wintry sunshine and the fact we were out on the boat once more…
Into the bustle of central Banbury, although things look fine, the canal is obviously much higher than usual and there’s evidence that it’s recently over-run the banks and flooded the brick towpaths that flank both sides of the canal at this point…
Claire’s jumped off and goes ahead to wind up the hydraulic lift bridge that separates Tooley’s Yard (on the right of the photo) from the small basin above Town Lock.

And this is where the photo-story ends and the written description has to take over… Because for the next 10 minutes I had my hands too full to chance taking any photos…

Claire raised the lift bridge. The usual gongozzlers gathered, mainly mooching husbands abandoned to the canal by shopping-focused spouses… We entered the pool above Town Lock… only to find the bottom gates wide open and the top paddles fixed┬áin the open position and sealed with C&RT ‘DO NOT TAMPER – DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE’ notices.

The canal had in effect backed-up at the lock and, in overflowing the towpath, was threatening to enter the adjacent shops… The C&RT solution had been to open up the paddles to increase the flow of water, in the process they had effectively utterly stopped navigation.

Whilst I was taking all this in, our Eileen was being pushed inexorably forward by the ‘flow’ of flood water churning against the lock that was impeding it’s downstream flow.

Why oh why hadn’t I checked the online stoppages notices before we’d set out???

We found ourselves suddenly, to put it mildly, in a bit of a pickle!

Unable to turn around, unable to steer in reverse using the engine, as the water in the narrow basin was creating of swirling vortex of water determined to trap the boat across the width of the basin, and – of course – an increasing crowd gathering.

Claire raced back to the lift bridge, and after several false starts to let people cross, raised it… I leapt from the boat with the stern rope to attempt to tie-off the boat and stabilise it’s rotation… That achieved I loosened the rope, and began to stern-haul her against the flow towards the narrows of the lift bridge.

An 11 ton boat, in flowing flood water against 1x sodden rope & 1x straining bloke… it was no contest!

I immediately found the boat getting away from me… I was being dragged by the current. Happily, and to my huge gratitude and relief, a number of grand blokes, seeing that I was genuinely struggling to keep hold of the boat, leapt to my aid and, grabbing the mid-rope, helped me manhandle the boat through the constriction of the lift bridge and secure her to bollards opposite Tooley’s Yard. Yes!

And here’s where the pictures start again… who’d have thought looking at this picture that only moments before we’d been the centre of a waterways mini-drama with the distinct possibility that I’d have lost hold of the rope marooning boat and children in the middle of Banbury! Thankfully, that didn’t happen. With the boat secured to the bollards we assessed the situation. Another boat had, in the meantime, arrived below the lock. Together we surveyed the situation and both agreed it’d be madness to try to use the lock and break the C&RT seals. Our insurance would never stand for it. Instead we decided to stern-haul the boat back a little way from the lift bridge and moor her up to await a calmer day and a working Town Lock…
The drama over and the adrenalin-rush easing, both me and Claire were able to release a little tension, and joke about the crazy half hour we’d just experienced…

And the moral of this cautionary tale?


  1. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by any canal, they have a tendency to suddenly turn and bite you!
  2. Respect flood water – it’s frighteningly powerful.
  3. Wintry sunshine doesn’t always mean you’ll enjoy a relaxing day on the water!
  4. Read the stoppages update before you go out winter-boating.

4 thoughts on “Suddenly, we have a problem…

  1. you could of actually used the lock, signs were placed so paddles etc still operable, just needed to make sure you left them up still on exit.
    I’m moored in Tooleys and saw you hauling backwards, you looked very competent and having fun still!
    I too really enjoy your blog and photo’s, thank you


    1. Hi Candy,

      Neither the other boater (below the lock) nor I felt confident enough on Sunday to use the paddles as we weren’t sure how rapidly our closing the paddles might affect water levels. We didn’t want to risk causing the water to inundate the shops.

      How’s the water levels now? Is the lock back in use?

      I’m hoping to move the boat later this week.

      Thanks for the kind words about the blog – much appreciated!

      best wishes



      1. There are the odd boats going up and down, no problem so long as paddles left up, actually somebody left them closed yesterday I noticed while emptying my cassette so I reopened them but there was’nt a problem just thought ‘just in case’, Dusty is due up tomorrow if he can get through Nell lock so you should be ok, notices have gone but whether that was C&RT or a boater I don’t know. Will look out for you, best of luck


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