“A country (water)road. A tree. Evening” (with apologies to Samuel Beckett for appropriating his magnificently minimal stage directions from Waiting for Godot)

On a rain-lashed mid-week evening, after a day’s painting in the Long Cabin of ‘Eileen’, I felt up for a walk. The lousy weather didn’t matter a jot as I headed out in search of beauty.

I hoped the walk might provide clues to my support my understanding of the ‘riddle of the Oxford’, that is the correspondences and disconnects that exist between it’s ‘chocolate box cum picture postcard’ image and the apparent mundanity of it being ‘an industrial-age relic’ which both, at one and the same time, define/contradict the character of the canal.

The path I chose led away from a streaming and noisy main road, across an industrial estate and into woodland. I followed it.

I don’t know a lot about the stream, or the area, in fact in terms of this walk, I think that was a bonus, as it freed me to look, to listen, to imagine, and to enjoy.

There’s something oddly comforting being outdoors, all rugged up on a mizzly May late afternoon. I found myself really enjoying this bruised and rather tatty corner of Banbury. In just a mile or so of walking it felt possible to capture not only something of the elusive character of both the Oxford Canal and the areas industrial archeology, but also sense the underlying present-day tensions caused by the expansion and ‘encroaching dynamism’ of the town of Banbury spreading ever further into and across the waterlogged meadows of the Cherwell valley.

Ironstone railway. Coke can. Birdsong. The rush and whisper of vehicles along drenched roads.

Here’s the picture story of the walk. It probably makes most sense if you ‘read’ from the bottom image to the top… that is following the direction of my walk and going against the flow of the water.

The stream goes on, splitting and re-splitting, drawing water from numerous smaller streams across a wide catchment running both sides of the M40 motorway…
The end of my walk, where the stream plaits, bisected by a muddy island masked by trees…
Weaving timber walkways…
It felt a relief to leave behind the powerful sense of hopelessness, frustration and anger emanating from the area close to the bridge… and continue across the attractively managed and landscaped reed beds of Hanwell Fields with it’s maze of timber walkways standing just clear of the water…



Perhaps that’s why? Is it a wildly articulate two-word rallying cry for the have-nots watching over-priced executive homes cram the water meadows…
Why should I feel I was trespassing when I ventured under the bridge?


The massive pillars of the ‘brutal’ bridge seemed anachronistic for so small a stream… and the semi-rural setting.
The bridge felt to be the critical point of the walk. Crowded with messages, and thought provoking too, after the gentle, secretive meanderings of the stream came sudden graffiti, hostility, futility?


Looking across Dukes Meadow towards industrial buildings, the stream defined by the dark line of trees on the skyline.


It wasn’t possible to follow the route of the stream around the fenced enclosures of an industrial estate…


It’s not easy to make out in this image (it’s easier to see if you click on the image to enlarge) but I’m standing on the railway embankment looking down a steep descent to where the Hanwell meets the obstruction of the embankment and flows beneath it.
The stream flowing out of three brick lined pipes below the embankment…
The accommodation bridge.
After the accommodation bridge the stream suddenly and dramatically plunges through a steep embankment of the former ironstone line that once brought minerals down to exchange sidings near Hardwick Lock.
Ancient willows showing the line of the stream…
Once off the Southam Road the character of the stream changes instantly and overwhelmingly. Reed beds proliferate on marshy ground to the right, whilst the sound of the stream become more noticeable as the road traffic noise fades. Birdsong and the riffle of fast flowing water.
From the Oxford Canal the Hanwell flows under the Southam Road. The video was shot partly there, and also on the accommodation bridge arrowed in the top left-hand corner of the photo…
Hardwick Wharf…



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