“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that.” ― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

The cliche that every journey starts with the first step comes to mind whenever I reach the first lock on a canal journey. That first lock feels like a gateway, marking the ‘leaving behind of the home mooring’ and the ‘heading out or getting ahead’ on the journey. North from Banbury the canal runs parallel to the noisy and bustling Southam Road before turning sharply right at Hardwick Wharf and skirting a new industrial estate on the site of what was once an aluminium factory.

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The Oxfordshire Ironstone Company (OIC) had a number of Sentinels in the early 1960s to replace the steam fleet. One of their many lines ran parallel to the Oxford Canal at this point, between the canal and the aluminium factory. Due to the rapid decline of the British iron ore industry at the time when they were purchased they soon went elsewhere. The last one on site was used for track lifting around 1967, the main line connection being removed c.1968. Some of the Sentinels have been preserved. Joan is at the East Somerset Railway, Barabel at the Nene Valley Jean, Betty and Graham are all at Rocks by Rail (formerly the Rutland Railway Museum). This picture shows Joan in action. The aluminium factory siding  was gone by 1960.

The Northern Aluminium Company sheet rolling factory was built to the north of Banbury in 1931, and expanded again in the mid 30s to meet increased demand from the aircraft industry. During the years of the Second World War, Banbury supplied around 60% of its needs, working in conjunction with an aluminium recycling plant near Adderbury which processed metal from crashed English and German planes. The Banbury factory employed around 4000 people at its peak, many of them women. Since the factory on the Southam Rd (later called Alcan) was an obvious target for enemy bombers during the War, a dummy factory was built two miles to the north by Shepperton Studios, known as the ‘Dummy Ally’. The real factory, located next to the Banbury Canal and used to manufacture parts for aircraft, was camouflaged, and the decoy was built to the east of the A423 between Great Bourton and Mollington, where the buildings of Manorfields Farm stand. The dummy factory was built to look as much like the real factory as possible, with pillars and finials at the entrance and a length of railway track alongside. Men were hired to keep fires burning on the site, producing smoke just like the real Alcan. In fact, they were using the building to keep pigs and chickens. The decoy worked well as the real aluminium factory was never bombed, while the decoy was, notably on 3rd October 1940. The dummy gateposts still existed in the 1970s, while the real factory finally closed in 2009. Information drawn from HERE

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The OIC line can be seen in this 1960’s map skirting the front of the aluminium factory and joining the Banbury mainline below ‘Hardwick Farm’…
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Close-up of the section travelled and our first lock…

Hardwick Lock, the first on this journey is soon reached, after passing under the railway. First lock – our journey begins… I wonder where it’ll take us?

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ― Ernest Hemingway

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Dink & Malc’s mint blue cottage on the sharp corner at Hardwick Wharf.
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The early afternoon sun glinting on the water churned by Eileen’s prop, it’s a simple moment, and one to savour, a quiet celebration of the sight and sound of the boat’s passage through the water…
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The aluminium factory and OIC mineral line were once to be found in what’s now become verdant edgeland on the non-towpath, left hand edge of this view, as we look up towards the railway bridge and lock beyond…
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The joy of Summer afloat, and the freedom…
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Moored below Hardwick Lock I turned just in time to catch this train rushing over the railway bridge towards Banbury station…
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It’s a busy afternoon on the Cut, with one boat rising up the lock and another dropping through before it was our turn. Claire takes a moment to pour ‘Prosecco’ into enamel mugs, break out the chilly peanuts and read the paper! Ah, now this is the life!
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Entering Hardwick Lock…
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And so our Summer journey’s under way…

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