The Random Thoughts of a Geek heading for Banbury
The Random Thoughts of a Geek heading for Banbury

The Thames and Severn Canal at South Cerney

Boxwell Spring Lock

On September 13th I issued a Guess where on my 365, well b0atg1rl and I were out for a walk, and being it was almost a nice day, we went for a walk along the Cotswold part of the Thames and Severn Canal at South Cerney.

To the west of Stroud is the Stroudwater Navigation opened in 1779. This was built primarily to carry coal to the many cloth mills clustered along the valleys. So successful was the canal that a second, the Thames & Severn canal was added and opened in 1789, these two canals provided the only inland waterway route across the Costwolds

The Thames and Severn canal played an important roll in the economic life of the communities which it served for over a century. There were however difficulties with maintenance and trade gradually declined, never to be recovered after the opening of the railway. The canal was finally abandoned in 1933. Trade continued on the Stroudwater Navigation for much longer but slowly declined and in 195? this canal was officially abandoned.

The Cotswold Canal Trust

In 1972 a society was formed which was to become the Cotswold Canal Trust1. In 1976 an engineering feasibility report concluded that the two canals could be restored to full navigation. Detailed engineering surveys have since been undertaken and fully support these earlier findings.

The Trust is well supported in its aim to restore these canals as a recreational amenity. The local Authorities have protected the line of the canals to ensure a clear path for restoration. Together with the department of the Environment and the National Rivers Authority they have given the the Trust financial support in its endeavours. When restored these canals will once more link England’s two greatest rivers and form the “Cotswold Ring” of waterways

I have previously been to Sapperton Tunnel, I have also been at this section of the canal before as well; but this is the first time taking notes, and lots of photos.

The Canal at South Cerney

History of the Canal

The Eastern section of the Thames and Severn canal starts from the magnificent Sapperton canal tunnel, built between 1783 and 1789. From the Great tunnel, with its classical Coates portal, the summit level runs just under six miles to Siddington where the canal begins to descend towards the Thames through four locks, passing on its way Themes Head and old Themes Head pumping station.

In a further 1.5 miles the canal descends again through three locks to South Cerney.

The canal crosses the Cotswold Water Park boundary at Northmoor Lane and in about half a mile reaches Boxwell Spring Lock, built by Thomas Cook in 1792, just three years after the Thames and Severn Canal was opened.

Description of the Locks

Boxwell Spring Lock has a fall of only 3’6” to enable the canal to use water from the Boxwell Spring, which used to run about 200 yards downstream. The two deep locks Humpback and Wildmoorway lower used much more water than originally calculated despite Wildmoorway Lock being fitted with a side pond to economise on water usage. This was only partially successful as the canal passes over porous limestone and was prone to severe leaks, which were still being dealt with right up to the time of abandonment in 1933.


In 1992 three Waterway Recovery Groups based in Southern England launched a DIG DEEP initiative to guarantee continuity of work for themselves and constant support for local projects. From November that year regular working weekends from the Newbury Working Party Group, London Waterways Recovery Group and Kent & East Sussex Canal Restoration Group have helped transform an overgrown ruin to an operational but yet ungated lock.

When work was started the lock chamber was in a serious state of dilapidation and was so overgrown that many maps of the area didn’t even show the structure because it couldn’t be seen! Several large willows were growing from the walls and bottom of the lock. A sea of brambles, nettles and creepers concealed all trace of the chamber. The nearside wall just in front of you [This sign] had collapsed and severe frost had damaged the opposite wall at water level.

Upstream is the site of Crane Bridge which is planned for replacement. The towpath from here to Northmoor Lane has been the subject of intense clearance activity by midweek teams from the Cotswold Canal Trust and has resulted in a well used path for walkers to appreciate bird and wetland wildlife now inhabiting this length.

Downstream of this point is a small spillweir built from local stone on the southern side of the towpath and fed by an arched culvert passing under the path. Nearby was an original drain plug set in the bed of the canal – a simple hinged metal frame with a wooden lid, used to drain the canal when maintenance work was carried out.
The metalwork was unfortunately stolen in 1994.

The canal between here and the Spine Road has been scheduled for restoration as part of a four year plan to reopen a usable length. With Boxwell Spring Lock awaiting new gates, work is now concentrated on Wildmoorway Lower Lock, just off the Water Park Spine Road.

Boxwell Spring Lock

Boxwell Spring Lock



Other Photos from the walk

A newer sign near the Spine Road Bridge has the following on it:

The Bullrush, a plant that fringes many lakes in the Water Park, is celebrated in the fence design of the Spine Road Bridge. This was completed in 2004. Tunnels have been incorporated into the bridge to allow animals, like otters and water voles, to pass through in safety.

Passing beneath it a second bridge at Wildmoorway Lower Lock  is visible ahead. This bridge allows access to the lock-keeper’s cottage on the other side of the lock. You will see this as you approach the bridge. Wildmoorway Lower Lock is unique on this canal as it has a side pond to catch water lost during its operation.

A short walk along a sheltered tree lined path, will then bring you to Wildmoorway Upper Lock. The upper lock is also known as the ‘Humpback’ Lock.

You will pass the demolished red brick remains of the accommodation bridge that gave it that name shortly before reaching the lock itself.

Continuing on to Boxwell Spring Lock. The open grasslands to your left along this stretch are part of Wildmoor Meadows, an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). These are old, unimproved grasslands that are rich in plant life and insect through the spring and summer.

One of the Water Parks’s most recent created lakes comes into view. Lake accompanies your walk until you reach Boxwell Springs Lock.


The tree and shrub lined canal provides a habitat for bull finches, garden warblers, tree creepers  and wintering feildfares. You may glimpse yellowhammers and goldfinches along its fringes and in adjacent fields. Winter wildfowl such as wigeon and pochard join the resident coots and mallards on the lake. Foxes and Badgers are common in this area.

I will write a second shorter post about the other side of the Spine Road Bridge tomorrow.

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