You know what it’s like on the average canal journey- you’d better stock up with food before you start because you don’t pass many shops, or maybe you just do big shops when you happen to pass near Rugby / Rickmansworth Tesco, or Banbury Morrisons or Berko Waitrose etc, otherwise if you want anything more than some sliced bread, a bottle of milk and a packet of bacon, you might have to go a long way.
Well, we’re beginning to realise that if you are prepared for a walk, there are some pretty good shops in some villages you don’t really see from the canal. So from our discoveries this year we nominate the short list for the Herbie Award for the Best Canal Village Shop. here they are in no particular order.
1. OneStop –Weedon Bec, Grand Union canal
Actually this is only two or three minutes walk from the canal, but although we have passed nearby many times, we didn’t know it was there. You need to moor your boat on the high embankment by the Church - either side of the canal will do because there is a bridge under the embankment. For a village shop, this one is bigger and better stocked than a good many we have come across, but still not huge. However unlike many shops in villages this size, you can find pretty much all you could need in the food and drink department. Nothing fancy mind, just regular stuff, but a good range and at surprisingly good prices for a village shop. In either direction along the canal it’ll be quite a while before you find another as useful.
2. Napton Village Stores – Oxford canal
Five or six minutes stroll from the Napton bottom lock brings you to this independent shop which is not only stuffed with tasty goodies you don’t see in other places, but also serves hot and cold snacks and coffees, yummy cakes, artisan breads, local meats and sausages, including of course from the Napton buffalo herd, cider made just round the corner and lots of fancy sauces and pickles and biscuits and… you get the idea. We bought some Bloody Mary Ketchup! It’s all very nice and it’s easy to be tempted to sit down at one of the tables inside or outside and have a cuppa and a cake. As you might expect, it ain’t never gonna compete with Aldi on prices, so go there for a treat rather than for basics. Take a look at their excellent web site which gives you a good idea of what it is like.
3. Kirtlington Village Stores – Oxford canal.
You’ll have to walk rather longer to reach this one from the lovely moorings at Kirtlington Quarry, about a day’s cruise north of Oxford. Climb up through the quarry and turn left when you reach the road and then right when you get to the centre of the village. It’s hard not to notice that this is a well to do village with its pretty cottages and elderly gentlemen wandering about in panama hats. Think Midsummer Murders without (as far as I know) the murders. The lovely little shop is, um, little - and you’ll have to choose from what they have, but as this includes home cooked takeaway curries and all sorts of yummy specialities, this is another place where you might want to treat yourself. Old fashioned it might seem, but they do have a Facebook page bearing some glowing and no doubt well deserved testimonials and a nice photo of the shop front. The twenty or thirty minute walk is well worth it, and if you need to sit down after that they’ll do you a cream tea and a coffee, or there is a nice pub practically next door where the cuisine looks quite haut.
Well that’s our shortlist – all previously undiscovered by us and each one a pleasant surprise. I’d be interested to now if anyone else has opinions on them. Tomorrow we’ll open our first Golden Envelope to see which of them gets the award. Also we’ll have nominations for another category. Stay tuned.