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It's boats that have the most stories to tell

I mentioned in a previous blog that the canal is such a rich tapestry of life, people who are passing through, people who live on the canal, people on their holidays and people who still earn a living on the canal. Everyone one of them has a story. But it occurred to me that the boats they're on are often on the second, third, forth or more owner. It's the boats that have seen so much and if they could talk it's the boats that have the most stories to tell. But more of that in a bit.

We were in Stoke Bruerne again yesterday, after an easy journey up from Cosgrove we managed the 7 locks with ease because as we paired up with another boat and had the help of the Canal & River Trust Volunteer Lock Keepers. The 7 locks at Stoke Bruerne are 1 mile end to end and have a total climb (or fall) of 17M, or 3 two story houses. Ellison had a good chat with a lock keeper who said on a busy day they have as many as 50 boats through the locks and walk 7+ miles. In a previous blog I mentioned Ellison and I have signed up to become lock keepers at Stoke Bruerne, we've now realised it will certainly keep us fit!

Stoke Bruerne is now a pretty busy tourist spot, but it must have been even busier when the canal was full of working barges. It was a place to stock up, it had a blacksmith a cobbler and ropemaker and no doubt was a place where bargees socialised (by all accounts bargees were good at socialising!). But of all the people who would have been in Stoke Bruerne at the time it's the leggers who amaze me the both. These are the men (I'm guessing there were no women) who 'legged' boats through the 3,076 yard Blisworth tunnel and it was speed that was the key, hence whether we get the expression 'legging it'. It was a dangerous job with many injuries and fatalities, men who were so exhausted they fell off the planks and were often drowned or crushed between the boat and tunnel wall.

Ellison picked up on an interesting thing from Martin (VLK), that we didn't know. As railways were introduced the canal companies did what they could to complete and at Stoke Bruerne a duplicate set of locks was introduced. The idea was to have a fast track route through the locks for perishable goods. This lasted only 2 years before being abandoned. The duplicate lock is now the top lock used today, the original, unused is next to it, which explains the odd 'dog leg' as you approach from the south. Now with overhanging willows it make a beautiful picture.

Here's the original lock, dating back to 1804. Is this the way most locks looked then?

Back to boats having the most stories to tell. You might have noticed boats often have where they've come from under the boat name and these are often nowhere near where they are now. I suspect it's these boats that have the real stories to tell. There are loads, most I've had to google because I had no idea where the place is. Here's a small example.

Boats from Greenock in Scotland, Ellesmere on the Shropshire and Llangollen canal, Hockley Port on the Birmingham Canal, Wychnor on the Trent and Mersey Canal, New Haw Lock on the River Wey, Kent Green on the Macclesfield Canal, Frouds Bridge on the River Kennet and Saul Junction on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. The list is endless and can you just imagine the tails these boats would have to tell.

We're back through the tunnel now and moored up in Bugbrooke, our last stop before returning to base. I'll leave you with a view of Stoke Bruerne from the top lock.

More soon.


Navigation is not a real problem on the canals, but you do need to pay attention. Today I could have easily gone wrong at the Grand Union Canal and the Grand Union Canal Northampton Branch. Thank goodness for Ellison giving me helpful hints.


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