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Wow, that was dark!

Good day today, we didn't mess up and got much further than we thought we would. We had a relatively early start so we could get to Stoke Bruerne for a bit of lock training. We knew getting to Stoke Bruene from Bugbrooke would take 2 and a bit hours of mostly easy going trundling along the canal, here's a short trundling video taken by Ellison.

Just before you get to Stoke Bruerne is the Blisworth tunnel, which is an unbelievable engineering achievement. Finished in 1810, at 3,075 yards it is the 3rd longest navigable tunnel in the UK. Apart from being amazed by the engineering feat in building it, the other thing which left me gob smacked is that it is straight. When you enter the tunnel you can just see a pin prick of light in the distance which is the other end.

I'm equally amazed with the workers who used the tunnel in the early days and had to 'leg' boats through. Laying on boards they basically walked the boats through the tunnel, can you even begin to imagine, it took us 45 minutes with and engine pushing the boat along at 4 knots. Canal workers certainly were hardy folk. Here's a short video of the blackness in the tunnel.


The tunnel fell into dis-repair during the 20th century (along with the canals themselves) and was only opened again in the 1980's. Parts of the repaired tunnel used pre-cast concrete rings, which were in fact materials being tested and then used to construct the channel tunnel. You can see one of the rings just south of the tunnel on the canal bank.

The tunnel is just wide enough for two narrowboats, but only just, so when you pass another boat, as we did, it's definitely a contact sport, bumping and grinding against the other boat and tunnel wall. It is a bit un-nerving, but then good to have a short chat with the passing helmsman on the other boat. In my case it was simple advice - "it get's wetter, you'll need an umbrella or hat and waterproofs". He was right, in parts it was literally waterfalls raining down on you. But we made it through, to be honest we were a bit daunted, but the actuality was OK, however it was very dark, cold, wet and seemed to take forever, but not as spooky as we thought it would be. Although it goes on forever when you're in the tunnel, there are helpful distance markers, every 100M, to tell you how far you've got to go. Each 100M seems to take a long time. The tunnel did leave me completely in awe with how on earth they built a tunnel like that, by hand, in 1810. Here's a picture of the tunnel entrance, which looks unremarkable but I think slightly ominous and also a video inside the tunnel, which of course is pretty black,


Once out of Blisworth tunnel you're straight into Stoke Bruerne, which as many of our local chums will already know is a lovely spot to visit, whether you're on a boat or not. We plan to stop over at Stoke Bruerne on the way back but today is all about lock training. Our trainer, Steve, who owns the boats is concerned primarily that A) we don't sink the boat and B) we don't damage locks and conserve water. The locks at Stoke Bruerne are standard (so we're told) and are very simple to operate. The important thing is to get the sequence right (the order you raise the paddles to let the water in or out of the lock) and to keep the boat away from the Cill on the lock gate. The key thing with the paddles is that if you open the gate paddle to soon and the bow is too close to the lock gate you can flood the bow. The Cill is a large concrete ledge which is not visible until the lock starts to empty. If you get the back of the boat stuck on the Cill it will tip up as the lock empties and sink the boat. Not a good thing to do in a lock.


So that was Stoke Bruerne, 7 locks, no bother. Just one picture of Stoke Bruerne we took on a sunny day, which was not what we go today (just cold and grey).

We decided to trundle on to Cosgrove for an overnight stop. Cosgrove, as local chums will know, is a charming canal village. I'll probably have more about Cosgrove in a future blog but today I wanted to mention Bridge 65 which frames the entrance to the village and is one of only two ornamental bridges on the Grand Union Canal (picture below by Ellison Tansley).

The bridge's history is interesting, it's ornate gothic style is certainly unnecessary compared to the rest of the bridges on the canal which were are simple and functional. There's no record of who commissioned the design of the bridge, but it seems likely to have been a local landowner who's land the canal cut through.




The Lord of the Manor at this time was George Biggin, whose residence, Cosgrove Priory, is in sight of the bridge. Biggin was an 18th/19th century eccentric who was a bit of a scientist and inventor (invented, of all things, a coffe pot called 'Coffee Biggins'). Biggins was also involved with early Balloon aviation. A colourful looking character who I suspect was a bit of a dandy that could easily have appeared in an episode of Black Adder.




Tonight is dinner on after a walk and an aperitif in the Barley Mow. Tomorrow we'll be going through Milton Keynes, over two aqueducts, stopping at the Milton Keynes village of Simpson for Sunday lunch (dinner) at the Plough.


I'll leave you with a sign I found on a dog poo bin at Cosgrove. Good to see the Canal and River Trust has a sense of humour.



















More soon.

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