Tuesday 12 March 2013

The day I fell in love with canals

Stoke Bruerne in Spring
Stoke Bruerne in Spring
Blisworth has a special meaning for me, because it was here that I met my first true love: a little red narrowboat called Emily Rose. In my late twenties she became an inexpensive first home for a girl who couldn’t afford a mortgage on a London flat.

Aptly enough, it was Independence Day (4th July) when I took ownership of my first boat and left the brokerage in Bugbrook.   I enlisted the help of a friend who knew how to steer a narrowboat and headed south down the Grand Union towards London.

Before long we arrived at the Blisworth tunnel, and dizzy with the excitement of my first big canal adventure I wrote a bad poem in its honour; “It’s a mile and three quarter, And dripping with water…”
 Originally boats were legged through this tunnel and the leggers hut can still be seen on the bank at the southern end. There is no towpath but the tunnel is wide enough for boats travelling in opposite directions to pass one another. As we chugged through the darkness my steering friend re-told the ghost story of some poor souls who were crushed during the building of the tunnel. They do say that sometimes you may see an alternative tunnel branching off from the current route. This ghostly tunnel is lit by candlelight, as it would have been when the navvies were building it before the tragedy happened…

At the southern end of the tunnel we emerged into the leafy cutting of Stoke Bruerne and moored up for the night. Stoke Bruerne is a charming canal side village full of waterways history. In the days of working boats Sister Mary Ward lived beside the canal offering healthcare to the working boaters and their families. Of course there is a waterside pub to visit, plus boat scales, a double arched bridge, and a series of locks. The waterways museum is in an old corn mill and exhibits include a traditional narrowboat and a reconstruction of a butty boat cabin. You will see steam and diesel engines, historical clothing, cabinware, brasses, paintings and photographs. The museum shop sells books, postcards and other souvenirs. In Stoke Bruerne you can really immerse yourself in the rose-painted nostalgia of the canal era. By this point, and only one day into my first journey I was already in love with the whole lifestyle.

The next day we carried on to visit a church in the village of Cosgrove and then cruised quietly through idyllic rural landscapes. Even at Milton Keynes the canal misses the city centre, instead meandering around the edges giving you a completely different perspective to what you might expect. There was so much open country on our journey and we travelled undisturbed by the sounds of modern traffic, interrupted only by occasional sleepy villages. I felt that I was seeing England in a completely different way.

If you’d like to see the same stretch, not only with your own steerer, but also someone to cook and wash up for you, you may like the Canal Voyagers Hotel Boats Market Harborough to Leighton Buzzard cruise departing on Friday 3rd May 2013.

They are now offering a £50 discount on the first 12 cruises of the year! Click here to get the Late Availability Voucher. 

Disclosure: I was paid to write this post on the Canal Voyagers blog. It was my choice to re-publish it here to offer my readers the discount voucher.

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