Monday, 4 August 2014

Canal history, wet tunnel and missing footpath

Thursday 31st July

Apart from our neighbour on the moorings leaving early, there were no boats on the move this morning (apart from us) till after we had gone up the first 5 locks and moored on the long pound.

1 stoke bruerne locks

It was boiling hot.  A volunteer was patrolling and raised bottom paddles for us on his way back up after helping us through the bottom lock.  Apart from a family with a child wanting to help, it was very quiet.  We moored in cool shade behind the historic boats Raymond and Nutfield, ( which were on their way to Blisworth for the festival next week.

6 raymond with nutfield

After admiring Raymond from the towpath, we strolled up to the top of the locks where, after a chat with the volunteer, and a delicious ice-cream from the Boat, we crossed over to the museum.  The trip boat ‘Charlie’ was turning as we crossed over.

3 trip boat turns outside museum

We spent a fascinating hour in the museum.  We were particularly interested in the display about the ‘Idle Women’ who worked the boats the in the war, as we had heard a lot about Emma Smith (author of Maidens’ Trip) talking to Barry (Nb The Slowness of Cows; he has met her) in Paddington Basin on our last trip.  Before we left, we spent a while watching the activity below from the upstairs windows.  The trip boat outside the pub had a wedding party on board!

4 top lock from museum top floor   5 trip boat wedding party outside boat

After lunching on board, we admired Raymond and Nutfield from the water side;

7 raymond with nutfield  8 raymond etc bows

then on to find the two remaining locks thronged with families out for the day.  It was quite a juggling act to ensure the kids all had a turn at helping while staying safe!  I didn’t have to close any gates as 4 or 5 small children were perfectly strong enough to do the work.  We left them waiting to help the two oncoming boats.

9 top lock gongoozlers and helpers

We liked Stoke Bruerne very much.

10 leaving stoke bruerne

At the approach to Blisworth tunnel, we waited for the two trip boats to emerge.  One of the families at the lock had been on one that morning – they go far enough into the tunnel for it to be completely dark when they put the lights out – ‘very exciting!’ - then reverse out before turning at the winding hole.  We were impressed with the boat handling skills of the two skippers.

11 trip boat reverses out of tunnel

We’d heard that the tunnel was ‘a bit damp in places’ – bit of an understatement.  The northern end had cascades of water pouring from the shafts.  I was steering by then and managed to avoid a complete soaking by steering round the worst bits, but Dave just laughed and went below.  That’ll teach me not to get the waterproofs out!  As the tunnel's double width, and there were no other boats in it, we were through in half an hour – much easier than the Harecastle, which so far is the ‘worst’ we have done.  I don’t like tunnels but we may try Standedge next year….

We paused on the Blisworth moorings (already reserved for the festival, but nearly empty), went up to the shop and had a stroll round the pretty village.

13 prettty blisworth

After waiting for a sudden shower to stop, we went on to moor just past Gayton Junction, near bridge 46.  After another heavy shower and a cup of tea, we took Meg for a walk down the Northampton arm.  We considered taking Chuffed down to Northampton itself, but with the A43 along most of the length, and the M1 junction, not to mention the 17 locks each way, we decided against it.  In spite of the traffic noise, it’s a pretty stretch down the locks.  Beyond the lock in the second photo is the M1 exit at junction 15a, but the motorway itself is largely hidden by the trees.

14 northampton arm  16 northampton arm

We intended to walk across to Rothersthorpe, have a pint, and cut back to the boat along another footpath.  As we started off, we spotted this cinnabar moth caterpillar on ragwort – its bright colours warn birds of an unpleasant taste (ragwort is poisonous to grazing animals).

17 cinnabar moth caterpillar

The footpath to the village is easy to follow, and runs across a large field of what we thought was Miscanthus, a very tall quick-growing grass used for biomass in energy production.

18 good footpath to rothersthorpe

Unfortunately the Chequers, although the pub sign is still in place, appears to have been a private house for some time!  We couldn’t find the footpath we wanted, so took the less good option across two thistly scratchy fields – the first with sheep, the second with cows and calves.  I went one way with the dog in the cow field, prepared to let her go if necessary, and Dave went another – luckily they didn’t like the look of him and went off to the other side. (A couple of days later I saw a short news item about a walker in Austria who had been trampled by cattle as she crossed their field).  This footpath was not well signposted, and was not in the best of condition, though we unexpectedly came across a pretty pond at one point.

20 poor footpath from rothersthorpe  19 unexpected pond

We went wrong at one point, and we ended up walking a mile more than intended.  Meg enjoyed it though.

2 and a half miles, 7 locks, Blisworth tunnel

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