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Stoke Bruerne

7 Locks and 1 Tunnel

For the last week or so, there has been a distinct feeling that we are on our way back home. Of course, we’ve been on our way back ever since we set off but when you are exploring new waters, it doesn’t feel that way. Part of the feeling that we are returning is due to the fact that the seasons are changing and that the summer is now behind us. The other part is because we have some familiarity with this section of canal, we know that there are not too many places left to visit and most of them are not new to us anyway. Add to all of that the constant reminders from the numbers on bridges, locks and mileposts that we are gradually getting closer to Braunston where all those numbers end up at either one or zero. (Our Sunday night mooring is 22 miles, 20 locks and 54 bridges from Braunston). The locks at Stoke Bruerne total seven and they are quickly followed by Blisworth tunnel and an eleven mile pound to the bottom of the Buckby flight which also boasts seven locks.

We were up and about early again, pulling on to the service point before starting our ascent just after eight. We didn’t have much to do and so we were entering the bottom lock just twenty minutes later. All of the locks, with the exception of just two, were empty and therefore were in our favour. As a result it took us just an hour and a half to reach the top lock and this was where we met the first boat travelling down the flight. After swapping places with them,  Sue just had time to make some toast on the short length between the top lock and the tunnel mouth where all naked flames have to be extinguished before entering. No doubt this is in case methane or some other flammable gas is lurking underground but I suspect that the risk of explosion is very low. Nevertheless, we complied with the rules and as a result, Blisworth tunnel survived our transit.

The tunnel is the third longest canal tunnel in the country but it is dead straight so it is possible to see the light at the other end even though it is some 3,076 yards (2,813 m) away. It was easy to see that there were no other craft in the tunnel with us so I opened the throttle and aimed for the tiny light dot ahead. There are markers on the wall inside giving distances to the nearest end and with nothing else to look at I began counting in 100m lengths. The tunnel had to be partially rebuilt in the 1980’s and the centre section, probably a third of its length, is lined with concrete rings: the same tunnel technology employed in the construction of the channel tunnel. With 700 metres left to go, a boat headlight appeared at the northern portal meaning that I had to slow down and move to the right of the tunnel in order to pass the incoming vessel. A few minutes later and we were both in position to pass safely and without incident and a few minutes after that, the end was very much in sight.

We passed another boat just outside the tunnel mouth and another just two minutes later. By the time we had passed Blisworth mill, we passed two more, had we entered the tunnel ten minutes later, we would have had five boats to pass in there rather than just one.

Blisworth village held little interest for us on this occasion so we passed on by and although we considered mooring near Gayton junction there were no free spaces. Carrying on through rural Northamptonshire, we eventually found a mooring near the village of Bugbrooke. Despite the fact that we had made good progress through the locks at Stoke Bruerne, we had still been travelling for four and a half hours and therefore it was lunchtime.

After lunch, we walked into the village and visited the local shop, then we visited the nearby pub which has now been closed down and the Post Office which has also closed and been moved half a mile away to the local pharmacy – the lesson being, don’t believe all of the information on Google Maps! The shopkeeper told us that there was another pub on the other side of the village but we decided to give it a miss and return to the canal where we knew that there was a pub/restaurant next to Bugbrooke Marina. When we reached the edge of the village, we looked at the map again and saw that the Five Bells pub, the other one in the village, was only a five minute walk away so we decided to pay it a visit. On arriving, we discovered that that it doesn’t open until 5pm on Mondays and it was only 3pm.

We walked back to the Wharf and had a drink there before returning to Caxton along the towpath. Who should we see chugging along but our old lock buddy from the Marsworth flight, nb Que Sera Sera. They had been down the Northampton arm but had only stayed one night after mooring next to a park (no idea which one). They said that the pounds were low and there were lots of weeds along the way so it hadn’t been worth it and they wouldn’t try it again. They asked about mooring and we pointed out that the Wharf pub had mooring for patrons so they pulled over and tied up. We have been leapfrogging each other since mooring near them at Berkhamsted and again at Leighton Buzzard, no doubt we haven’t seen the last of each other. They are heading for the Oxford canal so there are still plenty opportunities until we reach Braunston.

Into the wilderness

Our trip on Sunday finally took us away from the Milton Keynes area having skirted around the town for the last eleven or twelve miles of waterway. It was just after seven when we got underway as we wanted to use the services at Cosgrove before the canal became busy with weekenders and holidaymakers. The air was quite cool and fresh when we started our journey across the Great Ouse aqueduct but after working up through the lock, we landed on the services at quarter to eight. There was already a hose attached to the water tap when we arrived so Sue followed its trail along the towpath until she found a boat on the long term moorings. The occupant seemed a bit miffed that we wanted water but agreed that we could switch hoses and fill our tank on condition that we didn’t pinch his tap connector. The water pressure was low and a few minutes later we were talking to another boater who was taking on water below the lock; he told us that everyone locally tried to get water early before the nearby village and caravan site residents woke up and the pressure dropped even further. Our tank took the best part of an hour to fill and even then we didn’t fill it completely. With the grumpy boater’s hose reconnected and the tap switched on, we were soon on our way again, through Cosgrove and out into the countryside or wilderness as I prefer to think of it. The visitor moorings above and below Cosgrove lock were remarkably empty which was surprising for the first weekend in September.

The five mile pound between Cosgrove and Stoke Bruerne winds its way into the county of Northamptonshire through a patchwork of green fields. There’s nothing much to see along the way, a couple of wharves and marinas break up the otherwise empty landscape.

When we arrived at the bottom of Stoke Bruerne, we saw that we had the pick of the moorings so we tied on the first available part, had lunch and then walked up to the village, just over a mile away. The sun hadn’t managed to pierce the white cloud and the wind was getting stronger, not enough to make the walk unpleasant but enough to remind us that autumn is almost with us. There were a few boats working up and down the flight and a reasonable number of people milling around the top lock and museum. We stopped for a drink at the Boat Inn but the odd spot of rain in the air, the temperature dropping and the wind strengthening even further, we decided to walk back down the hill to our mooring.