Technical Social Visit To Stoke Bruern And Blisworth Tunnel.
At noon we boarded the Indian Queen to enjoy a trip through the Blisworth Tunnel with the ship’s captain and our narrator.
The Grand Union Canal was built in the late 1700’s but stopped either side of Blisworth hill so loads had to be taken by horse drawn cart over the hill. It was decided to build the tunnel which was started in 1793 and, after many mishaps, the tunnel opened in 1805.
However there was no tow-path so men had to walk the barges through, laying on their backs and “walking” on the roof of the tunnel. Excellent wages - 7½d for an empty barge, 12d for a full one (that is in real money, £sd, and a family could live on £1 per week!).
The original tunnel is built with two layers of bricks, but in the 1980’s the centre part of the tunnel had to be completely rebuilt and this was done using concrete sections, a complete section is on display at the entrance to the tunnel next to the original horse stables.
In the tunnel the temperature was always 14degC, a break from the 28degC when we were partaking of the cold drinks.
Water seeps through the tunnel lining but at several points pure mineral spring water gushes out, we were all told to try some, very cold and no ill effects so far.
Oh dear! Another boat is coming the opposite way, heads in, there is only 200mm clearance!! Well done our skipper.
Later in the 1800’s steam powered barges were introduced and, because of the smoke and fumes, shafts were driven to the top of the hill to provide fresh air (well, fresher air). Just a small problem, water gushes out of the shafts. Some of us sat too near the open windows but our skipper had to remain outside to steer the boat so took a very cold shower.
3Km later we emerged from the tunnel, which is dead straight so you can see the end coming for over ten minutes.
A superb sandwich lunch was provided by the Boat Inn so we turned round while eating, and some more bru from the on-board bar, and returned through the tunnel taking just over 20 minutes.
Alighting again at Stoke Bruern with many thanks to our narrator/bar-man and skipper, we looked around the museum and the local area, investigating several unusual canal boats before departing for home.
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