the voyage of friendship 5 – tunnels and locks

the voyage of friendship

part 5: tunnels and locks

Hello friends and family.

I hope everyone is keeping safe and warm in this bad weather; I am currently moored up in the city of Milton Keynes with my daughter who is still on holiday from Glasgow university. I have family in these parts and will be staying here until 26th January. The weather has been windy and tends to blow the boat about a bit but the days are predominantly sunny and the world looks bright from the canal where people are so friendly and helpful.

I had a night alone in Braunston, a place that has a bright holiday feel about it, even in winter. Ally arrived early next day with her husband Nigel who is a shepherd friend of Ewan's. I couldn't ask for more as Ally took my washing and lent me her husband for 2 days.

We took off down the Braunston flight of locks, Nigel driving and me at the windlass working the locks. It was with great relief that I looked back at them knowing that the closure next day would not bar my way. The next exciting event was Braunston tunnel, over a mile long and very dark. We turned off the boats front light somewhere in the middle to find ourselves in complete blackness. It was quite amazing. We reminded ourselves with incredulity that this tunnel was built in days gone by when workmen had no diggers and bulldozers.

Nigel and Sally Kershaw beside narroboat Therapy

As we moored up that evening we met James who was taking his unusual concrete boat through the locks alone- quite a feat. We agreed to meet him next morning and undertake the next flight together to share the workload as well as save water. James had been in the navy and still had the urge to be on water rather than land.

The lovely Nigel treated me to supper in a canal side pub and Bunty had her first taste of being "home alone" which she managed fine.

Next morning we met James again and together we systematically got both boats through the next flight of 7 locks. The weather was deteriorating and was probably the worst day I'd had so far. But Nigel drove on manfully all the way to Gayton. the most northerly place on my journey and a third of the distance covered. I'm making great progress. Ally collected Nigel that evening and returned my lovely clean laundry. Many thanks to Nigel and Ally for all their help.

narrowboats doubled up to get through a lock

Next morning my brother Bob cycled up to join me for the next stretch, including Blisworth tunnel, over 2 miles long and one of the longest in the country. Bob was a little apprehensive to start with but quickly got used to driving Therapy. Again we were amazed at the engineering feat that was this tunnel, and remembered respectfully those who my guidebook told me died in the building of it, and the "leggers" who apparently pushed boats through the tunnel by lying on their backs on the roofs and walking them through. We also chatted about the ghosts of these people that are doubtless still there- or was that just brother and sister winding each
other up in the dark!

steering through Blisworth Tunnel

Bob had not been aboard a narrow boat before and this evening learned locks. We negotiated the first 2 at Stoke Bruerne before mooring up and going to the pub for supper. Next day we went through the last few of the flight, Bob cycled back for his car and then drove me to Milton Keynes railway station to pick up my daughter Jane. Bob took us back to the boat and took his
leave. He was delighted to have been aboard and said he loved the tunnel experience.

Jane and I continued on to Yardley Gobion where we did the boating chores (filled up with diesel, gas and water) then moored up carefully in a sheltered spot as Ewan had called to say that a storm was brewing tonight.

We were both woken by the wind blowing during the night but the moorings held and the next day was bright and sunny as we approached the big city of Milton Keynes. We travelled across a very exciting aqueduct over a river and then over a big motorway. We were now in an urban area and decided to moor up early to replenish our fridge.

working the lock gates

I'm expecting my husband Ewan to visit tomorrow and then various family members over the next week or so; adventures on board will probably be limited, but I will resume my traveller’s tale when I cast off again towards London.

Warm wishes to all

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About Sally Kershaw

I’m Sally, a boater for the last 10 years, living aboard a narrowboat for the last 7. I also have a seahopper folding dinghy that I’m learning to sail and a 23ft Sailing boat that I’m “mending”. In no particular order, I love bothies and grandchildren and foraging wood for our stove.