A Yank's View of England Part 7
|Monday - May 8th - Stoke Bruerne Canal
Having discussed Jim & Helen's short time as canal boat owners (a 45 foot barge, powered by a Lister SR2 air cooled engine, named Frumble, in which they were part owners for a couple of years.) we thought it would be good to educate the Yank further on the English canal system. So it was off to the Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum (see here for more info). Today British Waterways manages some 2000 miles of canals. The museum provides information on the history, unique culture and technology of the canal system. A pleasant surprise was running into a pair of Bolinders right inside the main entrance. Recall that these lovely two strokes were one of the more popular barge engines. After looking at the displays (a key one being the inclined plane at Foxton Locks - this became a must see for one day after dinner) we went outside to check out the locks, the canal, and Blisworth tunnel.
Helen explained the locking process and showed how you needed to really get your butt into swinging the heavy lock gates open or closed. There are cleats to assist with good footing. Each boater has a key (a special wrench) used to crank open the spillway gates to drain the lock to the level of the downhill leg, or to fill the lock if coming uphill. Heaven help the boater who forgets and leaves the key behind at the last lock.
The canal barges are typically about seven feet wide and 40 to 70 feet long and generally quite colourful.
We were fortunate to see a barge go through the locking process. Once the barge is fully inside the lock and tied off and the gates on that level securely closed, the deck hand uses the key to open the spillway gates.
The lock drains really quickly. There are two cardinal sins to avoid in the lock. One is tying your lines too short so you have no slack when you've dropped to the lower level and the other is not being far enough forward in the lock so the tail of your barge gets stuck on the shelf. The down hill gates are swung open, and the barge carefully motors through the gate. Then it's time to get your butts into it and swing the gates closed again.
We then took a walk up the canal to the Blisworth Tunnel. At 3,057 yards in length it's the longest navigable tunnel on the canal system. When the barges were horse drawn, the horses continued on the foot path up the hill and over the tunnel. In order to get the barges through the tunnel, a process called "legging" was used. Stout young men would be on call in the legging hut at either end of the tunnel. When a barge needed to make the passage, pairs of the lads would lie on their backs, shoulder to shoulder on the roof of the barge. They would reach out with their legs, and "walk" along the wall of the tunnel, pushing the barge along. They had special caulks on the bottoms of their boots to help provide traction on the slippery tunnel walls. The last time this method of moving a barge through the tunnel was in the 1920s with a load of explosives.
Since the canals are basically slack water pools between the locks, Helen pointed out that you can tell when a barge is coming by watching the water's surface. When stuff (leaves, dust, insects) on the surface starts to move, a barge is coming. It was also pretty neat to hear the throbbing of the barge engine from the tunnel mouth, then seeing it emerge into daylight. The canal system is also a wildlife haven. We watched fascinated as a momma Blue Tit made trip after trip to feed her starving offspring in her nest in a niche in the tunnel facing. Helen said she could sympathize. We also saw several interesting "English pairs" of ducks - two males and a female!
Dinner that night was an interesting dish known in the French household as Rude-y Pork. This is a pork loin with a hole made through the center with a sharp knife. A long sausage is then stuffed in! A VERY rude dish indeed. 8-)) Each slice of pork then has a neat bit of sausage in the center. I understand videos of the making of this dish are available.
Herons had been raiding the French's garden pond for some time eating the pond fish. I said I'd like to see one so Jim's parents (Jan and Ron) took us to a farm lake in Great Glen (where they live) that had several pairs of resident herons. They're really hard to spot, but I did get to eyeball a couple. Ron had brought his walking cane that cleverly conceals a peashooter. He nailed a couple of geese and Jan's bottom with pellets much to the amusement of the lads (of all ages) present.
We then headed for their local pub (The Royal Oak on High Street) for a couple of pints. On the way we passed a house that still had its old insurance plaques on the front wall (either side of the window). These were evidence that your "fire insurance" was paid up. Each fire company had their own distinctive plaque. If the firefighters showed up at your house fire and you didn't have their plaque, too bad, they would watch it burn.
At the pub, Richard (the owner) was gracious enough to show me the beer cellar. Not upset at all that I was wearing a Wychwood Brewery T-shirt that Helen had given me last year at Portland. We also looked in on a serious long alley skittles match (just how serious can be judged by the presence of a pint of orange juice instead of beer!) between the Royal Oak team and a team from another pub. Interesting game. Tall skinny pins set very far apart, and "balls" that are like little barrels. You get three throws on a turn. There is even a website which explains the game, and lists the pubs which have the long alleys to play in, which includes the Royal Oak.
We decided to come back Thursday for dinner so I could have a proper steak and kidney pie. Richard said that he would show me how to pull a pint of real ale. On the walk back Ron demonstrated that his peashooter also make a mighty fine bugle!!
Next up: a road trip on the Fosse Way, Stonehenge, and the Bovington Tank Museum.
Arnie's UK Tour
|Rushden Cavalcade||Twycross Zoo||Peter Forbes'|
|Country Towns||Stoke Goldington||Roland Craven|
|Stoke Bruerne||Southern England||Local Attractions|
|Canals & Wales||Last Few Days|