Before I start, that river was a canal but it didn’t sound quite right so apologies for that. Just to set the scene, thirty years ago around this time of year we were embarking on a 6 week session of ante-natal classes in Kibworth, Leicestershire, in preparation for the imminent (or so we thought!) arrival of our first child. Not so imminent though because our offspring was a mere 14 days later than predicted which pushed him from a May baby to a June one. Although we were excited to be becoming parents for the first time, as long as all was well we were happy to wait.
It was at these ante-natal classes, 30 years ago, that we met Jackie and Trevor for the first time and the rest is history, as they say. Our reunions don’t involve heavy breathing any more and despite us moving away from Leicestershire 25 years ago, we have remained close friends. Get-togethers may not be as regular as we would like we always manage to get a date in the diary and meet up a couple of times a year.
Whilst staying at our son and daughter-in-law’s flat in Hitchin for a few weeks we knew that we were in with a chance of meeting up with them, especially as we had use of a car. Diary dates were compared and after a little research, I stumbled across Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire on the Grand Union Canal which was roughly halfway between us. What a find.
The Boat Inn
As we approached Stoke Bruerne there was a large farm park called Rookery Open Farm which was, from the amount of signage to overflow car parks etc, expecting a lot of visitors on this sunny Saturday. Just a little further on we followed the sign to the small pay and display car park for The Canal Museum where Jackie and Trevor were already parked up. Our hope had been that there would be a towpath to walk along, the museum to have a mooch around and then a cafe for a light lunch but there was so much more. Being a little early for the museum cafe opening times, my beady eye spotted a couple with coffee cups sitting in the sunshine outside The Boat Inn, a large thatched pub on the far side of the canal.
The whole scene was like a picture postcard. The little cottages sitting along the canal, the large canal boat awaiting it’s first customers who wanted a cruise along the canal, the lock gates also waiting to yawn themselves open for the first vessels of the day all bathed in early sunshine. A scene that has probably not changed much over the years.
Caffeine fuelled, Jackie and I had a wee look around the tiny little shop on the same side of the canal. It had Rosie & Jim sitting outside, a perfect reminder of our Rosie & Jim days with our young children and even Jackie and Trevor’s gorgeous grand-daughter, Lottie, is the new generation of the Rosie & Jim fan club. The shop was full of lots of painted pots, crockery and jugs all painted in that iconic dark green with flowery motifs that is associated with canal boats. There were also a lot of large hand-knitted jumpers which would look very boho at the tiller of a narrow boat.
No purchases made, sadly Rosie & Jim were not for sale so we headed off to walk along the towpath to the Blisworth Tunnel. This tunnel is the third longest navigable tunnel on the UK network. There is no towpath through it and it is just wide enough for two narrowboats to pass.
It is one of those tunnels that in the 1800s it would only have been passable by men laying on their backs on top of the barges and using their legs on the walls and ceiling of the tunnel to push themselves through (know as legging). Some of the tunnel was lined with pre-cast concrete during the 1980s but the big claim to fame is that it was also used to test out the materials that were later used on the Channel Tunnel. Little unassuming Blisworth Tunnel on the Grand Union Canal – if only those tunnel diggers of the 1800s knew what scale of tunnel their one would be a blue print for. An ring of concrete that was not used is on display just outside the tunnel entrance.
The Woodland Walk and beyond
We did the return walk through the “Woodland Walk” complete with it’s wire sculptures then had an “eat to bite” on the picnic benches at the Waterside Cafe. Reasonable priced paninis and soup went down a treat before we headed down the towpath in the opposite direction. Another lovely looking pub, The Navigation, with a huge number of outside seating areas was nestled right on the edge of the canal.
We passed several locks before side stepping our way over one and heading back past the Nature Reserve and the fantastic view of a swan sitting proudly on its nest.
It was hard to wind the day up as we had enjoyed such a lovely day so we managed to sneak in one more coffee before heading off our separate ways. Perfect company in a perfect location. We really recommend a visit and I’m sure it won’t be the last time any of us visit here again.