Let's be honest modern life is full of noise, from traffic, mobile phones, aircraft, we are surrounded by it more or less twenty four hours a day, sometimes its nice to just get away from the hubbub if only for a short time to collect our thoughts, and stretch the legs.
Parks can be a great place to spend some time but even here noise can sometimes interrupt our reverie, where to go then to find some peace ?.
Walking along the side of a canal, or even travelling slowly and serenely on a narrowboat is a great wind to wind down, and travel through relatively unspoilt countryside.
Watching and listening to wildlife, and breathing in some fresh air, in any season our canal system is a fantastic resource, a legacy from a time when life was generally slower.
A product of some very clever engineers and the sweat and sheer hard graft of many thousands of men.
From a personal perspective I love being around or on water, to me its an experience a bit like sitting and watching an open fire in the Winter, there is something completely satisfying, uncomplicated, and relaxing about the experience.
The story of the Northamptonshire stretch of the Grand Union is one which typifies the men who saw a way to make something work and set about creating something that would endure, even when seemingly insurmountable obstacles came up they found very clever and inventive ways to overcome them.
Blisworth Tunnel was and is an engineering marvel, take a look in the Summer when you can drop in to one of the two pubs close by and have a quick pint, or glass of wine, just sit and watch the canal boats, very relaxing.
The entrance to the tunnel
Construction of the tunnel began in 1793 and would take many more years to reach completion, fourteen men died due to a collapse that took place when they hit quicksand and part of the roof came down. many more men would die before in opened in 1805, sadly a total of fifty fatalities in all.
These days fourteen men dying in a accident like that would be a national scandal, in those days men were seen as pretty much expendable, Those men worked long hard days with no safety equipment, the pay I should imagine wasn't much to write home about, and I would imagine they weren't well liked by the locals, something I would like to research.
Today I took a walk along another stretch of the canal on a dull January day and took a few pictures which I hope to contrast to others I will take in the Spring when things start to green up.
Canal side pictures
Obviously I'm not going to pretend you can't find ugliness even in the midst of natural beauty, and concrete with a dose of graffiti is probably one of the ugliest things about modern life.
However contrast the ugliness in the the picture above with some of the great artwork which has been painted onto some of the once dull concrete walls holding up bridges that pass over the canal, they depict Northampton's history, you can see some of them below.
I thought it looked great and its good to know that people want to improve our environment, and two local schools have been involved which is good for the children getting to know about the towns history and the world outside of a screen.
If you take a walk along the Northampton Arm you'll see the mosaic trail as well, again that involved children from local schools,
The other great thing about being by the canal is just chatting with the boaters, they will often tell you where they have come from and where they are going to, I sometimes assist other IWA (Inland Waterways Association) volunteers who clear litter along the canal and cut back vegetation,
Over the years many bags of litter have been collected and shopping trolleys pulled out of the water, a few bikes have come out from their watery grave as well. The boaters or walkers will often say they appreciate what's done which is nice to hear.
I think we would struggle to move this though. :)
Going back to Blisworth Tunnel, when large rebuilding works were carried out in the 1980's precast concrete rings were used on some sections, and apparently this was to test the materials ready for the Channel Tunnel,
The other thing I should mention is that around 1992 a couple travelling through the tunnel
had a spooky experience when they saw a fork in the tunnel and candlelight, there is no fork in the tunnel but it's said to be haunted by the men who were buried alive when the fatal collapse incident took place.
I think there used to be a boat trip into the tunnel telling you all about ghosts and scary stuff, not sure if it still runs but worth checking out.
Believe it or not at one stage steam tugs used to pass through the tunnel, imagine being stuck in it breathing in all that smoke and steam, must have been pretty horrendous, hence the ventilation shafts you can see above the tunnel.
Above, IWA volunteers clearing litter and paths.
I'm going off at a bit of a tangent here but while browsing the interweb I came across a newspaper article -
A walk with the FT: The Weedon Bec route near Northampton
It was the Weedon Bec bit that caught my eye, but then I read on and saw the name Patrick Leigh Fermor, have you ever seen a film called "Ill met by moonlight" about the capture of a German General on the island of Crete ?.
Being a fan of old black and white films, and having read the book I thought the article was very interesting.
He was a bit of an adventurer, one of those English eccentrics that have largely died out sadly, apparently he spent his early years in Weedon Bec, something I was completely unaware of.
If you have time have a read -
If you walk along the Northampton Arm you'll see the mosaic trail as well, again local children did the designs.
So if you are ever in Northampton take time to wander along the canal, if you are a dog walker its perfect, nice and flat, Spring is a great time when everything is turning green.
A plea if you do walk your dog along the canal, please don't do what some do, bag up your dogs poo and throw it in the bushes, it looks horrible.