To be read in a sort of John Arlott voice:
And so, fellow travellers, we continue on our watery journey through the Northamptonshire countryside, deftly bypassing the disappointment that is Daventry and instead crossing the gentle sloping farmland that delights the eye to the north west of Norton junction. Black cows casually observe us as they munch on the lush pasture and the boat glides easily forward as the canal here is wide and deep. Plunging through a charming wooded thicket we then enter the famed Braunston tunnel.
Much praise has been poured on the efforts of nineteenth century engineers and their armies of navvies, but in the case of this tunnel one cannot help feeling that this praise has been misplaced. Whether it was the surveyors, the engineers or the navvies that had clearly been suffering from the effects of the demon drink when they built this tunnel I do not know. Whatever it was, it prevented the miscreants from doing anything in a straight line. Entering through the tunnel's gloomy portals it is not long before you have the strange sensation that you are not in a proper tunnel but in a subterranean country lane with all its customary twist and turns. The ceiling of the tunnels appears to rise and fall at will and the side walls display a series of baffling undulations as we forge ever deeper into the gloom. Woe betide any unfortunate skipper who meets another boat coming the other way at the apex of one of these bends. The tunnel walls at these points are black with the paint scraped from hundreds of damaged gunnels.
Mercifully, after twenty five minutes or so we emerge into the daylight and make our way through the alarmingly subsiding banks of the cutting to the top of Braunston locks where if we are extraordinarily fortunate we find enough water in the system to make the descent into the steeply sided valley below.
Braunston village with its famed butchers shop and stone cottages complete with hollyhocks sits sleepily atop the hill seemingly unaware of the pandemonium beneath. Angle grinders and oxy acetylene torches merrily carve steel boats in twain while queues of eager boaters struggle to pick a route through the parked hire boat fleet in their approach to the bottom lock. Their reward comes on entering the lock where they can nip into the little shop to buy a Walls Magnum as the lock fills.
We have arrived at this Mecca of the waterways at a special weekend, for in addition to the usual heavy boat traffic, we come upon the annual gathering of Historic working narrowboats, lying three abreast along the canalside leaving a narrow channel for terrified hire boat skippers to negotiate. An overwhelming scent of Brasso fills the air.Peering through the open engine room doors of these leviathons we see a wonderful selection of old engines glinting in any sunlight that filters through to these depths. Thse ponderous machines have been ruthlessly torn from the ruins of defunct lighthouses or paper mills and pressed into service turning the mighty propellers of their venerable vessels. The enthusastic owners of these smartly attired boats sit on the bankside and talk about ballast and bits of machinery and how they got stuck in a lock, and it is all extremely sociable and jolly. Later in the weekend they will embark on a jaunt up to the turn and back when the canal will look something like the Hammersmith flyover on a bad traffic day. It is all quite wonderful.
Anyone looking to find a mooring in or near Braunston will either have had to arrive early or get very lucky. Our own trusty vessel grabbed the last remaining spot, convenently close to the Admiral Nelson pub but sadly putting our solar panel in the shade of a large ash tree. I don't know whether I want the sun to shine or not.