Monday, July 6, 2015

Despairing Matilda

The thing about narrowboats - or one of them - is that you're very close to the water. When you're feeding the ducks, that's just fine, even if I'm always getting caught out by their sharp eyes: feed the four by the boat and within seconds there's an entire flotilla of them skidding alongside, coming from all directions. Swans, though, they're a different story. Much bigger than you think (like pigs, in real life) it's no problem for them to reach inside and deliver a demanding nip to the arm when the bread is finished.
After six locks to get our eye in, today's challenge was the Braunston Tunnel, 1843m long with a sneaky kink at the far end. It was built in 1796 and is, as you see, two-way, although that's hard to believe when you first enter it. The technique is to stick to the middle until you need to pass, but that's actually quite tricky to judge in the dark, especially when the oncoming boat has a dazzling, straight-ahead light like this one. There was much complaining about it afterwards, once the 20-minute journey was over and we were back out in the bright sunshine and surrounded by greenery again.
After cruising along, disconcertingly, above the surrounding fields, we arrived at Long Buckby Wharf where the New Inn sits beside the lock, as it has for most of the Grand Union Canal's life. It was too pretty to leave behind so, despite intensive research, googling and discussion, we ended up having both lunch and dinner there, surrounded by traditional Roses and Castles decorative touches, which are common on narrowboats. The sad background to all of these hand-painted water jugs and buckets was that they were done by Matilda, who was kept a virtual prisoner by her publican uncle to paint them all, forbidden to have contact with anyone at the pub, even the man she fell in love with. She committed suicide and is said to haunt Table 11, which was conspicuously empty during our visits.


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