Blisworth Tunnel - 25th Anniversary of Re-opening

We took Albert out last Friday up to Stoke Bruerne to join the celebrations of the 25th Anniversary of the re-opening of the tunnel following re-building. We moored up in the Long Pound.


Early morning, August 22nd, Long Pound, Stoke Bruerne

The gathering on Saturday was quiet, so far as boats were concerned, with very few historic boats and only a few visiting modern boats; but it was nevertheless very enjoyable. The wonderful weather certainly brought out the crowds on both the Saturday and the Sunday. Stoke Bruerne certainly looked at its best.

Apart from the museum's Sculptor and Mike Partridge's Jubilee, both of which moor at Stoke, the only other historic working boat attending was Sweden. However, the steamboat Adamant re-enacted its journey through Blisworth Tunnel at the re-opening in 1984.


NB Sweden arriving at Stoke Bruerne


Cabin side - NB Sweden


Fine example of a Castle on the cabin side of NB Sweden

For us the highlight was, however, the talk given by the two tunnel engineers talking about how the centre section of the tunnel was completely re-bored and re-lined. John Woods and Roy Slocombe both worked for Mowlem, the contractor which carried out the work in the 1980s and they gave illustrated talks at both Stoke Bruerne and Blisworth. The reunion of the reconstruction team was in fact the focus of Saturday's event.

Steve has read David Blagrove's excellent book on the tunnel, "Two Centuries of Service". However, hearing the two engineers reminisce added some fascinated detail, particularly of the construction of the concrete rings. They managed to make their talk interesting to a broad audience by using plenty of illustrations and adding some personal stories. It was great to see those involved with reconstruction walking around the two villages proudly wearing special badges that identified them as part of the reconstruction engineering team.

One interesting fact to emerge from the engineer's talk was that the most southerly air-shaft was rebuilt lower to accommodate the local landowner who operated a light plane from his farm. When we walked over the summit to Blisworth on Saturday afternoon we had a look at the shaft and found that it was now surround by high trees. So much for making the area suitable for flying!


Lowered tunnel air shaft and grass air-strip at Buttermilk Hall Farm


A tall (full-height) tunnel air shaft


The Mountbatten making its way from Blisworth to the Northern Portal

As we walked over the summit we heard the church bells ring in celebration as they did 25 years ago. There were plenty of celebrations at Blisworth, particularly at the wharf by Blisworth Tunnel Boats. We came back from Blisworth by vintage coach (well a 1966 Bristol); as we did four years ago at the 200th celebration. However, this time we didn't have to wait too long for it to arrive.


Vintage road transport

The public certainly appeared to enjoy some of the canal traders who visited Stoke Bruerne. We saw numerous people passing our mooring carrying bags of cheeses from The Cheese Boat. They must have had good trade.

So was this "an anniversary to far", to paraphrase Granny Buttons? I have to say, no. Although it couldn't hold a candle to the 200th aniversary, it was worthwhile trying to commemorate such an important event, particularly for those of us living in South Northamptonshire. A lot of people will have come away having enjoyed their day out and perhaps learned a little bit more about our canal heritage and how it was preserved.

On Saturday evening we were joined by our friends Lin & Roy Healey and visited the newly opened Spice of Bruerne restaurant. We were impressed. It has a good menu at a reasonable price, they provide friendly service and it certainly appears to be popular. We shall come to eat there again and not only by boat.

On Sunday we moved up to the tunnel, winded, and then moored up. Amongst those passing Albert was a six-year old bulldog, Pablo. Being a warm day we offered him a well-earned drink of water which he noisily enjoyed.


Pablo says hello!