Saturday, 4 April 2015
THE BRUCE TUNNEL
A few miles south of my home The Kennet and Avon Canal winds its way through The Vale of Pewsey
Built between.1794 and 1810. It links London and Bristol.
Needless, to say along it’s length there are many pubs. Boat men are thirsty people.
The Barge Inn at Honey Street is one such gem. Segments of an episode of ‘Morse’ the TV series were filmed here. I do not know wether the actor, John Thaw was a beer drinker but Morse himself would have approved of the ale.
By the side of the canal time passes slowly. You watch the clouds tempting the White Horse, cut into the hillside opposite, to run after them. She never does! Perhaps the moon will have more luck? Another round?
It is also ‘Crop Circle Central’.
Croppies, from all over the world come to; not really sure what they do but drink beer and talk. Nought wrong with that.
One Sunday afternoon I waved at a low flying helicopter. That’s Goldie Hawn they said. I don’t know. The helicopter dig wiggle it’s tail!
I use that anecdote sometimes to remind my wife. After all these years I still merit the occasional wiggle. Even from two thousand feet!
Today it’s wet and cold.We choose the local pub for our pre Sunday afternoon snooze drinks.
I got chatting. A local boy in his eighties told me; No! Chronologically speaking that’s not accurate. Geographically it is.
Anyway we got talking about the K&A as us locals call it.
He told me that his grandfather, a bit of a Jack the Lad, in his day pushed a hand truck through the Bruce Tunnel. Oh yeah sure!
The Bruce Tunnel allows the K&A to pass underneath Savernake Forest. Just under 500 meters long it is the only tunnel on the canal and took three years to complete. 1806 to 1809.
There is no towpath.
In the days of horse drawn boats the horses went over the top. The boat men would pull the barge through using the chains fixed to the walls
Even today taking a boat through a tunnel is a strange experience. You hang around a bit at the entrance to make sure nobody is coming the other way. You then sail into the darkness. There are no lights except the boats own.
You steer literally for the light at the end of the tunnel.
The brick walls throw back the sound of the diesel engine on tick-over.
There are drips. At least two always hit me. Cold and dark.
Last time we went through I kept the navigation lights on but switched off the bow light. The grandsons sat on the front with torches. To help me through.
Their torches guided the way but their eyes lit up the day!
And then you are out! Once more, back into the light.Generally a bit warmer too.
Just after Christmas in 1895 the frost set in. The canal was frozen for seven weeks reported The Marlborough Times.
His grandfather Mr Bob Davis had been asked to collect goods from Burbage Wharf Goods Station.
Now I was listening.
He said that his grandfather had heard that the canal was frozen and decided to take the short cut through the tunnel.
The ice cold wind blowing from the East through the tunnel had frozen the water in layers.
Cracks radiated out as he slowly pushed the trucks into the darkness.
The chains on the wall were helpful when the trucks broke the surface of the ice.
Half way through near the pumping station the ice was thinner.
He sank through the ice up to his knees. The lower level of ice held up.
With the chain in one hand and the trucks in the other he finally emerged from the end.
Now I was reading.
He had produced clippings from old editions of The Marlborough Times.
“The extent of the cold can be somehow gauged from the fact that when he emerged triumphant at the other end of the tunnel there were icicles about a foot long hanging from the trucks.”
His achievement was witnessed by Mr Briant. a ganger on the railway, who at that time resided at Wotton Bassett.
“ I’d never do it again, even if I had the chance is Bob’s verdict.
The pub door opened. The cold wind entered.
We looked at one another. No. me neither!
But his eyes lit up the pub.
I will never go through that part of the canal again without thinking of him and his grandfather.