It turns out that “legging it” has a rather different meaning around these parts.
Today we visited Stoke Bruerne, in Northamptonshire. This pretty little village is right on the Grand Union Canal. It is at the southern end of the Blisworth Tunnel. There is a nice pub called The Navigation and a whole series of locks. So one option is to get yourself a pint of the local beer and just watch the barges as they work their way up and down the canal. Although nothing happens very quickly here, I assure you that they will be working a lot harder that you will be.
The task of opening and closing the lock gates as they navigate their boats through them is still pretty physical. I did notice that on several occasions, it was the women who were working the lock gates while the men were “managing” from the wheelhouse at the stern. (It is probably best if I leave that observation without further comment!)
The canal Museum
If you would like to understand just how important these waterways were in their heyday, have a look at the Canal Museum. It really does help you to understand how the people who worked on the canals lived their lives. For instance, when this stretch of canal was built, it cut the time needed to take coal from the Midlands to London, from five days to three days. That is quite an achievement when you consider that today, we justify new roads because they cut just a few minutes off journey times.
When you walk up the tow path, you will come to the entrance to the Blisworth Tunnel. At 2813m long, it is one of the longest canal tunnels in England. It was built without a tow path. So before the introduction of steam tugs in 1871, there was only one way to get through the tunnel. Lie on your back. Put your feet on the tunnel ceiling and push. This rather unsophisticated process was called “legging it”. It took about an hour and a half to leg it from one end of the tunnel to the other. Alternatively, if you were feeling a bit bellow par that day, you could hire “leggers” to do it for you.