Take a gentle stroll alongside the Grand Union Canal, through the lush fields and wide bridleways that connect the two pretty Northamptonshire villages of Stoke Bruerne and Blisworth. But beneath your feet, ghosts are said to haunt the dark tunnel under the hill.
At 3,076 yards (1¾ miles), Blisworth Tunnel is the longest self-navigable canal tunnel in the UK and was begun in 1793 to link London to the industrial Midlands through a chain of navigable waterways. The tunnel has a harrowing history, with many tragic events as it was built. Even today, boat users report strange lights in the gloom and cries of workers lost during the construction.
A Nature returns
Start at the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne and cross the road bridge. Take a short detour down the footpath along a series of descending canal locks to the nature reserve. Once claypits for the canal brickworks, it is now a 15-acre nature reserve, with damp grassland providing the perfect habitat for insects, small mammals and birds, including barn owls.
B An impossible task
Retrace your steps and turn left on to Shutlander Road, past St Mary’s Church, used as a sighting point for the line the canal tunnel was to take. Turn right at the crossroads at the end of the village (signposted Blisworth), then pass the large farm of Stoke Plain and turn right on to a waymarked bridleway. Continue into woodland and across the route of the tunnel. Imagine the work that went into digging underground by pick and shovel alone. Teams of navvies worked for three years until the they hit quicksand and the tunnel collapsed, killing 14 men.
C Light at the end of the tunnel
When you meet a wooded track, turn right for the short walk back to Stoke Bruerne. You are now at the site of the old tramway, built to transport goods overland between the two ends of the canal. Eventually, a new tunnel route was found and it finally opened in 1805, not without the cost of further lives, when two steam boats collided and crew members died from asphyxiation. Legend has it the cries of choking men can sometimes still be heard.
D Look into the void
Walk downhill past the gaping tunnel entrance and watch out for ghostly lights in the gloom. Then head along the towpath to the busy wharf and back to the Canal Museum.
How to get there
Stoke Bruerne is 17 miles northwest of Milton Keynes, just off the M1 and A508. Park at the Navigation Inn or Canal Museum.
Find Out More
The Canal Museum
Bridge Road, Stoke Bruerne NN12 7SE
Bridge Road, Stoke Bruerne NN12 7SB
Superb food in a beautiful canal-side setting.
Waterways Cottage B&B
Bridge Road, Stoke Bruerne NN12 7SD
Adjacent to the canal by Stoke Bruerne bridge.