Bristol Fashion is a Dutch barge style narrowboat with a wooden cabin at the stern (that’s the back of the boat, landlubbers). This cabin needs to be temporarily dismantled before I dare go through low bridges and tunnels, or else: crunch! The roof comes off in three sections and the sides are hinged so they can be folded down. It takes about half an hour to take the cabin apart and put it back together again. With the cabin down the boat looks like this:
Half way into the tunnel entrance the headlight fuse blew and I had to replace it. I opened the hatch and all the curtains and put all the interior lights on and strapped a torch to the front of the boat. Just in case. Then I went in.
It’s wonderfully spooky being in a long tunnel. You can’t really see much and the curves of the tunnel appear flattened by the boat’s headlight, making it difficult to judge when to turn the wheel. I spent the first quarter mile bouncing from one wall to another, zigzagging along; then I got the hang of it, making only small turns on the wheel and levelling out after each turn.
Occasionally a pool of light appears ahead and on reaching it you drive under a hole that reaches all the way to the surface. Invariably water drips onto your head when you gaze upwards so wear a raincoat. A few boats passed in the opposite direction, their headlamps visible for a long time beforehand, and I’m proud to say I didn’t bump any of them in passing. For the first time I feel I’m in control of this boat and it feels good.
A bright light eventually appears ahead but the tunnel entrance seems to take a long time to reach and when you emerge from the darkness you’re in Stoke Bruerne. I almost wished I had time to go back through the tunnel and experience it all over again.