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Friday, 21 November 2014

Days of being a gongoozler

I bet I can guess what you're thinking ....what on earth is a gongoozler?

 Well my dears, it means that I am someone who's interested in canals and canal life , but who doesn't have a canal boat or live on a canal. It's thought that the word was slang used by canal workers to describe an observer standing apparently idle on the towpath.

But I do live very close to Foxton Locks, which in the canal world is quite something. It's a place on the Grand Union Canal in Leicestershire .There's ten locks here two staircases each with five locks, which makes Foxton the largest flight of staircase locks here on the English canal system.
 Staircase locks are used so that a canal can climb a steep hill. Really.

Anyway, Foxton Locks in the summer attracts visitors from miles around. The sun shining on lots of holidaymakers on canal boats, people out for a walk, for a drink, or a meal. I've been coming here since I was a child, usually in summertime. I've brought my own children here, family and friends from all over the world..and in winter too, when wrapped up warmly , it was the ideal place for the children to have an early afternoon walk, to see the swans, ducks, boats and the locks being worked.

But it's only recently I've been coming later in the day. I love it in late autumn and winter when the fading four o clock in the afternoon light brings out the shadows

And a walk on a weekday winter's afternoon means that you have the place to yourself apart from a few other dog walkers.

And a few people living on the canal....

It was cold yesterday afternoon, the sort of cold which you can taste....with a scent of wood smoke in the air

Remember I mentioned staircase locks? Here's what they look like from near their lowest point.....

They are an amazing feat of ingenuity, building and engineering, which were finished in 1814, when coal, wood, materials and feedstuffs were transported on the canals by donkeys or shire horses pulling the boats, when there was a working community along all of our canals. It's no wonder that the Locks are Grade 2 listed.

At the bottom of the locks, there's two pubs which in high summer are packed with people, both inside and outside, spilling out on the decks here at the Foxton Locks Inn and in the pub garden at Bridge 61.

We walked towards the twinkly lights of  Bridge 61, which serves real ales....


which has a timeless quality about it. Originally two large sheds built a hundred years after the locks, it's now a spit and sawdust sort of place, but with a lovely warm fire burning and the type of old cast iron radiators that I used to burn my bottom leaning against at school. Mr Thinking of the Days , Boo and I were the only customers and we had a lovely chat with the owner who's a fount of knowledge about the Locks, having been there for fifty years or so.

And out of the window, we could see across to the well lit Foxton Locks Inn ...and that was also virtually empty

One drink, and it was time to go, but there was a delicious sense of having played hookey on a November day at the bewitching hour between day and night  ....a chance to see the shapes and shadows changing as dusk fell.
On a weekday normally I don't get that chance back is firmly turned away from the windows at the other end of the newsroom at that time...hunched over my computer, headphones on, editing an interview, or furiously writing a cue for a feature on tomorrow's breakfast show. Being busy but missing the atmospheric end of an afternoon . 
And as we headed home, we looked at the lights on the boats and I wondered at those curled up inside who love their life on the waterways. In all my time as a gongoozler, perhaps it's time that I actually got myself on a canal boat, untied the rope and finally set off to find out more......


  1. Gosh! What a coincidence. Yes, it is a lovely word. I was at that pub not so long ago, what's more. And yes, it is a lovely atmospheric place for a walk :-)

  2. Yes, I shall be going again soon....

  3. Next trip to England (someday ... sigh), must do some gongoozling! I love grey November days!

  4. Jean, you really like grey November days?? One or two I can cope with....but I do prefer our english springs and summers...! Oh yes, you must come and do some gongoozling...