We have had three very hard working, interesting and enjoyable days. Its also fair to say that we have been feeling like Noah’s Ark without animals but at least this afternoon is sunny. We had almost forgotten what the sun looks like.
We had a short journey on Thursday, up two locks to Dobcross ready for the push to the Standedge Tunnel on Friday morning. We were joined by our friend David who, having travelled most of the canal system over the years, was keen to go through the tunnel. By good fortune we were also moored behind Geoff on Viscount, last met when we travelled up the Hatton Locks last year. So we met up at the Navigation Inn for a very over indulgent evening given the demands of the day ahead.
We started the day early when the first of the nine locks leading up to the tunnel was opened at 8.00. It made such a difference having another person to help with the locks and we whizzed up to the tunnel entrance in just over an hour. There was a small crowd waiting – I was apologising that we wouldn’t be going through for some hours when I found that they were actually waiting for a steam train, the Scarborough Flyer, which sped past with lots of smoke and jolly waving. The boat was carefully measured to make sure that it could pass through the tunnel, then everything had to be taken off the roof and stored inside. The top box was emptied and passed in through the hatch to sit in the dinette area. We filled up with water to make sure that we sat as low in the water as possible. BW supplied a very powerful light in addition to our normal headlight, and Alan was kitted out in a helmet and lifejacket. Unfortunately there was only one set available so David and I sat at the front.
For those who don’t have Mr Pearson to hand the salient facts about the Standedge Tunnel are:
situated in the highest navigable pound in the canal system at 645 ft above sea level
the longest tunnel in the system at 3 miles, 418 yards
the deepest at 638 ft below highest point below Saddleworth Moor
over 50 people were killed in its construction, which took 12 years.
The actual passage through the tunnel was an amazing experience. From a technical point of view Alan used the front left hand gunnel, the top right hand cabin rail and his head as the three points of reference for steering. There were some scrapes along the gunnels which wasn’t surprising but he didn’t hit the cabin at all. Obviously many other people do as we could see from all the paint scrapes on the walls. He did hit his head three times hence the need for a helmet. The strong lighting helped visibility but this had to counteract the haze caused by the steam train going through the neighbouring railway tunnel.
The interior is very varied. Part is brick lined, part is very rough hewn rock and part rough rock covered with render which gives the strangest shapes. The width constantly varies from brick lining so narrow that the boat just squeezed through with us all holding our breath, to double width; the height from cavernous to just high enough for the boat to pass through. Sometimes the roof was very high and the width very narrow. The colours were amazing: huge areas of silver sparkles like a fairy grotto and gold (fool’s gold?) It was extremely cold and if I went through again I would put on thermals. I had to dig out gloves and warmer clothes mid passage.
We emerged from the tunnel into more heavy rain and moored up above the first lock. David left to drive back South and we pottered round in the rain. We saw enough to know that Marsden is a very lovely little town surrounded by the most wonderful views. Looking for somewhere to eat we ended up in the Riverhead Pub restaurant, more of a special meal out than we had intended but a fitting end to a great day. The food was delicious.
Another early start in rain but it didn’t last. The two BW helpers unlocked the first lock at 8.30 and we were the second boat down which meant that the two boats in front and behind had dedicated assistance and we were intermittently helped by the BW front man but Alan did the bulk of it. Some pounds were low so they had to send water down while often a huge wave would crash over the top gate into the locks from the boat behind. The BW assistance was provided for the first ten locks and we continued for another ten into Slaithwaite where we are now moored. Lock 24 has a guillotine style bottom gate, the first we have come across, and it takes a huge number of revolutions to open it, with plenty of onlookers. The two bridges between locks 23 and 22 were extremely low, maybe more so because the boat in front had moored at the steps above 22, therefore not taking their water down. There was no way that our bikes would get through so Alan had to get them off the roof and over the fence to a road and I wheeled them to the next lock.
Today we did 3.21 Miles and 20 Locks
Friday we did 4.82 Miles, 9 Locks and 1 Tunnel
Thursday we did 0.69 Miles and 2 Locks
Statistics so far:-
1666.71 Miles, 1008 Locks, 112 Swing Bridges, 71 Lift Bridges, 30 Tunnels