Thursday, July 14, 2016

Harecastle Tunnel

It was just a mile from Westport Park to Harecastle tunnel. There were three narrowboats waiting to go through, and another joined the queue behind us soon after we arrived. It was good timing. Traffic is one-way through the tunnel, so there's a timetable, scheduling craft times to enter in alternating directions.
The tunnel is 2926 yards long, the fourth longest on the UK canal system, and it has something of a reputation for being tricky because of stretches of low roof about half-way through. Sadly, there was a death last year, probably caused by the man hitting his head on the roof, and falling backwards off the end of his boat. There was no-one with him at the stern at the time. Needless to say, CRT are now very much more sensitive to safety issues here now. Before our entry, all waiting boaters were gathered together by the duty Keeper, and given a sheet of safety instructions, which he gave to us orally as well.

There are actually three parallel tunnels at Harecastle, needed to deal with the volume of traffic which once went this way. One was a railway tunnel. But two of these have been closed over the decades since, and only the one is in use now. Built by Thomas Telford in 1827.

After a convoy of five or six boats had emerged from the gloom of the tunnel into the sunlight, our keeper beckoned our group in, one by one. He urged us to maintain normal cruising speed. And to mind our heads! Unfortunately, however, the front boat went very slowly at times, and this is a problem in a narrow tunnel like that, because at very slow speeds it becomes more difficult to steer boats, and no-one wants to bang their shiny boats against the rough brick walls.

But all went well, and we duly drove out unscathed about forty minutes later. A striking phenomenon here is the striking change in the colour of the canal water. Where it had been normal greenish-brown at the eastern portal, it is now bright, rusty yellow. From iron ore in the ground.

Several boats were gathered here, waiting to take their turn in the other direction. I waved to working boat NB Halsall, a Twitter contact of mine I'd never seen before.
Almost immediately after the tunnel comes Harding's Wood Junction, where the Macclesfield Canal turns left off the Trent and Mersey, runs parallel for a hundred yards, then turns sharp right onto an aqueduct over the T & M, to head off north-east while we continue north-west.
The aqueduct carrying the Macclesfield Canal
Five more locks now, the Red Bull flight, nothing at all to do with the energy drink, followed by another six at the start of what is known by some as Heartbreak Hill. It's not that bad, really! Most of the locks from here on for several miles are twinned narrow locks, like those at Hillmorton.

The sign says "Lock Closed" - that's the one, on the left, with all the reeds growing in it!

At one of the locks, a vollie was training a man with no previous canal experience. It was his first day of training, and his instructor was giving him masses of detailed information. He looked over at Grace bringing Kantara into the lock.

“And this young couple”, he told the learner, “are quite clearly not without experience. The gentleman holds his windlass the right way up, and the lady brings the boat in without bashing into anything!”

The countryside has become gently hilly, and there are beautiful views from the canal.

Anyone know what make and model this fine old car is?
After the six locks, we were in Church Lawton, the village we'd designated as the place for our mooring at the end of the day. But we'd made faster progress than we'd anticipated, and it was only one o'clock, so we had a bite to eat and moved on another ten lock-miles to a beautiful countryside spot below Pierpoint Locks.

Cows and donkeys chewed grass contentedly in the field opposite, the weather was good, the scents of wild flowers filled the air, the coffee was superb. This couldn't be beaten!

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