On Friday morning we set out for our first trip through the 1 ¾ mile long Harecastle tunnel. This tunnel was in the news 12 months ago as a boater died after hitting his head on the tunnel roof and falling unconscious into the water. The crew were all inside the boat at the time so he was on his own on the deck. We always make sure we are both together on deck when we go through tunnels.
First we went up the remaining six locks of Heartbreak Hill – here’s Karen waiting for me at one of them.
At Kidsgrove we stopped for water and a pump out, they took longer than usual as there was a queue. We also popped into Tesco to pick up some essentials. After the final lock we passed the junction with the Macclesfield canal. When we came up here at the end of April we turned right towards Macclesfield and Manchester. This time we stayed on the Trent & Mersey heading for Stoke-on-Trent.
We were now on virgin canal territory for us.
When we got to the tunnel there were two boats waiting so we joined the queue behind them. The tunnel is one way only so the CRT staff monitor the traffic and let boats go through in groups of up to eight. As it happened we had to wait for over an hour for eight to come through. We were last to be released and as we got to the tunnel we could see the original tunnel entrance on the right hand side.
The original tunnel was completed in 1777 and as it was one way only it caused considerable bottlenecks once the canals got into their heyday. A second tunnel (the one that is currently open) was completed in 1827 and had a towpath inside so that horses could take the boats through rather than leggers. There is also a third tunnel which is a railway tunnel but that was closed in 1960.
At the entrance were three gauging chains hanging down to check that we were not over height. Fortunately we only had to remove a bike and the chimney; unlike Standedge and Gosty Hill tunnels where we had to remove everything from the roof.
The towpath has been removed which makes it easier to take full advantage of the headroom. You can see a bit of the towpath still intact on the right hand side here.
The further we got into the tunnel the lower the roof became. Yellow luminous paint indicated the start of a new lower section.
There are also many arrows indicating the direction to the nearest exit. Every 100 metres the distance was also included. Here we had gone past the half way point as the arrow was pointing in our direction of travel.
The tunnel was dead straight but as we were behind other boats we couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Here we are coming out of the southern portal with a good view of the gauging chains.
We moored up by a reservoir about two miles from the centre of Stoke-on-Trent. Karen was not impressed with the number of Canada Geese goslings on the towpath.
We had roasted sausages and vegetables for dinner and with all the waiting we had done felt that we hadn’t achieved a great deal but at least we had enjoyed it.