Day 52: Standedge Tunnel

August 23rd, 2010

There was a misunderstanding this morning. I went outside at about 9am to fiddle with the fan belt tension once again, and found that the other two boats on the mooring had gone. This made me nervous, as I didn’t think I was expected up the flight until 1130, and Richard was due to arrive by train around then. I called Standedge visitor centre – apparently I needed to be at the tunnel portal at 1130 for my 1330 passage! Oh.

Some urgent singlehanding followed, up the eight locks to the tunnel mouth, and Richard arrived as I was mid-way up. At the tunnel, the BW man took one look at my chimney and said “that won’t fit”. Some minor surgery followed – by removing the stovepipe inside and pushing the chimney down, we got it down to the height of the handrails relatively easily. We were also advised to remove the navigation lights, which was simple enough.
Finally, at about a quarter to two, the BW team were ready. Terry accompanied us on the boat, and Brian would drive the van along the old railway tunnel alongside and check on our progress.
Standedge is very interesting – lots of it is hewn from bare rock, and the tunnel changes shape every hundred metres or so. At regular intervals there are cross-passages to the disused and active railway tunnels, so you feel the rushes of air caused by trains passing through, and there are all sorts of interesting chambers formed where the tunnels connect. The tunnel is three miles long, and 637ft below the moorland above – and 645 feet above sea level (and don’t I know it, all those locks!). It took seventeen years to build, using hand drills and gunpowder for blasting.

About two-thirds of the way through, Terry pointed out a plaque on the wall put there by the tunnel-keepers of the 1940s. As I looked, Innocenti slewed briefly to the right and we hit an inconveniently-placed outcrop in the wall. Crunch. 20 tonnes of boat came to a halt rather suddenly, and once we emerged from the tunnel it became clear that we’d stove-in a section of the overhang at the front of the cabin – nothing structural, fortunately. We’re spending the night here at Marsden and will go down the locks to Slaithwaite tomorrow.

Day 52: Dobcross to Marsden, 5 miles and 8 locks (of which 3 miles were underground).
Total so far 543 miles and 422 locks. Thesis 13496 words and 69 pages.

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