Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Harecastle Tunnel.

Tuesday 27th August, 2013 at Longport, Stoke-on-Trent.
Less sunny than yesterday, but still a bright day. M has three pots of violas on MM's roof and they constantly attract butterflies and bumble bees.
We set off from Congleton mid-morning and enjoyed a quiet cruise back to Hall Green and the junction with the Trent & Mersey Canal. The only slight problem came when we had to stop for a swing bridge, which could be pulled across with a chain if needed by a pedestrian. The chain is designed to be left in the water and is long enough so that it sits on the bottom of the canal; however, someone had left the chain pulled up on the grass, so that it was stretched across the canal. R had to stop MM and walk along the roof to re-set the chain so that we could pass.
Further down the canal, we passed Ramsdell Hall, built around 1760 - some 70 years before the Macclesfield Canal opened at the bottom of its garden.  Apparently the owners were not impressed to see "vulgar boatmen" passing by at the bottom of their lawn!
We shall definitely come this way again, hopefully next year. Apart from the glorious scenery, there are wonderful walks to be had in the western foothills of the Peak District - and the promise further north of a trip down the Peak Forest Canal into the heart of Derbyshire.
Our destination today was the northern end of the Potteries. This necessitated a passage through the famous Harecastle Tunnel, 2,926 yards long. The original tunnel was built by James Brindley, took eleven years to build and opened in 1777. A second tunnel was built by Thomas Telford in just three years and it opened in 1827. For a while both tunnels operated together until gradual subsidence of Brindley's tunnel led to its closure in the 20th century. The entrance to Brindley's tunnel could still be seen alongside the current tunnel, but closed up with an iron gate. A sad sight.
We arrived to find a queue of six boats waiting to go through. We moored up alongside nb "Happy Daze" and passed the time happily chatting with the couple on board.
The tunnel is one-way, so convoys of up to eight boats are sent through in alternate directions. Bryan, the tunnel keeper, came and gave us a safety briefing, took down details of each boat and the number of people on board. He said gorillas didn't count!  After about half an hour, we watched as five boats emerged from the tunnel and then we were ushered into the tunnel by Bryan at two minute intervals. The water here is stained a chocolate brown colour by the ironstone through which the tunnel is cut.

M decided to walk over the top of the hill on the route that would have been taken by the horses while R took MM through the tunnel.  She watched him go in and wondered if she would ever see him again! The middle part of the tunnel was very low, just about a foot above MM's roof, but the passage was uneventful. The only problem was that the noise of all the engines reverberating in the tunnel was so loud that R couldn't hear MM's engine and had to set the revs on the rev counter!

At the other end, R moored up and was surprised to have a cyclist stop next to him to say "Your wife is a bit lost but says that she will be along soon!" In due course M arrived, having been led astray by a map given her by the tunnel keeper that was hand drawn, very unclear and certainy misleading!
Time for a cup of tea before we continued on towards Stoke-on-Trent. Just before the town, we passed a beautiful spot called Westport Lake. We decided to stop and moor for the night, but as R put MM into reverse to back into an available mooring, something got caught in the propellor, so we had to pull MM into the mooring by hand with the kind help of Denis and Gail on the boat in front - nb "Angel's Whisper". Their boat was built by Aintree boats and launched in the same month as MM.
R spent some time down the weed hatch retrieving a large lump of plastic, rope, string and cloth from around the propellor.
Later in the evening, we walked all round the lake, which had originally been formed by mine subsidence but has since been turned into a very pleasant wildlife park.
Today: 8 miles, 1 lock, 1 tunnel and 5.5 hours.
Trip: 329 miles, 258 locks and 266.9 hours.

No comments:

Post a Comment